This Is Why You Feel Sad on Sundays—and How to Cope When the 'Scaries' Hit

Some practical strategies to reclaim your weekend.


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No matter how much someone loves their job, there’s a good chance that they feel at least some tinge of sadness on Sundays, knowing that their weekend is coming to a close. For others, this state of mind—known as the “Sunday scaries” or “Sunday blues”—could also involve the onset of anxiety, as well as feelings of dread and irritability, as thoughts of the week ahead loom in their mind, says Carla Marie Manly, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Sonoma County, Calif., and author of Joy From Fear. 

Though the Sunday scaries can hit people in different ways and at different times (some people even start to feel the angst on Saturday), the experience itself is incredibly common, and completely normal and valid. Here’s what to know about the end-of-the-weekend blues, including ways to cope when your weekly dose of dread sets in, and maybe even enjoy your weekend.

What are the Sunday scaries?

Generally speaking, the Sunday scaries are usually negative thoughts or emotional distress about the upcoming week, says Peggy Loo, PhD, a licensed psychologist and the director of the Manhattan Therapy Collective. While the terms are often used interchangeably and certainly overlap, Loo explains that the “Sunday blues” differ slightly from the so-called scaries, because they focus on the weekend coming to an end. “[The Sunday scaries] tend to be future-centered and anticipatory, [while] the [Sunday blues] looks at the weekend like it’s in the past,” she explains. “Both tend to be ruminative in nature, and take you out of being present.”

Anyone can be affected by the Sunday scaries, Manly says—especially those who are burnt out, overly stressed, or in otherwise draining or unpleasant work situations. The weekly phenomenon isn’t limited to those who have a clinical diagnosis for mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression, but according to Manly, those individuals who do “may feel the Sunday scaries more intensely or frequently, due to the ongoing toll of the mental health issue.” Along the same lines, the “Sunday scaries isn’t itself a clinical diagnosis.

Finally, as Laura Erickson-Schroth, MD, a psychiatrist and chief medical officer of the The Jed Foundation points out, this feeling of anxiety and being overwhelmed isn’t limited to Sundays: It can set in before returning to other tasks or activities on any day of the week. “For those with social anxiety, the day before a return to social interaction can be anxiety-inducing,” she notes. And the Sunday scaries don’t necessarily have to occur on a regular basis, either, says Amira Johnson, LMSW, a therapist at Berman Psychotherapy. “For some, this anxious feeling may only happen every so often,” she notes. “But for others, it becomes a constant mental worry that reoccurs every single week.”

What's causing your Sunday scaries?

Sure, the Sunday scaries are a response to having to return to work, school, or another activity after the weekend (or another period of time off), but what, exactly, is causing all of this anxiety and dread? According to Dr. Erickson-Schroth, for some, these feelings stem from their personal time coming to a close. Manly agrees, noting that it’s “often rooted in a natural desire to continue enjoying a relaxed, weekend pace.”

Others are worried about their upcoming responsibilities. “Many people experience some level of anxiety or low mood as they transition back into work or school,” Dr. Erickson-Schroth explains. “It requires taking on a different role, and sometimes, entering a separate ‘brain space’ to go from personal time to work or school time.” Similarly, Manly says that a lot of people “simply aren’t thrilled with the prospect of a busy, stress-filled workweek, so it makes perfect sense that feelings of unease and distress arise at the prospect of yet another chaotic week juggling work and life.” 

On top of that, Loo says that the Sunday scaries can be exacerbated by imagining the worst-case scenario for the week ahead, or not being confident in your ability to cope with potential stress successfully. But because the week has yet to happen, it’s absolutely a matter of perspective. “Someone is way more likely to have Sunday scaries if they think, ‘this week is going to be so stressful and awful,’ versus someone who thinks ‘I’ve got a lot happening this week, but I’ll be okay,’” Loo explains.

Sunday Scaries Coping Strategies

Instead of trying to ignore or suppress those weekly Sunday blues, here are some expert-backed ways to manage unpleasant feelings instead (and actually enjoy your weekend).

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Uncover what's at the heart of it.

Dr. Erickson-Schroth says to start by figuring out what exactly is making you feel anxious or overwhelmed the day before you go back to work. For example, “if it has to do with losing your personal time or sense of freedom, what can you do to bring those kinds of experiences into the rest of your life?” she asks. “If your anxiety is related to upcoming obligations or responsibilities, are there ways to take things off your plate or spread out their timing?” Understanding and naming what the real source of your anxiety is can help you look at it more objectively and start to find actionable solutions. You may even discover that the true source of your dread comes from being at the wrong job more generally—a moment of Sunday scaries reflection could end up being a real turning point in making a necessary life transition.

Here are eight great ways to make that Sunday-into-Monday shift more manageable.

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Sit with your feelings for a mindful minute.

Once you have a better idea of what’s triggering your Sunday scaries, take note of how you feel. “Pause to nonjudgmentally notice your emotions and make space for them,” Manly suggests. “Notice if you’re feeling sad, scared, worried, angry, or irritable; don’t judge or push the feelings away, just allow them to be present for a few minutes. When you validate and normalize your feelings, they are far less likely to control you.”

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Give yourself a worry time limit.

If the Sunday scaries feel inevitable, Loo suggests putting a limit on the amount of time you allow yourself to worry so that it doesn’t ruin your entire day. It sounds ridiculous to schedule worry time, but it’s a trick that behavioral experts often recommend to anxiety-prone folks. For example, you can give yourself an hour, say, from 4 to 5 p.m., where your scaries can run wild. “If they come up earlier, you have to wait until the designated time, and you know you’ll have it,” Loo says. “If they come up later, you have to distract yourself as the time has already passed. This promotes the valuable skill of being in the driver's seat of your own thoughts and not at the mercy of them.”

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Plan for a restful Sunday.

Rather than trying to cram a lot into your Sunday (or the day before you return to work or another activity), plan to have a restful day instead, Dr. Erickson-Schroth suggests. Fill your day with an activity that feels soothing or upbeat, Manly says. “Intentionally refocus your thoughts into a positive action such as baking, exercising, or connecting with a friend.” 

“Depending on the type of person you are, either stay away from work completely—keep your computer closed or phone away—or create a checklist for the week that helps you to feel prepared,” she says.

Along the same lines, if you’re someone who has to prep for the week to come, Johnson recommends doing that work on a day other than Sunday, or at least spreading out to-dos so they don't all pile up. “That way when Sunday comes, you’re not overwhelmed and stressed about tasks to come,” she explains.

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Create a transition routine that works for you.

Use every last drop of your weekend, ending your day with a transition routine that helps you wind down prior to your return to weekday life. This can help because, as Dr. Erickson-Schroth points out, “routines put us in a more relaxed state of mind.” 

Johnson recommends taking that a step further by incorporating some grounding techniques like meditation, breathing exercises, or stretching into your routine. “This will help to reset and hopefully calm your thoughts, making Sunday a time to look forward to, rather than dread,” she says. “You can also reflect on the good things that happened that weekend rather than skipping straight into Monday.”

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