The weekend. We look forward to these two days of recurring freedom more than just about anything else. We’ve worked a long week and earned two days to recover. After some well-deserved R&R, Sunday evening rolls around and all of a sudden, we start to get a little anxious and acquire a recurring fear of a Monday return to work. The Sunday Scaries attack!
Let’s face it: Mondays kinda blow. But we can learn to embrace the start of each week.
I love the popularized term to describe this affliction: The Sunday Scaries. How appropriate, considering Halloween is right around the corner. It’s easy to understand how this problem can blow up a peaceful, lazy Sunday.
If you hate your job, your brain signals impending conflict and stress. You’ve been conditioned to hate Mondays, and that’s the heart of the matter we’ve got to solve.
What Are the Main Causes of the Sunday Scaries?
In my experience, the number one cause of this problem is the mental pattern we’ve formed. Ever since childhood, we’ve been on a schedule. Monday through Friday means school. Saturday and Sunday we get to sleep in, play, and watch cartoons. Heck, even mom and dad are happier!
So it’s no surprise that we enter our working lives pre-programmed to fear Sunday nights. What compounds the problem is two factors: One, we have no clue how to operate in Corporate America. Two, we still like to party!
In our 20s, the quickest trap to fall into is a spiral of hating work. It’s a spiral that starts with having to deal with difficult colleagues, bosses, and clients. We all have a few jerks to maneuver around. The solution is a regular dose of happy hours and maybe even weekend binge drinking. Our only hope is to settle down and raise a family (not that I’m speaking from experience or anything…)
In my 20s, the Sunday Scaries were a constant companion. I already had the pattern formed in my monkey brain from childhood. School sucked and weekends rocked! With my corporate training wheels careening me from bad decision to bad decision, I spent Friday and Saturday night putting back 3 or 4 beers or even more Cuba Libres. Not. Good.
To recover from Friday and Saturday night revelry, sleeping in until 9 AM was not uncommon. I might’ve gone until 10 AM some days… So is it a surprise at all that come Sunday night, I start freaking out about having to get up early and start the work week all over again?
Sunday Scaries are at their peak when workplace relationships are poor. Then, add a dash of COVID-19 pandemic with Zoom meeting fatigue and suddenly the mix is toxic.
When you don’t enjoy a healthy relationship with your boss (the single most important workplace relationship), all bets are off. I’ve had a few rotten egg bosses over the years. They contribute to the Sunday Night Blues.
If you manage people, one of the single worst things you can do for your team’s mental health is to keep them guessing. My most stressful Sunday evenings are filled with anxiety over not knowing how my boss feels about my job performance.
I’d rather my boss be frank and tell me I’m terrible than to get “radio silence”. If you find yourself in this situation, demand honest feedback immediately. Knowing exactly where you stand is crucial!
To recap: There are prime causes of the Sunday Scaries
1.) The pattern of “weekends good / school days bad” formed from childhood
2.) The bad habits we pursue on weekends – Drinking, staying up late, eating late and messing up our sleep routine
3.) Bad work relationships – Bosses, colleagues, clients
4.) Covid-19 anxiety coupled with Zoom and remote work fatigue.
How Do I Get Over the Sunday Night Blues?
In a nutshell: Extend your weekday routine through Saturday and Sunday. Get honest, real, and frequent performance feedback from your boss. That’s all there is to it, folks.
- The most important tip of all is to apply a consistent sleep schedule throughout the week. Limit changes to your sleep schedule to no more than half an hour at most (i.e., go to bed a half-hour late at most, sleep in no more than 30 minutes). Take a mid-day nap as a weekend reward.
- Exercise a LOT on the weekend. Do not treat Saturday and Sunday as some kind of reward for surviving Monday through Friday. Remember, Monday through Friday constitute 71% of your entire life. Either hit the gym or hit the yard. Bottom line: Be your most active on weekends. Monday is a wonderful day to use for your exercise routine’s off day.
- Drop the boom on your liquor habit. Moderation is key and that means one to three drinks max, and preferably not right before bedtime. I will grant you this: It’s a helluva lot easier for me to preach about moderation now that I’m in my mid-40s (an age when drinking a lot of booze has zero appeal. And honestly, you reach this age and drinking hampers your sleep a lot harder than it used to. That sucks, but it’s also a nice way for your body to tell you to stop poisoning yourself.
- Ditch social media. Avoid it like the plague. There’s nothing worse than dwelling over the ill-conceived belief of much better someone else’s life is. We have more time on the weekend to get consumed by Facebook and Instagram. Shut that sh*t off and go take a walk or read a book instead. Play some cards with friends or have a movie night with the kids. Social Media is 20% connecting to family and friends, and 80% getting depressed over sh*t you can’t control and shouldn’t care about in the first place.
- HAVE FUN. Sunday night is perfect for getting out of the house. I used to think it was required that you just hunker down on Sunday nights. Time to face the Monday Reaper. I’d look forward to watching a little football, maybe 60 Minutes, read the Sunday paper (another contributor to Sunday Scaries) and cash in. When Mrs. Cubert asked me to join her in a bowling league I put up quite a fuss. “Sunday night is for sitting at home, dammit!” But alas, joining that league was a lot of fun. I even enjoyed a couple of beers in the process. If bowling isn’t your thing, consider a date night. Either way, don’t let the Scaries keep you from enjoying Sunday night. Get out of the house and socialize. If you’re raising kids, make Sunday night your weekly at-home movie night. Trust me, these tactics WORK.
- Change Jobs. (Or Retire Early!) Nuff said.
Does Retirement Make Sunday Night Less Stressful?
I’ve explored this before and there are arguments on both sides. If you align with a never retire philosophy, you’re ironically stressed about not working. You want to feel useful. Work helps you feel in control of life. That’s especially true if you’re an entrepreneur running the show.
Blue Zones concepts reveal over and over again how the healthiest and longest-living people on the planet never fully retire. Examples from less industrialized Blue Zones like Sardinia and Costa Rica shouldn’t surprise us. The more agrarian societies often have aged people continuing to work the land and mind the flock.
What does surprise? Consider the Blue Zone of Loma Linda California, where many Seventh Day Adventists continue to work in their professional fields well into their 90s… You could be a doctor, a farmer, a care-giver, it does not matter.
I simply cannot believe that Blue Zone elders suffer from Sunday stress. Instead, they embrace every day as a chance to make a difference and live a full life.
The point is, don’t assume that retirement solves the problem. It may remove a huge chunk of stress in your life, but you will begin to pine for your time at-bat once you’ve hung up your corporate cleats.
Conclusion: Fear Not!
If you find yourself suffering from Sunday Night Syndrome you may want to read up on the Blue Zones. Finding your purpose and struggle in life will equip you with the armor you need to deal with crummy bosses and a job market that keeps us on edge.
Getting over the conditioning from earlier in life takes time. If you stick to a routine throughout all seven days of the week, you’ll be amazed at how much easier the entire week feels for you. Get some decent sleep. Drink less, don’t eat crappy food and don’t eat after 6 PM.
We don’t bowl in the league anymore, but we enjoy Sunday family movie night. I don’t have the Sunday Night Scaries anymore (I now have every night scaries, thanks to sour relationships with my boss and a couple of peers).
Take control of your career and your life, and this stuff does fall into place. If you’ve got a toxic boss and suffer under a terrible workplace culture, and you’re positive it’s not because of YOU, take action. Network, apply, interview, and get out of dodge.
In the meantime, make sure you’re saving as much as you can to get the leverage and confidence you need to survive every night, not just Sunday.
Featured Photo by Johnson Wang on Unsplash