A man leaning against a couch at home while rubbing his eyes as he deals with the Sunday scaries.

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4 Practical Ways to Deal with the Sunday Scaries, According to Mental Health Pros

Always feel low-key terrified on Sunday nights? These four tips can help you find relief.

By Michelle KonstantinovskyJune 28, 2024


Snakes, heights, public speaking, and…Sundays? If this short list made your stomach drop, then not only are you familiar with phobias, but you may be intimately acquainted with a specific form of foreboding known as the Sunday scaries. 

While the Sunday scaries may not be a true, diagnosable phobia, they can wreck your mood, take you out of the present moment, and spoil an otherwise glorious weekend. Here’s everything you need to know about identifying, preventing, and squashing the Sunday scaries so you can enjoy your days off to the fullest. 

What Are the Sunday Scaries?

The Sunday scaries encapsulate the feelings of unease, anxiety, or dread that many people experience as the prospect of the impending week’s obligations looms, according to Britt Frank, a neuro-psychotherapist, licensed specialist clinical social worker, and author of The Science of Stuck

“I would define it as stress or apprehension for the week to come,” adds Navya Mysore, MD, a primary care physician and women’s health expert. “One might start thinking about everything that will need to get done in the week ahead, and that can feel overwhelming, especially after a weekend of fun or relaxation. It can be scary to think about going back to work, having meeting after meeting, going through your to-do list—hence the Sunday scaries.”

The Sunday scaries impact more than just your mental health, too. “Physically, this may manifest as tension, restlessness, difficulty sleeping, or even digestive issues,” Frank says. “The important thing to know about Sunday scaries is that this is not a mindset problem—there are very real body responses that cause the shaky, panicky, ‘want to cry’ Sunday evening feelings.” (More on that later.)

Unfortunately, many of us feel this way at the end of the week. “The Sunday scaries are extremely common—I experience them myself from time to time,” Dr. Mysore says. (In our modern world, the Sunday scaries are so pervasive, the term even has a place in the dictionary.)

A young woman experiencing the Sunday scaries. She's sitting on her bed with her head in her hands and looking away from the camera.

Xavier Lorenzo / Moment via Getty Images

Why Do We Get the Sunday Scaries?

“Common reasons for the Sunday scaries are a demanding upcoming work week with long hours, stressful meetings at work, social anxiety, a long to-do list, having to restart the routine with kids, and more,” Dr. Mysore says. These common stressors can trigger a taxing physiological reaction, heightening that “scary” feeling at the end of the week. 

Frank uses a car metaphor to explain it: “Think about driving a stick shift—you would never expect yourself to be going 90 mph in fifth gear and then be able to shift directly to 20 mph in first gear,” she says. “We spend our work weeks grinding away at 90 mph in fifth, then when Friday rolls around, we struggle to get back down to first gear.” 

For many of us, it can take the whole weekend just to reset our nervous systems back to that elusive “first gear” of relaxation and ease. “Then Sunday night, our bodies know they’ll be expected to shift straight back to 90 mph,” Frank continues. “If we don’t know how to consciously shift our nervous systems between gears, we’ll experience anxiety, racing heart, sweaty palms, and other signs of what’s called ‘sympathetic activation.’”

Commonly known as the “fight-or-flight response,” sympathetic activation occurs when a perceived threat triggers the body to produce a rush of adrenaline and noradrenaline, powering it to either fight or flee a dangerous situation. While this evolutionary survival response can be great for escaping dire circumstances, our brains can’t necessarily differentiate between a bear attack and a work deadline—both are stressful, and both can set off a cascade of anxiety symptoms—so even innocuous scenarios can elicit intense activation. 

The science behind the Sunday scaries may be similar from person to person, but individual stressors make the phenomenon unique for each of us. “There are as many reasons for the Sunday scaries as there are people who experience them,” Frank says. Those reasons may be:

  • Physiological. End-of-week anxiety could be purely physiological, Frank says:   “You’ve spent the weekend relaxing and now the sudden demand to shift creates anxiety signals in your brain.” 

  • Emotional. Common examples, Frank says, include disliking your job or boss, not wanting to leave your children, or feeling worried about income. 

  • A combination of both. “When we’re busy, it’s easy to sweep our feelings about work and finances under the rug,” Frank says. “But Sunday is often the time when those buried feelings rush to the surface, creating feelings of anxiety and ‘scariness.’”  

How to Deal with Sunday Scaries

While everyone who experiences the Sunday scaries may navigate different feelings and emotions, experts recommend a few general tried-and-true strategies for overcoming an end-of-weekend funk: 

1. Finally Make That To-Do List

“I love doing a brain dump on Sunday afternoons or evenings,” Dr. Mysore says. “I plan for the week ahead and make a list of everything that needs to get done, as well as additional things I’d like to get done if possible. I list three major priorities for each day, and make sure I carve out time for self-care activities like workouts.”

Having everything in front of you can help you feel confident you won’t forget anything important, allowing you to feel more prepared for the week ahead. If a long to-do list only makes you feel more overwhelmed, it may help to map out how you’ll approach each task and when you’ll do it. 

2. Use Facts to Describe Your Feelings 

“One of the best ways to mitigate the Sunday scaries is to use specific language and not metaphors,” Frank says. For instance, instead of thinking, “I feel I’m going to drown,” try reframing it as, “I have a ton on my plate Monday morning and I feel fear about not being able to get it all done.” 

While it might not seem like a dramatic change, simply stating your feelings in clear, distinct terms may help ease anxious thoughts, Frank explains. “Specific language is one of the most powerful (and overlooked) interventions for anxiety of all kinds—including Sunday scaries,” she says.

3. Move Your Body

“Exercise is always great when dealing with any form of anxiety, including the Sunday scaries,” Dr. Mysore says. “Exercise lowers stress levels and allows you to process your worries as well.” (The Peloton App offers a wide array of workouts that can help you get moving and fend off the scaries.)

4. Confide in a Loved One

Talking through your Sunday scaries with a trusted loved one is another easy-but-effective practice that can do wonders. 

“If I feel like I'm having a particularly challenging Sunday, I will always talk with my husband,” Dr. Mysore says. “Sharing your stress and worry can help put them into perspective and the person you are sharing with can share their own, making you feel less alone with the Sunday scaries.” 

Can You Prevent the Sunday Scaries?

While practicing the techniques above can potentially help alleviate the major mood changes that occur when you’re already in the depths of the Sunday scaries, there are also strategies for preventing the phenomenon altogether. 

One of the best ways to stave off the Sunday scaries, according to Frank, is to simply commit to the reality of your situation so you can identify the best intervention. “Instead of trying to deep breathe your way through the feelings, you might try making a grievance list,” she says. “We talk a lot about gratitude lists, but identifying your pain points goes a long way in reducing the intensity of symptoms.”

The idea behind creating a “grievance list” is to be able to reflect on the pain points that are currently irking you, and compassionately acknowledge that your feelings make sense in the context of some of these stressors. The trick here is to not get stuck on wallowing in your grievances, but instead, to use them as a starting point for an action plan. 

“Identify three choices that are available to help you cope,” Frank says. “For example, if you hate your job, your three choices might be to join a networking group, talk to a recruiter, or take a class to up-level your skills so you can find another job. Asking yourself, ‘What are my choices?’ goes a long way in helping your brain feel like it’s in the driver’s seat of your life and not locked in the backseat of an out-of-control car.”

In addition to accepting and working with your stressors to help prevent the Sunday scaries, practicing solid self-care and establishing a consistent routine can also go a long way in keeping you even-keeled as a new week approaches. One steady healthy habit that you can start incorporating into your weekend plans: mindfulness

Try to stay present and don’t think about Monday while having a peaceful moment on Sunday, as that will take away from your weekend and much-needed relaxation,” Dr. Mysore says. “Living in the moment is so important, but it’s not easy to do, so having a regular breathing or meditation practice can help.”

How Are the Sunday Scaries Different From an Anxiety Disorder?

When discussing the Sunday scaries, it’s important to understand that the feelings of anxiety that are characteristic of the phenomenon are not necessarily the same symptoms that accompany a true anxiety disorder, which can affect personal relationships and interfere with daily activities such as work and school.

“There is definitely a clear difference,” Dr. Mysore says. “The Sunday scaries should be a fleeting feeling of stress or anxiety, meaning you feel it on Sunday when you think about everything that needs to get done, but once you start your week, the feeling fades and you generally feel OK. General anxiety disorder is more consistent, with anxious thoughts that impact your daily life for at least two weeks in a row.”

When to Speak with a Healthcare Provider

Generally speaking, the Sunday scaries themselves aren’t indicative of a mental health condition, especially if the accompanying anxiety or uneasiness really only occurs in the context of a new week looming. But that end-of-weekend spiral doesn’t have to be inevitable, and for some, it may help to talk things through with a mental health provider. 

Specifically, persistent anxiety, depression, or other mental health symptoms could indicate a need for professional help. “If your Sunday scaries start to appear earlier and earlier in the week, or if they are impacting your quality of life and you are unable to start the week because of anxiety, you should consider seeking help from your primary care provider or mental health professional to discuss how you are feeling and discuss ways to get support,” Dr. Mysore says.

If you’re not sure where to get started, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offer helpful resources and insightful information for finding care.

The Takeaway

Feeling down in the dumps or just generally moody, anxious, or uneasy as the weekend winds down is a pretty common phenomenon. If you experience the Sunday scaries, you may feel overwhelmed as your focus shifts from a fun and relaxing two-day reprieve to the deadlines, responsibilities, and less-than-fun obligations of the week ahead. While the Sunday scaries are typically not indicative of a major mental health concern, they can certainly be a bummer—and take away from the pleasure and joy of your weekends. 

Luckily, by practicing some simple strategies (like making to-do lists, working out, and talking with loved ones), you can bust through your bad mood and relish in feel-good weekend vibes all the way to the finish line. But if your Sunday scaries extend beyond Sunday or impact your ability to function, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.

This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.


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