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How to Beat the Sunday Scaries

Five strategies to manage anxiety ahead of another workweek.

Key points

  • In a syrvey to determine the prevalence of Sunday workweek anxiety, millennials and Gen Z workers were most affected.
  • Forty-one percent of survey respondents believed COVID-19 has caused or worsened their Sunday distress.
  • Research shows the typical onset of the Sunday scaries is 3:58 pm.
  • Planning ahead isn't about being more productive; it's about protecting your energy.
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels
The anticipation of return to work can be overwhelming
Source: Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

The end of a weekend brings sadness, but returning to an ever-changing workplace amplifies the Sunday blues throughout the pandemic. Anticipation creates panic for many younger workers who struggle with performance and social anxiety.

LinkedIn surveyed nearly 3,000 Americans to determine the prevalence of the Sunday scaries. Millennials and Gen Z workers were most affected, with 78% of respondents reporting pre-work stress on Sundays.

Forty-one percent of survey respondents believed COVID-19 has caused or worsened their Sunday distress, with 31% of male professionals experiencing the Sunday scaries for the first time.

The Sunday scaries can happen to anyone and don't mean you hate your job. Here are some tips to decrease anxiety and feel more optimistic heading into the workweek.

Set some boundaries

The best part about remote work is that it is flexible. The worst part about remote work is that it is flexible. The office is always open with 24/7 access to email and work files.

As Ashley Stahl notes, "You would think that wearing pajama pants to work and not having to deal with commuting to an office would be an amazing stress buster. Instead, remote workers are fighting the Sunday Scaries because they transformed work-from-home flexibility into a work-addicted lifestyle."

Workers anxious about the workweek may peek at email or review presentations. This "getting a head start" tends to fuel anticipatory anxiety. If you must catch up on the weekend, try to have a set work area and work times, so your brain knows when you are working and when you are relaxing.

Value your free time

Free time is not time wasted. Recognize the constant pull between the desire for self-care and the allure of feeling productive. Many of us simply don't know what to do with unstructured time (think of the highly scheduled childhoods of GenZ) and mistakenly refer to it as "wasted."

High achievers tend to be self-critical as their perfectionism is a means to control feelings of inadequacy from past trauma. They work through breaks and constantly shift their sleep schedule to meet self-imposed deadlines. The result is burnout, and learning to prioritize rest can result in higher productivity.

If you don't clear that TO DO list of household chores, practice self-compassion and recognize your mind and body need time to rest. Your productivity does not determine your self-worth.

Take time to plan

When your task list only exists in your head, you may feel scattered and sense an urgency, like there won't be enough time to get everything done. Take one or more hours on a Sunday to plan your week.

If you are a visual person, make a list on a beautiful project management board in Trello or Asana. Next, estimate the time needed to complete each task (and add 20%), so you block enough space on your schedule. Prioritizing tasks on a Google or other personal calendar decreases anxiety as you know exactly what to do and when to do it.

It's harder for the stressed mind to prioritize, so deciding when to focus on a task decreases anxiety. Eliminating decision fatigue is critical for less preferred tasks like cleaning.

Cleaning apps break cleaning down into individual tasks doable during a commercial break. Most people would prefer to complete a few small things each day to avoid hours of cleaning on their day off.

Give yourself something to look forward to

Research shows the typical onset of the Sunday scaries is 3:58 pm. Plan something fun to do around that time, a cognitive behavioral therapy technique called pleasant events scheduling.

Rather than binge-watching your favorite show on Saturday, save an episode for Sunday night. Maybe Monday is the day you start a little later, stop to get your favorite coffee, or meet a friend for a quick walk over lunch.

Manage Zoom fatigue

Stanford researchers report that videoconferencing is mentally challenging as our brains are wired for in-person interactions. Connecting on Zoom means close direct eye contact; our brains work harder to interpret gestures and non-verbal communication.

Get out of full-screen mode, and your nervous system doesn't feel the interaction is an intense confrontation. Are you tired of looking at every hair on your head and line on your face? Use the hide self-screen function to limit distractions and focus on your colleagues or clients.

More workplaces follow a hybrid model and use Zoom to connect with clients or for larger meetings. We are less mobile during a video conference to stay on the screen, so get up and move around between sessions.

Final thoughts

Don't let the Sunday scaries ruin your weekend. Take charge by scheduling intentional breaks and self-care. Remember that planning ahead isn't about being more productive; it's about protecting your energy.

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