If you often find yourself in the middle of a relaxing Sunday when suddenly thoughts of the looming Monday work rush have you shaking in your cozy Ugg boots or fighting off an anxiety attack at brunch, you’re not alone. The feeling of dread that washes over us as our weekends come to a close is a very real phenomenon known as the Sunday Scaries.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, the most common physical manifestations of this condition include a rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, trembling, upset stomach, difficulty sleeping, and headaches. Other anxiety-related symptoms include stomach issues, restlessness, and irritability.
Hopefully knowing the Sunday Scaries aren’t just in your head will bring you a little relief. But with a few slight alterations to your habits, you can also cut them out of your weekend plans entirely.
Wine May Be Fun, but Hangxiety Is a Monday Killer
After being responsible and limiting your intake during the week, it’s easy to say “yes” to indulging — ok, maybe over-indulging — on the weekends. Who wants to be the one to go home early when you’re having a good time with friends after a rough work week? But increased alcohol consumption has repercussions far behind just the next morning’s headache.
Hangxiety is real. As its name implies, hangovers can bring on anxiety as well as moodiness and fatigue, something anyone familiar with the Sunday Scaries will recognize. While the mechanisms for this condition are still being determined, a recent New York Times article suggests two theories: one is that the increased sugar intake (we’re looking at you, margaritas) triggers a release of cortisol and adrenaline. While these two hormones may do the job they were sent out to do – help balance your insulin levels – they also increase regular old stress. The other cause may be the catch-22 of drinking. Alcohol makes you chill out by acting like a chemical in your brain known as GABA. In response, your body decreases its natural production of GABA, which leaves you feeling shaky and on edge when the alcohol fades. To make matters worse, research has also shown that less of the “happy hormone” dopamine is present in your brain when you’re hungover.
The key to enjoying your weekend without provoking the hangxiety side of the Sunday Scaries is consistency. While it’s fine to let loose a little bit (you don’t need to maintain a completely even balance sheet of boozy ounces throughout the week) if you save all your fun for the weekend, you will definitely feel the effects. A recent study shows that even if you stick to the guidelines in the number of drinks you consume each week (7 for women, 14 for men), you are still at risk of developing negative effects associated with alcohol if you concentrate all of those drinks over one or two days.
Balanced Diets Are for (Weekend) Lovers
Who doesn’t love a plate of fried apps or a giant pizza to kick off the weekend? Going nuts with the unhealthy eats may make you feel good in the moment (that would be the dopamine that surges in response to an overload of sugar, fat, and carbs), but the Sunday Scaries love nothing more than feeding on binges and food comas.
Registered dietitian Lauren Harris-Pincus explained to EatingWell what happens to us when we eat too much, too fast: “In the short term, an extra large meal can cause digestive discomfort and possibly acid reflux which can be very unpleasant.” If you crash after a big meal, that can be especially painful because laying down can make acid reflux worse, which interferes with good quality sleep.
Overeating also triggers fluctuations in your hormones, particularly cortisol and insulin. Similar to the problems behind hangxiety, binge eating can cause stress as the increased food entering the stomach triggers the production of cortisol. It also causes a flood of insulin in your body that is created to deal with all the sugar now making its way into your bloodstream. As your body goes into overdrive to deal with the delicious influx of carbs, hormones that normally would be doing other things, like insulin helping to support your immune function, are redirected to focus solely on your meals.
We can’t be perfect all the time, and it’s important for your mental health to have a little fun. The key is to avoid yoyoing between a healthy diet during the week and a free-for-all on the weekends. Instead, adopt a new mantra for your weekend celebrations: indulge a little, but not too much.
Consistency Is Key When It Comes to Your Z’s
Most of us are lacking sleep during the work week (we know, we know – we all need to work on fixing that). As tempting as it is to use the weekends to catch up on sleep or to stay out late and sleep in, the experts at the Sleep Foundation recommend that you instead go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day of the week.
The issue is that disruptions to your normal schedule start to mess with your circadian rhythm, which then knocks your melatonin and cortisol production out of balance. It’s these changes to your sleep pattern from the weekend to the work week that cause you to feel groggy and cranky when that Monday morning alarm sounds.
Some sleep gurus say waking up around the start of daylight hours and winding down when it gets dark in the evening is the best way to synchronize your circadian rhythm; others think you should develop a routine around your natural chronotype. Regardless of the sleep schedule you choose, the key is to aim for the same 7-9 hours of z’s per night 7 days a week.
Make Your Sunday a To-Do List Funday
Your lifestyle choices play a big role in determining whether your weekends are filled with hormonal zen or a hormonal rollercoaster that ends in the Sunday Scaries. But the final piece de resistance in whether or not you are filled with dread on Sundays is exactly what the condition is generally blamed on in the first place: work anxiety.
As you’ve figured out by now, cortisol is often the main character in determining how you feel. When cortisol is balanced, it keeps you living at your absolute best. But when it gets either too high (intense stress) or two low (chronic stress), it can set off a host of other issues. When your work life is one big stress ball that feels out of control, your cortisol increases, which results in those not-so-great feelings of anxiety.
While you may not be able to change your job (if only!), there are some things you can do to regain control and tamp down those bad Sunday feels. Tackling personal projects that have lingered on your to-do list can clear your head and make easing into Monday a little easier. Another trick is to set aside a few minutes each Sunday to make a to-do list for your week. According to a Baylor University study, a pre-bed list-making sesh can help you fall asleep, reduce your worries, and make you feel organized and capable of tackling your Monday.
This doesn’t mean you need to fully dedicate your weekends to your vacuum. But if you can spend a little time catching up or getting yourself organized, you will feel more in control of your life, which can have a positive effect on your mental health, reduce your cortisol levels, and clear space for you to think about other things. By making a few little changes to your weekend life, you will soon be able to find comfort knowing your Sunday nights will be reserved for worrying about who gets to pick the movie, not all the overwhelming things that will hit you come Monday morning.