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You know the feeling: the dread that starts to creep up from the pit of your stomach on Sundays as the realization that, yes, you have to go to work tomorrow, settles in.
If you’re lucky, your dread — dubbed “Sunday scaries,” a term that first appeared on Urban Dictionary in 2009 — starts and ends with a groan about the fact that you should probably shower in the morning.
But for many of us, the stress over looming deadlines, a frustrating-AF boss, or a packed-like-sardines commute grips us hard — sometimes even before we’ve finished Sunday brunch.
“Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest and relaxation, but it can easily become a day of worry and anticipatory anxiety,” says Lauren Cook, MMFT, therapist and author of “The Sunny Side Up! Celebrating Happiness.” “Our culture places increasing value on being ‘busy’ and productive — and that takes a toll on our minds and bodies.”
How, though, can we stop Monday dread from ruining our precious Sundays? I needed a game plan, so I asked the experts about giving this special brand of anxiety the boot.
If you want to have any shot at killing your Sunday scaries, you have to own them first. So whichever of the next nine dread-busters you choose to try or not try, do not skip this one!
When the dread sets in, “acknowledge what you’re feeling,” says Nancy Jane Smith, MSEd, counselor, mental health advocate, and author of “The Happier Approach.” “Telling yourself to be grateful or positive will just make you feel worse, so instead, really own what you’re feeling.”
Say it out loud: “I don’t want to go to work tomorrow” (or whatever feelings you’re having). It’s OK to feel this way. Feel whatever dread rises up — and know that your dread is totally normal and is nothing to be ashamed about.
Great, so you’ve accepted why you feel a pit in your stomach — now, let’s do something with that.
Got a stressful deadline coming up? A big meeting? List the people, events, and to-dos making that the dread creep up. No specific details or format required — just get as many worries about the week ahead onto paper as possible.
“Set a timer for 10 to 20 minutes and write about all the concerns circulating in your head about the upcoming week,” recommends Dr. Tricia Wolanin, a clinical psychologist, author, and yoga instructor. “Physically writing out your worries helps keep emotions from building up in your mind and body.”
If this exercise helps you think up solutions, too, consider it a bonus. But the goal is just to put your dread somewhere other than in your head.
Use this practice whenever works best for you. Some people may find it more relieving to do this earlier in the weekend and get back to the fun, while others may prefer to save it for Sunday evening, Wolanin says. Just don’t journal in your bedroom, she advises. Keep that a stress-free zone!
Type-A personalities, this one will literally change your life.
Right before the time your dread usually set in, “spend a few minutes to plan out your Monday and coming week,” says Cook. “When you have a clear picture of the week ahead, you can be more intentional about enjoying the Sunday in front of you.”
If you don’t already have a planner or personal calendar you love, treat yourself to one. It’ll make mapping out the week a lot more enjoyable.
Write a list of errands, run through your calendar, and gather anything that’ll make the week easier (like the addresses for doctor’s appointments). For extra points and feel-good vibes, you can also jot down any intentions or goals for the week, suggests Kimberly Wilson, LICSW, a therapist, yoga teacher, and author.
Limit this practice (and all week-ahead-planning) to about 10 minutes, so it doesn’t end up taking half your day!
Once you’ve got your week mapped out, look at your planner or calendar and find something you can get excited about each day, says speaker and personal development coach Jessi Beyer.
“Maybe it’s dinner with friends one day and the season premiere of your favorite TV show another,” she says. “Having something — big or small — to look forward to will help you focus on things you enjoy instead of what you might dislike about the workweek.”
Don’t have anything particularly uplifting on the calendar? Write out a list of things that make you happy, like reading or baking chocolate chip cookies, and schedule time to do them on at least a few days throughout the week. Yes, it’s OK (and totally healthy) to schedule time to just be happy.
If you’re still really struggling to squash your anxieties, think of the deeper motivation that gets you out of bed every morning.
Even if your job isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, do you tough it out so you can earn money you need to travel with your partner or feed your beloved cats?
“Write down your ‘why’ on a Post-it note and leave it somewhere you’ll see every day, like your bathroom mirror,” says Beyer. Now you can keep an eye on the good — even if it’s the good that comes out of something not so great.
When the scaries spiral starts pulling you down, press “pause” and do either a body scan meditation or some breathing exercises, recommends Dr. Jennifer Hunt, executive coach and Pathology Chair at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Just a few minutes of either practice will help bring you back to the present moment.
To do a body scan meditation: Find a quiet spot to sit or lie down and close your eyes. Start by putting all your concentration and focus on your big toes. Can you feel them? What are they touching, and how does that feel? Can you feel them pressing into the ground?
Slowly work your way up your body, concentrating on various parts, until you reach the top of your head. Even a 5-minute scan can quiet your mind, make you feel safe and secure, and ease your anxieties.
To do a breathing exercise: Find a quiet spot to sit or lie down and close your eyes. Control your breath so you inhale and exhale for a count of 5 seconds each. This practice can stabilize your heart rate and calm your nerves, so you can break negative thought loops and get back to your Sunday.
If the thought of meditating or doing breathing exercises makes you just as anxious as the fact that you have to go to work tomorrow, moving your body can help you root back into the present.
“Do some jumping jacks,” suggests Smith. (Yes, really.) “This movement helps you get out of your head and into your body while matching the energy of your anxiety.”
Jump away for a minute or two, until you feel settled (and maybe a little tired).
Sometimes, a little distraction can be a totally healthy tactic. “Plan activities on Sundays that require you to be hands-on and fully attentive,” suggests Cook. “This way, you have no time or attention for mindless phone scrolling or worrying about the week to come.”
Ideally, pick activities that occupy both your body and your mind, like a painting class, a walk with a friend, or a game of tennis.
If you don’t have plans, call a friend or family member. Connecting with others however you can helps reduce stress, anxiety, and loneliness, adds Wilson.
When you’re ready to hunker down for the evening, make every last minute of your Sunday special.
“Get comfy in your favorite PJs or sweats, bake something delicious, brew a mug of soothing tea, and settle in with a favorite book or TV show,” suggests Wilson. Make Sunday nights all about comfort and self-care.
Seriously, treat yourself. Light candles, soak in your favorite bath salts or bubble bath, put on a face mask, cuddle with your pets, make yourself a meal you love.
I promise you: Whipping out your phone and mindlessly scrolling through Instagram will not make your anxiety go away. In fact, it might just make ’em worse.
“Social media can just increase feelings of stress, anxiety, not-good-enoughness, and FOMO,” says Wilson. That’s not what you need when you already feel down. “Put your phone on ‘do not disturb’ mode and put it in another room.”
Start with just the last few hours of the night without your phone and slowly build up to half the day. Making your day a phone-free day (or at least a partially phone-free day) might be what it takes to enjoy the present and your weekend moments.
Lauren Del Turco is a freelance writer, editor, and content creator whose work has been published by Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Cosmopolitan, and more. When she’s not creating content, you’ll find her perusing the farmers market or hiking a new trail.