Ever Get the ‘Sunday Scaries’? Psychologists List 5 Reasons This ‘Anticipatory Anxiety’ Happens
Sunday depression is real. Mental health specialists assure us that the "Sunday scaries" are a widely shared experience, and explain exactly what brings on that dreaded weekend anxiety. (One of these causes might simultaneously surprise you and make all the sense in the world.)
Everybody’s working for the weekend—but more and more often, that off-work relief is cut short by a looming sense of dread. A LinkedIn survey found that 80% of people experience these “Sunday scaries,” and that rate climbs to 91% for millennials and 94% for Gen Z. Some experts suggest this Sunday unease is likely even more common lately, as work-life boundaries blur with people working from home. On top of that, the American Psychological Association (APA) says that anxiety rates have soared among US adults, with more than five times the number of people reporting they experience anxiety symptoms than before 2020.
That said, “while the Sunday scaries cause anxiety and sadness, it does not mean you have an anxiety disorder or depression,” explains Angela Ficken, a psychotherapist based in Boston, Massachusetts. Still, the APA warns more than 80% of Americans are more stressed out than ever—so we could all use a little less Sunday stress, and a bit more Sunday funday in our lives.
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What are the “Sunday scaries”?
“The Sunday scaries are when you feel a sense of dread, nervousness, sadness or anxiousness about the upcoming week,” Ficken explains, adding that these feelings might even start bubbling up as early as Saturday. By the time Monday rolls around and you move into your day, the anxiety tends to subside and not return until the following weekend.
In clinical terms, the Sunday scaries are a form of “anticipatory anxiety,” says Briana Severine, MS, LPC, LAC, CPRP, founder of Sanare Psychosocial Rehabilitation. True to the way it sounds, anticipatory anxiety involves feeling anxiety not about what is happening in the present moment, but about a future event or situation.
Yet while this may only happen one or two days a week, the Sunday scaries can come with similar symptoms to anxiety disorders. “[It] can be experienced both mentally and physically,” says Naiylah Warren, LMFT. You might experience psychosomatic symptoms of your worry, such as a heavy feeling throughout your body, obsessive thoughts, and maybe even shallow breathing and tight muscles, she says.
Feel exhausted by one stressful event after another? A resilience expert offers advice to keep your mental wellness strong
Why does Sunday cause anxiety?
Severine says anticipatory anxiety is a natural response that happens in preparation to something we perceive as a “threat” or anything that can cause us pain or discomfort. “In today’s modern world, our fight or flight response is not often triggered by an approaching hungry tiger—but by the pressures and deadlines of our jobs and the financial security they provide.”
Here are some of the common reasons you might experience the Sunday scaries.
Fear of failure or fear of judgment are all-too-common “threats” to the modern American, Severine says. And this high pressure can cook up irrational thought patterns, like entertaining all the what-if’s that can go wrong in the week ahead.
One way to handle these catastrophizing thoughts is to manage perfectionist tendencies. Here’s how some specialists say you can overcome perfectionism.
You had a relaxing weekend
You unplugged from work at 5 o’clock sharp on Friday and spent Saturday absorbed in self-care or time recharging with a loved one. That personal time is a huge—and expert-recommended—way to invest in your mental wellness. Come Sunday afternoon, though, you may notice the un-ticked items from your personal to-do list.
That’s why even if you successfully utilize your weekend to fully recharge and compartmentalize work stress, the Sunday scaries can pop up. “Sunday is a reminder to us that, come the next day, your time will be given mostly to your job,” says Amanda Stemen, a licensed therapist and owner of Fundamental Growth in Los Angeles, CA.
Still, you’ll probably agree: that Saturday “you” time remains essential.
You had a busy weekend
Happy hour, brunch, that new fitness class, evening plans out—there’s nothing better than a fun-filled weekend with people who bring the smiles. And while a busy social calendar can be energizing, it can also leave you with a proverbial hangover—even the non-alcohol-induced, just-plain-tired kind.
Spending all your free time around family and friends can leave you feeling depleted, Stemen says. “You may not have even had a moment’s rest [so you] feel dread about jumping back into a hectic schedule.”
Even if you’re enjoying life, you might decide to maintain some balance by keeping next weekend’s calendar a little lighter.
You hate your job
No huge shocker here: the Sunday scaries often stem from not liking a job, a boss or co-workers. “This may be due to a career or work environment that isn’t a good fit for you—or is possibly quite toxic and wholly unpleasant to be in,” Stemen says. “People … dread what they believe is to come on Monday, based on past experiences.”
Fortunately we happen to be in a job market where many candidates can leverage their choices to pick the healthiest environment, as well as a time in society when a harmonious workplace culture has become a bigger focus for many employers.
…or, you love your job
“We experience anxiety regardless of whether a situation is ‘positive’ or ‘negative,'” Severine says. “Even jobs that we love have stressful aspects of them.”
So true, right? In fact, say some experts, the pressure may mount even more if you’re passionate about your work. The fear of judgment, criticism or failure can escalate as a result. Recent May 2022 research published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences highlighted how people who are passionate about their work can actually experience more anxiety, stress, and burnout than those who don’t possess such a “bottom-line mentality,” as the researchers who led the study referred to it.
But we live in a time when professional passion can be a slippery slope. Here are nine ways to manage toxic productivity.
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Briana Severine, MS, LPC, LAC, CPRP, founder of Sanare Psychosocial Rehabilitation
Angela Ficken, a psychotherapist based in Boston, Massachusetts
Amanda Stemen, a licensed therapist and owner of Fundamental Growth in Los Angeles, California
LinkedIn: "Your Guide to Winning @Work: Decoding the Sunday Scaries"
American Psychological Association: "Depression and anxiety escalate during COVID"
American Psychological Association: "Stress in America"
Personality and Individual Differences: "Lay theories of obsessive passion and performance: It all depends on the bottom line"