When Your Sunday Scaries Are the Sign of a Much Bigger Problem

The first time I came across the term Sunday Scaries was on a former co-worker’s Instagram. She’d quit her job to “travel,” and ever since that announcement, her feed had been splashed with cool photos of her biking in Argentina, lying poolside in Florida, and wine tasting in California. One Sunday evening, she posted a picture of herself and two friends, wide smiles, beers in hand at an outdoor table with the caption, “No Scary Sundays here!”

Huh, I thought, assuming she’d made that saying up. But then after that, as typically happens when you’re introduced to a new saying, I started seeing it everywhere. Turns out that it’s a real thing. And learning that only led to more questions on my end.

Was this inevitable if you worked the traditional Monday through Friday? What if you liked your job? Would you still experience some version of this? What if you’re somewhere in the middle—you neither love nor hate your job—are you familiar with it?

As many of us discuss the Sunday Scaries, it’s with the same humor that Buzzfeed devotes to a GIF-heavy post titled, “How to Recognize and Conquer the Dreaded Sunday Scaries.”

But for some people, the struggle is much more intense and is, in fact, is a legitimate cause for concern. I reached out to my network to try and get a better, more complete understanding of what constitutes as reasonable blues and blues that are so bad that the only viable solution is getting a new job. The distinction between the two became very clear.

“I never dread going into work on Monday morning,” my cousin recently explained to me when I asked her about a Facebook post that included the now ubiquitous #SundayScaries at the end. “But I do, sometimes, you know, get a little anxiety in the pit of my stomach when I think of the week ahead. Usually, a 30-minute jog calms my nerves.”

Compare that to a former auditor who now works in account management. She was so unhappy that she recalls hoping she’d come down with the flu overnight so she’d be able to call in sick. On more than one occasion, she and her friends joked about not wanting to go to sleep for fear of waking up and having to go into the office. “I would get pretty moody and emotional, dreading the week ahead,” she explained.

Another person I spoke with was nervous about checking his emails before work on Monday because, he says, he knew at least one of the messages would be a chastisement for something he did or didn’t do. But, it didn’t stop there. Once, he actually had a panic attack. It was his first and only panic attack. And that’s when he allowed himself to recognize the problem was a serious one.

Last but not least, another woman, fresh out of college and excited about landing her first real job, recalls her experience in finance with a micromanaging, abusive boss. She remembers waking up Sunday mornings and already dreading the following day. “Every single Sunday I used to think about how I could call in sick and not have to deal with the stress.”

In the evenings, she knew she could expect a call from her boss telling her what he expected of the team and making sure she knew she was responsible for delivering. The call ruined her night, she slept poorly during this period, and was finally compelled to pour every extra minute into a job search.

As you can see, there’s a difference. It’s one thing to feel a little worried about getting a good night’s sleep and setting yourself up well for the week ahead; it’s another to take anti-anxiety medication or sleeping pills every time the weekend comes to a close.

Melody J. Wilding, a LMSW and Muse Career Coach, spoke with me about avoidant behavior.

“Numbing with alcohol or junk food can be a sign you’re trying to escape pain,” she explains. Of course, this isn’t the same as enjoying a great meal and bottle of wine with friends to cap off the weekend. If you’re engaging in chronic distracting behavior, it’s a sign that things aren’t OK.

If you’re happily employed and have a challenging yet manageable job and have no idea what this particular strain of stress feels like, wonderful! Keep on keeping on. If, like most, you can relate to feeling a little (or lot) bummed when you set your alarm on Sunday night, well, you know you’re not alone. It’s only natural to wish your weekend fun could last longer. Your to-do list, while not frightening, isn’t as exciting as spending time with family and friends. But, hopefully, once you dive into the workday, you’re content.

If your stress and anxiety run so deep as to cause you stomach pains, give you insomnia, or make you wish you’d get food poisoning so you could stay home, you know you need to find a fix. Talking to your boss may be a solution. Is it the workload you’re struggling to manage? Maybe a co-worker has been causing you legitimate grief. Are you not understanding large parts of your job responsibilities and stressed as a result? Worried about losing your job if you don’t perform to self-perceived standards. Many of these things may be worked through in a series of meetings with your manager or even someone in human resources.

Or, if that’s not possible (or the conversation doesn’t go well), it’s probably time to find a job that doesn’t make you feel this way. You deserve better so you owe it to yourself to get out there and find it.