Researchers have long explored the feeling of dread that creeps up during the last day of the weekend, but the “Sunday scaries” have been further amplified over the last two years.
Sunday is the third least favourite day of the week, a recent YouGov poll survey in the U.S. shows. It ranks well behind Monday, by far the most dreaded day, but only slightly behind Tuesday, despite being one of only two days off for most. In response, brands now advertise everything from cannabis and beauty products to pet care routines to keep the Sunday scaries at bay.
Lexicographers have traced the term back to a hangover-inspired 2009 post on the online slang translation website Urban Dictionary, but the affliction was identified in more traditional sources well before then. A 1991 article in the New York Times, for example, describes the “Sunday blahs” or the “Sunday blues” as the “flip side of TGIF” (Thank God It’s Friday).
“Not everyone gets them, and it is impossible to quantify how many people do, but the anecdotal evidence is there,” Times reporter Jon Nordheimer wrote. “If people are asked whether they have a downward mood swing by late Sunday afternoon, chances are they will recognize the symptoms and confess that the visitation shows up like clockwork.”
Vancouver-based career coach Fanie Zis says most Canadians have been conditioned for a sudden change in routine or loss of comfort at the start of the week.
“Even as little kids, we go off to daycare and are separated from our parents on Mondays,” says Ms. Zis.
The sense of discomfort associated with the end of the weekend has been exacerbated by disruptions to everyday life during the pandemic, Ms. Zis adds.
“COVID-19 basically made any anxiety you already had way worse because the whole world was a scary place,” she says.
For example, many of the routines that made Sunday more enjoyable – like spending time with family or going out to dinner – were no longer permissible or safe. At the same time, many experienced a blurring of the lines between work and personal time and had to manage new challenges during the week.
“People’s jobs changed. People didn’t know if they would have jobs. There was the possibility of contracting COVID-19 among essential workers and bringing it back home – all of those anxieties were all of a sudden heightened,” she says.
Though many COVID-19 restrictions have recently been lifted, Ms. Zis says pandemic-related anxiety is far from over.
“Now we have the ‘return to office scaries,’” she says. “People have changed their habits over the last two years and now need to change everything back, not knowing if they’ll have to rearrange it all over again in six months [if new restrictions are implemented]; so there’s still that sense of uncertainty, and that’s what drives anxiety.”
The pandemic also expedited a growing disconnect between individuals, which may be a significant driver of the Sunday scaries.
“I believe that our discontent and most of the ‘scaries’ could be attributed to the decline of the ‘human touch,’ both at work and in our free time,” says Jiri Zuzanek, a retired author and research associate at the University of Waterloo’s department of recreation and leisure studies. “This applies to Sunday’s use of free time too.”
According to Dr. Zuzanek’s research, replacing human interactions with electronic communications has made work feel less personal and weekends less rejuvenating.
“As personal contacts are replaced with automated communications, we seem to be missing the human touch,” he says. “The nature of [how we spend Sundays] has radically changed in the past decades, making them increasingly resemble weekdays.”
One of the ways to better manage the Sunday scaries is to make Mondays a little less dreadful., according to Martin Antony, a psychology professor at Ryerson University and a member of Anxiety Canada’s scientific advisory committee.
“People need a balance in activities that give them a sense of mastery and accomplishment, and activities that give them a sense of enjoyment or pleasure,” Dr. Antony says. “Reward yourself on Monday after work with a nice dinner, or just make sure your week isn’t all about mastery activities like work, but that you’re also taking time for yourself.”
Some might also find it helpful to spend Sunday evenings preparing for Monday morning, such as packing a lunch or preparing an outfit. Moving a few tasks from Monday to Sunday can help reduce anxiety, but Dr. Antony warns not to overdo it, as working too hard on the weekends will only make the rest of the week more difficult.
Workers also need to understand that Sunday scaries are common, adds Dr. Antony, as that simple acknowledgement can help prevent the anxiety from spiralling into something bigger.
“Recognize this is normal and don’t assume that this feeling is important or that it means something,” he says. “Recognize that it’s a feeling, but we don’t necessarily have to act based on that feeling.”