A lot of clients talk to us about the ‘Sunday Scaries’ – the anxiety & dread they feel about the upcoming work week, which is intensified in those who either aren’t happy in their career or who are feeling burned out. Both of these issues have become increasingly prominent throughout the pandemic.
But what if Sundays didn’t have to be so scary? And what if Mondays didn’t have to be so hard? It sounds easier said than done. But when we learn & use healthy coping skills, we develop a trust in ourselves that reminds us that we can handle whatever stressors the work week brings up. This allows us to feel more in control of our life and our weeks, which eventually decreases our anxiety. It also helps us relax into a calmer state when anxious thoughts do arise instead of dwelling on them, which usually just makes things worse.
Here are 6 tips to help you get started. If you’ve got a case of the Sunday Scaries right now, give them a try and see if you notice any shifts in your mood, anxiety levels or thoughts throughout the upcoming week.
DITCH ‘SELF-CARE SUNDAY’
Don’t get me wrong – self-care on Sundays IS important, especially if it tends to be a high anxiety day for you. But if you’re only practicing self-care on Sundays, it’s no wonder you’re dreading the rest of the week and the days that you aren’t making that time/space for yourself. If we swing from one extreme to another (a full day of self-care vs. none at all), it’s going to keep our mood and anxiety levels swinging to extremes, too.
Instead, incorporate at least 30 minutes of non-negotiable self-care into every day. Prioritize this the same exact way that you would prioritize an important work meeting or doctor’s appointment. It’s important that the self-care activities you choose are aligned with your needs in each moment and to be flexible vs. rigid about the way you spend that time.
Depending on the day, your self-care need might be: rest, movement, organization, socialization, productivity, reflection, learning, etc. Have a ‘toolbox’ of optional self-care activities and use the ones you need each day vs. forcing an inflexible self-care routine on yourself that starts to feel like a chore. (Examples of activities to add to your self-care toolbox: read a book, listen to a podcast, write, meditate, stretch, walk, organize your space, take a bath, breath, dance, sit outside, engage in a creative hobby, do a puzzle, etc).
It’s hard for our nervous system to feel calm or at ease when we’re not feeling organized. This is because, as humans, we desire to have as much control as possible and being disorganized inevitably makes us feel out of control. Whether it’s organizing your physical space or your weekly calendar, taking some time to de-clutter at least once a week will help to de-clutter your mind as well. This will naturally make you feel at least slightly calmer and less anxious. If getting organized feels overwhelming/stressful in and of itself, that’s normal. However the dread of doing it is usually worse than the process itself.
Schedule organization time on your calendar, pair it with something you enjoy and think of it as a treat for your future self. Drink some coffee or tea while you organize your work calendar. Throw on a podcast or music or call a friend while you organize your space. Make it less daunting by pairing it with something else that you enjoy. Shifting from thinking to moving will eliminate whatever dread you were originally feeling and you will be grateful you took this time.
ANTICIPATE & PLAN FOR CHALLENGES
A lot of our anxiety about an upcoming work week is due to the anticipation of inevitable stressors and challenges that will arise. We are anxious about what we can’t control or predict – and a lot of the time we cannot control or predict what happens at work. The goal is not to eliminate all stressors and challenges. The goal is to anticipate that they will arise and create a plan for successfully managing them, so that we feel more confident and prepared to do so.
Start by identifying the challenges/stressors you already CAN predict. Have a plan for how you’ll address them and what you will objectively do if you can’t. Playing out the ‘worst case scenario’ helps us feel more prepared and in control. Next, create a ritual for what you’ll do any time an unexpected stressful or challenging situation arises.
For example: When something overwhelming or stressful pops up, you take 5 minutes to stop and breath. You re-approach it objectively. You deal with it. And then you reward yourself for getting through it with some healthy self-care time. Creating this system will help you shift from trying to dodge or avoid challenging/stressful situations (spoiler alert: you can’t) to anticipating them and feeling confident about handling them. It will shift you from resistance to acceptance, which will alleviate your anxiety.
REFLECT ON THE WEEK PRIOR
In anticipating stressors and challenges, it will help you to reflect on the week before. Take some time to do an assessment and check-in with yourself. Can you identify what went well last week? Are you able to pinpoint what didn’t go well? What were the challenges and how could I tackle those if they arise again this week? Don’t limit this reflection only to work, otherwise you risk over-identifying yourself with your job and disregarding other, important parts of yourself and your life.
Identify the other categories that are also important to you: relationships, finances, health, hobbies, etc. Ask yourself what went well/not so well in each bucket and what, if anything, needs to change this week in each area. This exercise will also help you to feel more in control – like you’re living intentionally instead of just existing and reacting to life as it happens. Which leads into the next tip…
SET INTENTIONS FOR THE WEEK AHEAD
Setting intentions for the week ahead helps us tackle it with focus and direction, which also helps us to feel more organized, clear and in control, This (surprise, surprise!) also helps to alleviate our anxiety. Don’t just focus on an endless to-do list, though this can be helpful to do during the ‘Get Organized’ stage.
Instead, think of 1-3 intentions you have for the week. For example, being more present or setting better boundaries. You can then weave these intentions into everything you do throughout the week. These intentions will then dictate how you spend your time, how you communicate with others, what self-care activities you engage in, etc. When you’re feeling stressed and/or overwhelmed throughout the week, you’ll have these intentions to fall back on. And when we align our actions and behavior with our intentions/values, we are much less stressed – even if not much else has changed.
CREATE POSITIVE ASSOCIATIONS
Everyone has parts of their job that they dislike. And if you’re feeling burned out, even the parts of your job that you DO like can begin to feel stressful or overwhelming. To combat this, create positive associations with those aspects of the job.
Creating a positive association means pairing something you already enjoy doing with something you don’t. Maybe it’s drinking tea and snuggling your dog while you write the notes that you dread writing. Or perhaps it’s having a quick dance party break or walking around the block every time you complete an hour of work (side note: lots of research supports this approach!). It’s possible that it’s just creating a cozy environment with candles or incense burning while you work on a stressful work project. When we can’t change one undesirable variable, it can help to at least add a different, more pleasant variable to the equation.
Keep in mind that we are creatures of habit. So if you’ve been conditioned to feel anxious on Sundays for awhile, it’s going to take some time to unlearn this and to re-condition yourself. These practices are not a quick fix, but if you implement them consistently, over time you will start feeling more in control over your week and your life – and therefore less anxious about what’s to come.