At some point in the past year, Sunday became my least favorite day of the week.

From the time I wake up until the time I go to bed, a vague sense of dread pesters me — a sort of “background” anxiety that sits in my mind throughout the day. At times, it gets so bad that I’m drained of any semblance of mental energy or motivation. There’s no yearning to go out and have an adventure, no drive to explore or do something fun. No, all I feel comfortable doing is sitting at home, ruminating and waiting for Monday to come around so I can get the next week over with.

What causes me to feel this way, and more importantly, am I alone in all this? After some research and a few discussions with trusted co-workers, I learned that I suffer from a common, anxiety-related affliction called the “Sunday Scaries.” The Sunday Scaries are a sense of anxiety that builds up on Sunday afternoons and evenings, primarily due to the anticipation of returning to work the next day.

When I say the Sunday Scaries are common, I mean that recent surveys cite that upwards of 70% of Americans experience the same sort of feelings as their weekends come to a close. That number floored me. What is it about our work culture that stresses us out so much, leaves us with such terrible anticipation leading up to Monday mornings? Is it the long hours and historically stagnant pay? The lack of work-life balance in many industries? The fact that if one loses one’s job, they’re in particularly dire straits, what with student debt, bills, and numerous other expenses?

Perhaps it’s some combination of those factors, and perhaps it’s some of those factors and many others I haven’t mentioned. Regardless, I can’t say I have the answers, but it’s okay because I see the Sunday Scaries as a personal battle. I may be mostly powerless to change the bigger issues behind American work culture, but I can change how I cope with and battle the anxieties it causes.

What Can We Do to Combat the Sunday Scaries?

Below I’ll share a few methods and tactics I regularly use to tackle my Sunday Scaries. They’re all gleaned from trial and error, lots of research, and very honest discussions with people who have similar experiences with work-related anxiety and anxiety in general.

I don’t know if there’s a catch-all cure for the Sunday Scaries. But just because there’s no cure for it doesn’t mean we need to be powerless in our fight against it.

Isolate the Cause of Your Sunday Scaries

Something work-related causes the Sunday Scaries —what else does one have to be anxious about come Monday? But we have to unpack that a bit, because, unfortunately, there are quite a few things about work that can fill someone with dread.

The only thing worse than anxiety or general dread is not knowing the cause behind it

What about the upcoming work week makes you anxious, exactly? Do you have a big project (or projects) that you need to complete in the upcoming week? Do you have a meeting that you feel unprepared or utterly unqualified for? Are you worried about the upcoming challenges you are facing in the work week? Are you worried that you might fail to overcome those challenges? Sometimes it’s one factor or the other, sometimes some combination of the two. Regardless, it’s important to isolate and identify which exact factor is the main culprit.

It’s important to identify said culprit and look it in the face, make it known to you. I think the only thing worse than anxiety or general dread is not knowing the cause behind it. If you can identify a cause or a trigger, then you have something valuable: direction. Once you have direction, you can better refine and better structure your plan of attack.

Productively Distract Yourself

This is a piece of advice I’ve taken to heart for some of the more general anxiety I experience in my life. I think it fits well with the Sunday Scaries, too.

Anxiety, at its fundamental level, is the anticipation of pain, discomfort, or some other, terrible sensation. It’s the mind over-preparing itself for some challenge or danger. People who are particularly affected by the Sunday Scaries (or by any anxiety, really) will tell you that “Don’t think about it” is never a viable option. That’s true, but there are ways to force yourself to not think about things. I’m talking, of course, about distractions.

The word “distraction” has a bit of a negative connotation, and I understand why, but I don’t think all distractions need to be inherently negative. In fact, when it comes to dealing with Sunday Scaries, the positive, productive distractions usually work best to take your mind off the upcoming work week.

Get your heart pumping: Go for a walk, hit the gym. I guarantee you won’t be thinking about the woe awaiting you on Monday when your heart is beating one-hundred-plus times a minute. Productive distractions don’t necessarily need to be physical, either. Read a good book, or get some journaling done (I’m a big advocate of that one). Have a meaningful conversation with someone whom you care about (bonus points if they can empathize with how you’re feeling).

There are thousands of ways to distract yourself, positive and negative, productive and unproductive. I think that if you have to distract yourself — and sometimes, you must — you should also glean some benefit from the distraction itself. Whether that benefit is physical, mental, or spiritual, your distractions should be actively working for your benefit in addition to helping you shift the focus from your anxieties.

Use Positive Visualization

Positive visualization is something I thought was bogus for a long, long time.

A lot of people say all you need to do to cure yourself of anxiety is to visualize things positively, to shift your mindset to a more optimistic channel. They’re correct, but that’s like saying all we need for interstellar travel is a spaceship that can reach lightspeed. The statement is correct, but that doesn’t make the solution easy or even feasible.

I frequent some online anxiety forums from time to time. I like to lurk and read tips for dealing with the affliction. Whether a post is about serious, chronic anxiety or a common bout of the Sunday Scaries, I like to hear what works and doesn’t work for others. I like to listen to stories from people who have similar experiences to me. On one such forum, I recently read a comment that changed my mind, or opened my mind rather, to positive visualization.

The gist of this particular commenter’s point was that people who suffer from any form of anxiety are always anticipating the worst-case scenario. “What’s the absolute worst that can happen, and how can I be prepared for it?” That’s the mindset of someone experiencing anxiety in all forms. A simple practice of positive thinking is to shift that mindset a bit. “What if the worst doesn’t happen? What if everything works out fine?”

Positive thinking, I learned, doesn’t have to be mystical — it can be as simple as focusing on the fact that good outcomes are just as likely (and, normally, more likely) than bad ones.

I noticed that when I focused on the positives of what may come of my Monday at work, my Sunday evenings were usually quite a bit better. When I felt a bit more confident about the challenges I would face the next day, I went to sleep easier and woke up a little more ready to conquer the day and week ahead.

While it didn’t cure my anxiety, or permanently change my mindset, we have to remember progress, in this case, comes one Sunday at a time.

Keep Yourself Grounded in the Present

It’s important to remember that the Sunday Scaries — and anxiety in general — are primarily “future-oriented” states. The Sunday Scaries force us to shift our focus to the challenges and issues that will arise on Monday. As a result, we’re often checked out, either partially or fully, from the present. We neglect to enjoy the free time allotted to us on Sundays.

The key to combating the Sunday Scaries, then, is to keep ourselves grounded in the present. But how do we do that? It’s really up to you. Perhaps your chosen method is one of the productive distractions I mentioned a bit earlier: exercising, hiking, baking, or playing music.

Perhaps you’re more introspective and spiritual when it comes to grounding yourself in the here and now. In that case, meditation, mindfulness, or prayer may work best for you when it comes to enjoying the last day of your weekend. Remember: everyone’s struggles are different, and thus everyone’s method of battle will be different.

Put it All Together

Do you suffer from Sunday Scaries? Do you experience it mildly, or is it just a small part of more generalized anxiety? Regardless, know that there are many steps you can take to combat it. The methods I’ve mentioned here are a good start, and they lay a good foundation off of which you can improvise and build your own, more personalized plan of attack.

Once you’re able to identify the exact factors of the impending work week that so fill you with dread, you can tailor your “distractions,” your mindset, and your mental grounding activities to help you best combat that particular fear.

If there is one, somewhat good thing about 70% of Americans suffering from the Sunday Scaries, it’s the fact that you and I aren’t alone. The resources are out there, the community and solidarity are out there. Do some research, make some personal discoveries, and overall, stay strong and confident when Sunday rolls around.

Featured Photo by Fabio Neo Amato on Unsplash
Photo by Meghan Holmes on Unsplash
Recent studies report that more than 70% of Americans wrestle with the Sunday Scaries. What can we do to combat this common, anxiety-related affliction?