Sunday Scaries: What Are They and How Can You Beat Them?

It’s actually a “fear false alarm” and what you’re actually afraid of is Monday.

A stellar sea lion

I’m Sarah Sloat, senior staff writer at Inverse. Sunday Scaries is a chill new series from Inverse for not-chill people. Each weekly article is designed to be a soothing hodgepodge of advice and explanations, with the hope that you’ll walk away feeling ready for the week ahead. Let’s get into it!

A version of this article first appeared as the Sunday Scaries newsletter. Sign up for free to receive it on Sundays.

This Week’s Chill Icon

Bran I'm Going to Go Now Stark

This week’s chill icon in Bran Stark, aka the Three-Eyed Raven. I’ve only seen the first and seventh season of Game of Thrones, so I don’t know if Bran has always been so chill, but wow, he really embodied the vibe in the Battle of Winterfell. Everything is about to go down when he ends an awkward conversation with a “bai” and mind-controls some ravens who just, flip-flap around? Chill icon status confirmed.

Let’s Talk About the Sunday Scaries

This Sunday night, and basically all Sunday nights, I’m thinking about the Sunday scaries. They are an odd thing. I’ve noticed that when I use the phrase “Sunday scaries,” people get what I mean, but when we’re each pressed on what it actually means, it’s difficult to explain. It can make me feel a bit like a robot. Feelings, human, they are hard.

I like the way this researcher puts it: Sunday scaries are the “emotional discomfort at the doorstep of a new week.” Why they happen depends a bit on the person, and a bit on who you’re talking to. Some psychoanalysts argue that Sunday scaries are a byproduct of anticipatory anxiety. That’s the dread you experience about an event or situation in the future. It’s critical to our survival that our brain has evolved to anticipate the need to protect the body from dangers. But it’s frustrating when it’s actually a “fear false alarm” and what you’re actually afraid of is Monday.

Psychologist Dr. Melanie Badali (who you’ll learn more about later) tells me there’s no clinical term for Sunday scaries — emotions fluctuate over time, and having some low mood or increased anxiety is common. Something becomes clinical when it gets in the way of functioning. But Badali says that what you think and what you do on Sundays can, for sure, influence your anxieties.

Something that she has seen as an issue for her clients, for example, is the difference a weekend routine can make. If you drink alcohol on Saturday, then there’s a chance you’ll feel anxious on Sunday. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant and the withdrawal feeling is #hangxiety. She’s also seen people thrown off by wake times. If a person wakes up at 8 a.m. but waits to eat breakfast until their partner wakes up at noon, this can set a person up for emotional dysregulation.

More broadly, anxiety happens when you overestimate future threats and dangers and underestimate your own coping ability. Badali explains that if you really can’t handle something coming up — like the demands of your job or a big test — what you’re experiencing is something more like fear. But if it’s your perception that’s off — you are actually quite capable and there is no real threat — then you have anxiety to manage.

Badali has made an acronym to help people manage Sunday night anxiety and has made me feel incredibly seen. This is SUNDAY.

S — Self Talk. Observe the words in your head. How are you talking to yourself? Talk to yourself like you would talk to a friend and focus on opportunities instead of threats. Remember — not all thoughts are fact. [Damn.]

U — Understand. Learn what is happening with your thoughts, your emotions, and your body. Learn what tools work best for managing anxiety and try them out. (She recommends an app called MindShift CBT.)

N — No. Learn to say no. Remember that saying yes to too many things may deplete your resources and increase your load. It’s hard to say no in the moment, but you will thank yourself later.

D — Do something to make your life easier during the week. Prepare a meal, plan something fun, or do something that gives you a sense of achievement.

A — Ask yourself if the “scared” feeling is a false alarm (anxiety) or if there is really something to fear at work or school. If that’s the case, then it’s time to start dealing with the problem or get a new job. [Harsh but fair!]

Y — Year question. Ask yourself, will this thing I’m worried about matter in a year? Five years? 10 years? On my deathbed? It will help you gain perspective. [Holy crap.]

Now Look at This Oddly Satisfying Thing (It Will Help, I Swear)

View this post on Instagram

Fusion 🧬🌀⚡️🧪💥

A post shared by Dan Huston (@dhton) on

They are mixing paint. You are mixing up … your feelings.

How I Deal With Sunday Scaries

This week, we’re talking with the incredibly insightful Dr. Melanie Badali about how she deals with Sunday nights. This interview has been edited and condensed.

What is your job?

I am a registered psychologist in private practice at the North Shore Stress and Anxiety clinic. At my clinic, psychologists have control over how many clients we see in a day — I’m lucky that I’m able to manage my workload to suit my health. At the clinic where I work, the psychologists eat lunch together every day, and it’s an amazing way to connect, consult, and recharge. I am also a volunteer board director for Anxiety Canada, a non-profit that raises awareness and increases access to evidence-based resources for anxiety disorders.

Do you ever feel the Sunday scaries?

Yes. For me, it’s usually a sign that my demands are outweighing my resources. I try to lighten my load by doing things like saying no to new, unessential commitments and by building resources that will help me handle my load. That could be adding practical help, like a house cleaner, or doing things to recharge, like spending time in nature or with friends. I also find writing a to-do list to be helpful — it helps me download stuff from my brain, prioritize, and enter the week with an action plan.

How do you handle the stress of your work?

It is extremely important for psychologists to manage our stress. It is my duty as a psychologist to review factors that may contribute to my stress load, assess the impact of these factors, and engage in self-care sufficient to mitigate the negative impact of any factors identified.

Envisioning stress as a balancing act between perceived demands and perceived resources allows you to view stress management as the process of reducing perceived demands and increasing perceived resources. In terms of managing demands — I am very lucky to work in an environment where I have the freedom to manage my caseload. In terms of helpful resources, my colleagues are all incredibly supportive. This makes all the difference for me.

What are some ways that people can nurture their own mental health before their anxieties kick in?

My top tips for keeping anxiety at bay are:

Avoid avoidance. When you avoid things that provoke anxiety, you don’t get a chance to learn that the situation is not as bad as you think or that you can actually handle some pretty difficult stuff.

Thoughts are not facts. Just because you are telling yourself something is going to be horrible does not mean it actually will be. It may be a hassle. It may be fine. It may even be great.

Live your values. Learn what is important to you and try to move toward doing the things that are in line with your values. Ask yourself, “What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?” and “What would I do if I could not fail?” Then try to do those things.

Engage in self-care. Self-care is what you do to take care of your health and the foundation of good mental health. Things like exercising, good nutrition, getting enough sleep, and being kind to yourself are all important.

What I’m Reading This Week

“For ‘Gamer Girls’ Paid to Play ‘Fornite’, Therapy Skills Are Almost Required.” There are so many layers to this. Why are teen boys paying for the opportunity to talk to girls they don’t know about their feelings? Is it too much for teen girls to carry their emotional burdens? There’s a gig economy for this? A sensitive read on what could be an easy-to-brush-off topic.

“To Grieve Is to Carry Another Time.” Read this if you really want to sit in your feelings. It’s gorgeous, it’s tragic, and it involves the mind as time travel.

“The Never-ending Life of Smash Mouth’s ‘All Star.’”. Read this if you’re like, I signed up for this newsletter specifically because I did not want to feel sad. Fair! While I’d argue that leaning into sad isn’t bad, this oral history of the 1999 Shrek anthem is a wild ride.

And if it’s midnight and you’re still feeling the scaries…

I’d recommend taking a little dip into the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s tuna fish “sea cam.” There’s ambient music, a tuna tank, and a lot of blue. It’s a four-hour stream; put this puppy on.

Thanks for reading our first installment of Sunday Scaries! Next week we’ll be talking about emotional hangovers — fun!

If you have any advice on how to deal with the scaries or thoughts about this newsletter, feel free to email me at sundayscaries@inverse.com. You’ve got this!

A version of this article first appeared as the Sunday Scaries newsletter. Sign up for free to receive it on Sundays.