The anxiety before starting a new workweek—colloquially known as the “Sunday Scaries”—is at an all-time high. Nearly two-thirds of professionals say they experience this feeling, and almost half say the pandemic has caused it or made it worse. For millennials and Gen Zers, the Sunday Scaries are even more common, with almost 80% experiencing the end-of-weekend dread.
The traditional five-day workweek has existed for over a century, so why is this feeling so much more common now? “The pandemic caused many workers to experience an existential crisis,” said Carson Tate, bestselling author of Own It. Love It. Make It Work: How to Make Any Job Your Dream Job and founder of Working Simply. “As workers reflected on their work, many of them realized that it did not align with their values or bring them any joy.”
There are many calls for a shortened workweek—and some companies that have even implemented it. But save for those exceptions, most people are spending approximately one-third of their waking lives at work. “If your work is unfulfilling or lacks meaning or purpose,” said Tate, “it can be challenging to compensate for its negative impact on your emotional and mental health in other areas of your life.”
Here are Tate’s three best tips for overcoming the Sunday Scaries, preparing for the week, and becoming more fulfilled at work.
If the Sunday Scaries have already hit, one thing Tate recommends is to do an emotional and physical reset through breathing, laughter, or movement. “Breathwork will enable you to calm your brain and recenter to the present moment,” said Tate. “Laughter is one of the most effective ways to change your emotional state, and movement is a powerful way to move negative or hard emotions through your body.” Whether it’s doing a structured breathing exercise, scrolling through funny memes, or taking a short walk, a reset will help turn your Sunday night around.
MORE FOR YOU
2. Do hard work.
Dr. Martin Seligman, a psychologist, says the “flow state”—or the optimal state between too much stress and boredom—is one of the three main drivers of human happiness. How can one reach the flow state? Hard work.
“The overwhelming project, the promotion that would require you to learn a new market segment, or the opportunity to transfer to your firm’s London office all require hard work,” said Tate. “And hard work is typically fraught with anxiety and stress, not happiness.” However, it is in the “hard work,” or those challenging opportunities that force us to leave our comfort zone, that people most often experience flow. When it gets too easy or too comfortable, ask yourself which aspects of your work are too easy, where you’ve become too comfortable in your role, and how you can challenge yourself with an opportunity to learn and grow.
3. Develop routines.
Many would say routines are boring, but it’s not the routine tasks themselves that can make you more fulfilled. It’s the time you gain when you routinize your tasks. “When you develop routines for the tasks you do the most frequently,” said Tate, “they embed in your brain and create a pattern. As a result, you spend less time and attention on those tasks.”
Consider routinizing things like email correspondence by checking email on a pre-set schedule, or limiting wardrobe and meal options so that your time and energy can be used on higher-value decisions. The time you save by developing routines is time you can spend pursuing personal interests or professional projects that energize and excite you.
4. Take breaks.
Breaks aren’t for the lazy and unmotivated. In fact, they’re completely necessary in order to be truly productive. “If you want to produce valuable ideas, accomplish your goals, and be happier at work, it’s time to start taking breaks throughout your workday,” said Tate. “And a break is not checking your email—it’s fun, unrelated to work, and allows your brain to rest.”
One way to ensure you actually take these breaks is to build them into your plan for the workday. Alongside your list of tasks and meetings, slot in the breaks you will take. For additional accountability, ask a coworker to be your “break buddy” and set times to take your break virtually together.
So, while you can’t get rid of Sunday nights or Monday mornings altogether, you can regain control over the way they make you feel. By reevaluating your habits and developing healthier ones, the day of dread can become the day of rest it was always meant to be.