Ways to Beat the ‘Sunday Scaries’

Staying present and reframing Mondays helps overcome anticipation of a new work week

A sunlit sky.

Whether an activity-filled pre-pandemic whirlwind, or quiet COVID-era time at home, Adrienne Efland has always tried to get the most out of her weekends. 

But until recently, she has dealt with the Sunday blues, a common feeling for many people.

Adrienne Efland of Duke Eye Center South Durham has found ways to head into the new week feeling rested and recharged. Photo courtesy of Adrienne Efland. “Without fail, around 4 p.m. every Sunday, it would hit me,” said Efland, a certified ophthalmic assistant at Duke Eye Center South Durham. “I’d think ‘I have to go back to work tomorrow. I don’t feel rested. I’m not ready. Where did the time go?’”

Referred to as the “Sunday Scaries,” the anticipatory anxiety when a work week appears on the horizon is a common occurrence. Dr. Beth-Anne Blue, a clinical psychologist and assistant director of Duke’s Personal Assistance Service, said she often hears from employees who struggle with worry creeping in to their time off.

“I can’t stress to my clients enough how important it is to be present when you have moments to be with your family, your kids or doing what makes you happy,” Blue said. “It’s important to not let your brain time-travel. It’s important to appreciate the moments where we find contentment.”

Learn how Efland, and others, beat the Sunday Scaries.

 

Make Peace with Monday

Dr. Blue said that one reason we often dread Mondays is that we naturally fear the unknown. And while we may have an understanding of what we’ll face on Monday, we don’t always know how things will go. To combat that, she suggests making peace with that uncertainty.

Making a to-do list before you leave work on Friday can help define your Monday and make it less scary. But beyond that, Dr. Blue said it’s helpful to acknowledge the unknown aspects of Monday and tell yourself that, on Sunday, there’s nothing you can do about it, so stop worrying.

“It can help to say ‘I genuinely don’t know what I don’t know,’” Dr. Blue said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen on Monday. It hasn’t happened yet. So try and exhale, relax, and tell yourself that you can’t control tomorrow. You have no idea what’s in store.”

Stay in the Here and Now

Dr. Beth-Anne Blue helps colleagues through the Personal Assistance Service. Photo courtesy of Beth-Anne Blue. Dr. Blue said that you’re mentally zipping out of the present by spending Sunday worrying about stress that may greet you when the week begins on Monday. 

“If you realize that you’re worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet, then that’s going to be a problem,” she said. “If you catch yourself doing it, then the next step is to try to rein yourself back into the moment and get ahold of your brain and keep it from time-traveling and thinking about tomorrow.”

In addition to trying to respect boundaries between work and home life – by doing things such as not checking email unless it’s urgent or resisting the urge to do work – Dr. Blue said it’s important to find enjoyable pastimes that can distract your mind. She suggests giving yourself something to focus on, such as activities with family or friends, a TV show or the process of cooking a nice meal, which forces your mind to stay in the moment.

“Try to distract your mind,” she said. “Find something that can bring you back to the present and let yourself say ‘I can’t control tomorrow, so I’m not going to think about it.’”

Save Self-Care for Sunday

Sunday afternoons used to be a time of worry for Efland, who would find herself exhausted by pre-pandemic weekends filled with meals out and social time with friends. 

But now, Efland carves out routine time on Sunday for nourishing pursuits at home, such as cooking healthy meals, working in her garden, or enjoying shows such as Euphoria and Afterlife with her husband.

To do this, she tries to knockout chores on Saturday, so there’s no Sunday afternoon time crunch. Her goal is to finish Sunday feeling rested and recharged for the week ahead.

“If you get to Sunday and you automatically start thinking about tomorrow, you’re not enjoying right now,” Efland said. “It’s so easy for us to live in the past or the future, but not really be present. That was a game changer for me. I was able to say ‘It’s not Monday, it’s Sunday afternoon, I’m going to enjoy the here and now.’”

Reframe Your Outlook

DCRI's Adam Post said focusing on the value of his work helps him ease into the each new week. Photo courtesy of Adam Post. Duke Clinical Research Institute Informaticist Adam Post spends his workdays helping manage nationwide COVID testing data from communities most affected by the pandemic. He fills his free time with activities that nourish his body and spirit, such as going on hikes with friends, playing music, hiking, meditating and volunteering. 

But when he does feel stress creeping into his time off, he focuses on the value of his work, which makes Monday seem less like something to worry about and more like an opportunity to contribute to a worthy effort. 

He said this idea crystallized in a conversation with a colleague who explained how he keeps from getting overwhelmed by challenging technical details of the work.

“He said ‘Why you’re doing what you’re doing informs what you’re doing and how you do it,’” Post said. “I try to carry that into my daily practice, especially during times where it feels like a slog. But ultimately, what I’m doing is rooted in altruism and helping people in underserved populations like minorities and tribal populations. That informs my work and gives me a sense of purpose, value and meaning.”

Efland, who helps Duke Eye Center patients with diagnostic tests, said she uses a similar approach when worries about Monday creep in. She said she reminds herself of what she has to look forward to on Monday, such as her fun colleagues and friendly patients.

“I think your mindset impacts everything,” Efland said. “So I try to imagine the best possible scenarios instead of the worst scenarios. I really love what I do and I love my co-workers, I have a great relationship with them. So instead of being like ‘Oh, I have to go back to work tomorrow,’ I’m like, ‘I get to see my friends again.’”

Resources 

For help building resilience and weaving more balance into your life, try some well-being exercises offered by the Duke Center for Healthcare Safety and Quality. And for more personal help managing stress and anxiety, contact Duke’s Personal Assistance Service for a confidential, no-cost consultation.

Send story ideas, shout-outs and photographs through our story idea form or write working@duke.edu.