If you've ever experienced the "Sunday Scaries"—aka, a surge of dread on Sunday loosely related to the end of the weekend, and the start of the week ahead—you know that they're not quite as cute and playful as the name suggests.
And they don't make themselves scarce: More than 80 percent of surveyed Americans report an affliction with said Scaries, according to recent research conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of LinkedIn. Among the top reported causes were concerns about workload, balancing one's professional and personal life, and incomplete tasks from the prior week. (Honestly, I got a little stressed just writing that last sentence.)
The good news is, there are some tactics you can employ to scare your Scaries away. We spoke with New York-based psychiatrist Alexandra Sacks, M.D. to get the lowdown:
It's important to note, says Sacks, the Scaries don't just strike on Sundays. "Different people have different points in the week where their anxiety surges," she says. "For some people, it’s on Sunday—but not for everyone."
It depends on where one's anxiety typically stems from, of course. If it's work, and you have a Monday-through-Friday job, then Sundays are a natural time to feel heightened anxiety. Sacks notes that dehydration and sleep deprivation—say, from a late night on Saturday—can contribute.
Mainly, she says, it's about "anticipatory anxiety"—a sense of "I don’t want to go back into that situation that makes me feel bad." These tactics that she's shared can be used any day of the week.
The first step toward minimizing your Scaries is going straight to the source, Sacks says.
"The first thing I'd say is that you could consider jotting down some notes and keeping a journal for when you’re feeling most anxious in the week, so you can see where there’s a pattern," she says. "Is it related to going out the night before? Is it related to sleep deprivation? Work? Figure out what your triggers are, whether physical or psychological."
Keeping a list of your triggers—of what tends to make you feel stressed—can make you feel centered and in control, she says. "It's so you can look at the list and say, 'Oh yeah, this makes sense.'"
Once you've identified a pattern and started to outline your triggers—whether they're concerns about difficult interpersonal relationships at work, or about sitting in the traffic on your commute, or something else entirely—you can start to plan for it.
"There are all sort of stress hormones—Cortisol is one of them—that are physiologically linked to panic and anxiety. It's our fight-or-flight system. Your system tells you to have blood pumping faster to your heart so you can run away from the bear in the woods," says Sacks. "When the source of danger is in your mind, your body is still going to turn on those physiological systems and your body gets poised to fight."
Build in little mechanisms to your habits to prevent your anxiety from surging so deeply, and to help yourself calm down if it does. Don't stop doing the things you want to do that help you to unwind—just create a system for balancing out the side effects that might be contributing to your Scaries.
"If you have a big night, and you know that sleep deprivation and hangovers make you anxious, plan something calming the next day," she says. "Maybe go for a walk, or schedule mindful, soothing things like taking a bath, being in nature, cooking, or listening to music—things that calm the senses, which is one way to down-regulate the nervous system."
Sacks also recommends deep breathing exercises, as well as meditation—in particular, she likes the Headspace app.
According to Sacks, knowing your anxiety triggers is also paramount to reframing your thoughts. "You can say to yourself, 'I know it’s just the sleep deprivation,' or 'I know it’s going back to work' and to name why you’re feeling that way can help."
She says that it's also critical to remember that the anticipation of a stressful stimulus can be a lot worse than the actual stimulus.
"Remind yourself you always feel this way before XYZ, and it’s always worse to anticipate than the thing actually is," she says. "And if the thing actually is painful, in moments when you’re feeling calmer, think through potential active steps so you don’t have to keep this active stress exposure."
"You need to respect your own comfort—no one needs to suffer because of their psychological discomfort. If you’re asking yourself the question 'Is it too much?', it probably means that you need and want some help," says Sacks. "That’s the time to pick up the phone and call your doctor and get some help. Know there’s nothing to be ashamed of if you’re admitting you feel anxiety. It’s a thing that happens to the mind, body, and brain, and it happens to everyone. Anxiety is an innate part of life. Every human can experience anxiety. Sometimes it’s just about speaking to a doctor to learn how to manage your anxiety for the future or receive a treatment."
Do you ever feel Sunday Scaries? If so, how do you deal? Let us know in the comments!