The struggle was very real for Chrissy Macken every Sunday night.
About four years ago, she worked for a non-profit organization in Washington D.C. with limited resources: Employees oversaw multiple projects and didn’t have enough time to get everything finished. By the time Sunday evening arrived, the thought of going into work the next day left her jaw in pain from grinding her teeth. She also felt sick to her stomach and was unable to get a good night’s rest.
These feelings, which were chronic and put her work-life balance into disarray, have a name — the Sunday scaries.
“I describe it as the onset of anxiety and dread about the week ahead,” says Macken, now a career counselor with blueprintgreen, a career coaching and consulting firm in Washington D.C. She says the Sunday scaries can manifest in different forms but often include having trouble getting to sleep or feeling sick from worry before a busy week. For some people, this problem happens regularly, as a result of feeling overworked or doing a job they don’t enjoy. But even people who love their jobs can still get a bout of the Sunday scaries.
“It tends to correlate when they have something that’s pushing the boundaries of their skills or their perception of their skills coming up in the week ahead,” Macken says.
So how well are you sleeping on Monday eve? If you regularly have a hard time going to bed on Sunday nights, here are some tips and strategies to keep those worrisome thoughts at bay.
Plan Out Your Monday
One of the more challenging aspects of conquering the Sunday scaries is finding a way to quiet your mind so you can get to sleep. Macken says planning out your Monday is one way to help manage a massive workload.
“Making a list of the things you want to accomplish can be helpful in keeping your mind from running and running,” she says. But don’t fret trying to plan out the entire week perfectly; take it one day at a time.
“For some people, their Sunday scaries can feel so overwhelming that anything feels really difficult to do,” she says. “So to say, ‘Oh just make a list of everything you need to get done this week,’ sometimes feels even more overwhelming.”
So on Sunday afternoon before the scaries start to creep in, write down three things you ideally want to accomplish on Monday. Then on Monday night, write another three down you wish to achieve on Tuesday.
“It’s kind of part of a broader strategy,” Macken says. “You’re not even necessarily getting into the level of detail of how I’m going to get this done. But maybe what’s the first thing I need to do to accomplish this [goal].”
Try Guided Sleep Meditation
Krista Neher didn’t start experiencing the Sunday scaries until a little over a year ago, when she started working in a traditional office environment. Neher, the CEO of the digital marketing company Boot Camp Digital, now works at her client’s office in Amsterdam. Before relocating, she had the luxury of setting her own schedule from her company’s office in the United States.
When she’s ready to go to bed on Sunday, a wave of anxiety hits her while she pictures the work week ahead. Neher tosses and turns until 3 or 4 a.m., meaning she only gets a few hours of sleep. In order to put her mind at ease, she started looking for music to help her get to sleep. Eventually, she found free guided sleep meditation tracks on YouTube.
These tracks feature a calm voice giving different prompts aimed at clearing your mind while soothing music plays in the background. Some of the prompts offer specific scenarios like “picture you’re floating in space,” while others are more theoretical, like “imagine your worries melting away.”
These days, when it’s time to start winding down on Sundays, Neher gets in bed, puts in her earbuds and does her meditation until she falls asleep.
“I noticed when I listen to the guided meditation, I can feel my body releasing the tension,” she says. “Now when I have trouble going to sleep and use this, there’s a good probability I’m asleep in 20 to 30 minutes.”
Neher advises searching on YouTube for “guided sleep meditation” and listening to different selections until you find a playlist that works for you. She says some of the prompts may sound strange but encourages people to do their best to approach it with an open mind.
“If you can go along with what’s happening and you do try to focus on what it’s suggesting, I found it works really well most of the time,” she says.
Develop a Relaxing Routine
Merissa Green uses a variety of relaxation techniques to keep her work-related anxiety in check. It all started about five years ago when a friend recommended she try yoga to manage her arthritis issues. Not only did the practice minimize her aches, she noticed it had a calming element that washed away the stress.
In addition to doing yoga up to three times a week, she uses an essential oil diffuser, Himalayan salt lamp, adult coloring books and a meditation app to help reframe her thinking, provide positive distractions and put her mind at ease.
“I mean, it all seems weird, but all of these things combined really centers the mind,” says Green, a communications analyst for the School Board of Polk County, Florida. “Because when you have anxiety, or you’re worried about what you have to do at any given day, you really need to slow your mind down and these tools help with that.”
On Sundays, her ritual starts with a bubble bath while listening to a meditation music channel on Pandora. Afterward, she practices meditation with the app. It features a series of prompts that helps her focus on her breathing and stay in the moment instead of thinking about the week ahead.
After implementing the meditation app about seven months ago, Green began getting a better night’s rest almost immediately and now feels more energized throughout the week. She says staying consistent with whatever ritual you do is the key to being more at peace with your body and mind.
“So if I’m not using my diffuser every day or if I’m not using the app, then my life continues to spiral out of control again,” she says. “It does make a difference in terms of being calm, how you interact with other individuals, and it sets the tone for everything that you do.”
Put Your Thoughts Down on Paper
When stress from work seems overwhelming, Green suggests picking up a pen and writing down what you’re thinking. Journaling can be a great way to get things off your mind.
A lot of people’s default setting is to hold their feelings inside or to push them way down, she says. Over time, these repressed thoughts and feelings build, which puts the body and mind out of sync with each other.
“Especially when you don’t have anybody to talk to about whatever issues or circumstances you’re dealing with, you always have those blank pages that will listen to you,” she says.
Don’t Schedule Monday Morning Meetings
One way to take the edge off the work week is to ease into Monday morning. Two areas Macken focuses on with her clients is taking charge of what they can control and being their best advocate on the things they can improve. She tells them not to schedule any meetings before lunch on Mondays.
“For any meeting where they have control over it, schedule it at a time where [they’re] going to be able to adequately be prepared, so on Sunday night your not queasy and wanting to throw up,” she says.
Granted, not everyone has complete control of their schedule — your boss may decide to hold a 10:30 a.m. team meeting in the conference room. But it’s up to you to do your best to protect that early part of the week.
Start a Sunday Funday
Sunday evenings for Lori Cheek used to consist of cooking dinner by herself, watching bad TV and dreading the upcoming work week. It was a miserable way to end the weekend ahead of a 50-hour work week in the corporate world. Then two years ago, she came up with a distraction.
On Sunday afternoons, she hosts Sunday Funday at her favorite bar in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. For about 3 ½ hours each week, Cheek and her friends enjoy some drinks, eat finger food, and play games like Scrabble, Jenga and Connect Four.
In the beginning, these afternoon meetups consisted of Cheek’s college friends, co-workers and people she knew from the gym. Over time, her guests started inviting their friends, and now there can be anywhere between 10 to 25 people on any given Sunday.
“By the time I get home, I don’t even think about what’s coming at me the next day,” she says. “I’m exhausted, and I just hit the sack. I think the main thing is that it’s been a huge distraction and a fun day.”
Cheek, who left the corporate world to start her own smartphone dating app called Cheekd, advises anyone who is dealing with the Sunday scaries to find an activity to look forward to each Sunday.
“I used to dread Sunday because that was the day before Monday, and now I look forward to it so much,” she says. “It’s my favorite day of the week.”
Matt Reinstetle is a staff writer at Codetic. He regularly suffers from the Sunday scaries and is looking forward to implementing these tips into his Sunday evening routine.