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Sunday Is the Best Day to Decide to Quit Your Job

The so-called Sunday scaries can be an internal alarm, warning you that it’s time to make a change

Photo by Plush Design Studio on Unsplash

IIt’s summer in New York. My friends and I have fled the city for rural Connecticut, where somebody’s family has a house with a pool. We grill things, drink things, and enjoy being in a living space where you can stand with your arms out and not hit any walls.

We’re sitting by the pool around noon on Sunday when I start staring off into space, zoning out of the conversation. Without realizing it, I audibly sigh.

“Oh, no,” my best friend says. “Your Sunday scaries are starting, aren’t they?”

She’s absolutely right. The dread of returning to the real world of the work week, where a perpetual list of to-do’s will leave me paralyzed. Sunday scaries: a dumb, cutesy name for some very real feelings.

“It’s not cute at all,” the career coach and mental-health counselor Katherine Kirkinis says when I tell her the name that often makes me feel like an adult baby. She tells me that while Sunday-night angst might not be a clinical diagnosis, it can be an alarm, warning you that something doesn’t feel right. “[Sunday Scaries] are often dismissed by clients because they’re situationally related. That doesn’t mean it’s not a big deal… it’s something to take a closer look at, and certainly points out that something about your work-life balance might be unhealthy for you.”

My usual coping strategies for the Sunday scaries involve things like cleaning my apartment until late hours of the night, watching too much Netflix, calling people I know who are night owls to chat, and when all else fails, staring at the ceiling. None of these are particularly healthy or helpful. But a better tactic might be to stop trying to banish the feeling, and instead sit with it for a while as a way to kickstart some self-reflection.

“Our emotions are messengers — the best inner GPS that helps us navigate our life,” says career and life coach Annie Lin. “There’s the whole spectrum of reasons why you might feel Sunday scaries.” The first step is to figure out which one applies to you.

Kirkinis recommends trying to drill down and isolate the root causes of what you’re feeling. So instead of saying you’re dreading going back to work, try and articulate exactly what it is that you’re dreading. The more specific you can be, the easier it will be for you to find a solution.

“It might be negative interactions with someone you work with, pressure to meet quotas, or an open office plan,” she says. “Once you identify what would need to change for you to feel less stress, you can develop a plan for action.” That could mean making changes to your current role, finally having a tough talk with a frustrating coworker, or asking to work from home a few days a week.

Or it could also mean it’s time to look for an entirely new job. Very few people are fully excited about returning to the office at the start of a new week, but there are plenty of levels between “not excited” and “all-consuming dread,” and if the latter is what comes creeping in towards the end of your weekend, it could be a sign of a mismatch between what you’re doing and what would make you feel happy, accomplished, or fulfilled.

Of course, it’s also possible you’ll conclude at the end of your soul-searching that work itself isn’t the problem. This is how it is for me: I’m always slightly baffled as to why I feel the way I do when Sunday rolls around, because Monday morning means I’ll wake up and go to work doing a job I’m grateful to have, and genuinely like most of the time.

But while my rational brain can absorb this fact with ease, it can’t convince the other, less rational part to chill the heck out. It’s worth exploring where your own Sunday scaries come from, and to figure out how to address them.

For overachievers, or people especially concerned with projecting an image of competence, the seeds of the Sunday Scaries can be planted in childhood, says counseling psychologist Harris Straytner: “You come upon Friday and suddenly you’re not as stressed out about having to go to school and perform,” he says. “But as it starts to get later and later in the weekend, some children will start to become anxious. They start to feel what’s called ‘anticipatory anxiety.’” This type of conditioning can easily follow us into adulthood: Sunday scaries is just a different, alliterative term for that same anticipatory anxiety we feel as children.

If that anxiety is more a feature of your personality than a result of your work situation, the way to treat it is to focus on the symptoms. Kirkinis recommends spending some time on Sundays doing relaxation exercises, like diaphragmatic breathing, which is a therapeutic form of deep breathing, or a short, guided meditation. Or, she says, “Try journaling to get all those feelings out on paper, making plans to talk to a career coach, exercise, or spending time with friends and family.”

Lin offers similar suggestions: “Get in bed at a reasonable hour,” she says. “Some people may struggle to go to bed at night, as if they’re hanging on to the current day.” Calling it a night a little earlier gives your brain a buffer and extra time to unwind. It’s important to remember, though, that you can’t fix poor sleep habits in one night. To ensure you’re getting the best rest possible on Sunday nights, make sure you’re attending to your sleep needs during the week, too.

And if doing a little work on Sundays will help you feel a little more relaxed by bedtime, then let yourself. To be clear, this does not mean your Sunday should become a sixth workday. But if there’s a specific project you’re feeling unprepared for, or something you’d prefer not to have on your plate come Monday, set a timer and get it off your plate — a practice Lin calls “emotional hygiene.”

Somewhat counterintuitively, you might also be able to ease your Sunday Scaries a bit by remembering that some degree of anticipatory anxiety is normal for everyone. The feeling can be a sign that you need to make a change, but it could also just be a regular part of being a working adult. Stratyner says he often helps patients struggling with Sunday anxiety as part of his practice, but doesn’t have a magic cure. “It’s funny. I love my work and my patients, but even I experience Sunday scaries,” he said. “So I get it. I really do.”

Madison Malone Kircher is a staff writer at New York Magazine. She lives in Brooklyn. Twitter: @4evrmalone

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