The ‘Sunday Scaries’ Are Way Milder for People Who Live Here

Updated: Oct. 03, 2022

One survey even honed in on the exact time on Sunday when many Americans start to feel dread about Monday. Here's what we should learn from less worried parts of the world.

So much for Sunday Funday. As many weekends come to a close and Monday closes in, recent years’ research suggests that more than 80% of Americans experience a simmering sense of anxiety. In fact, one survey honed in on an exact time we start feeling uneasy about the upcoming week: 3:58 PM. Experts coined this existential worry we all seem to share as the Sunday scaries.

“[It’s] the combination of dread and anticipation that comes up as you get closer and closer to going back to work or school,” says Naiylah Warren, LMFT, Therapist and Clinical Content Manager at Real. She explains that the Sunday scaries are a psychological response to expected disruptions or stressors we feel are right around the corner. And it’s extremely common among US adults.

Still, reports suggest that these Sunday scaries are even more intense in our post-pandemic world. Forbes has cited a recent survey which found that 41% of people say the Covid-19 pandemic brought on their cases of the Sunday scaries or made the weekly cycle worse. Psychology specialists point to a probable cause: for many, the pandemic blurred the lines between work and personal time, putting extra pressure on Americans’ already precarious work-life balance.

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Why do Americans have a poor work-life balance?

The Europeans are onto something. According to the World Economic Forum, Italy tops the list for the best work-life balance of all countries, followed by continental neighbors like Denmark, the Netherlands, and France. As for the US? According to the global market research firm, Statista, Americans come in at number 14 in the world—among the countries with the worst work-life balance.

Some figures who study psychology and sociology highlight an interesting aspect of American culture. Says David Tzall, Psy D, a clinical psychologist in Brooklyn, NY: “There is a deep need to have your job be your identity in this country and, as a result, we tend to believe we are what we do.” Because our self-worth is wound up so tightly in our career, we struggle to switch this off. Dr. Tzall says this can result in working way past the time we are supposed to, or taking work—especially the stress from work—home with us.

Paige Rechtman, LMHC, a psychotherapist based in New York City, explains why it’s getting worse. “Today, our jobs aren’t just in the office—work is at our fingertips at every moment,” Rechtman says. “That changes the expectations that workplaces have on their employees, and also puts pressure on employees to always be available.”

And, Dr. Tzall says, even when an appropriate boundary is drawn, it’s often criticized. Tzall says referring to the controversial trend of “quiet quitting,” or only working within your job role and reducing your psychological investment in work.

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Meanwhile, in France, the social culture prioritizes work differently. “Work is not something discussed or asked about when you first meet someone and ask, ‘What do you do?,'” says Tricia Wolanin, PsyD, an American psychologist living in France. Europeans tend to focus on other parts of their identity, “Like what you like to do, exhibits to see, places to explore, what to read,” Dr. Wolanin says.

Part of this is thanks to the notion that other nations’ policies help citizens experience a healthier work-life balance, too. “This was a big conversation in 2017 when France passed their law giving employees a right to avoid office emails after working hours,” says Meagan Turner, an associate professional counselor in Georgia. “Americans [fear] they may face retaliation from their employer if they use all of their paid time off (PTO), whereas some countries require their employees to take time off,” she says, pointing to Denmark and France as examples. Sweden’s even trying to implement a four-day workweek.

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How to have a better work-life balance

Sure, you could move to Italy or Sweden. But the experts have some tips on how to strike a better relationship between work and the rest of your life, while you’re still on American soil:

Turn off your notifications

A simple way to start: put your phone’s email notifications on mute, Rechtman says. The findings of a 2022 organizational psychology study affirm this advice. Researchers found that people who received more frequent pings and buzzes from their phone experienced higher levels of stress, inattention, and impulsivity. This even warped their sense of time.

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Be more intentional about using your time off

According to a 2018 study, 768 million US vacation days were wasted that year, and more than half of Americans are not using all of their PTO. “That’s just giving your company free working days,” says Lindsey Konchar, a licensed graduate social worker. “People get caught up in the idea that they need to go on vacation in order to use PTO, but stay-cations are a great option.” Or, take a mental health day. “A mental health sick day is a real, valid, and should be periodically encouraged,” she says. “Our brains cannot effectively function without rest and restoration.”

Create a physical boundary

“Work-life balance, as a concept, assumes that work and life are separate entities,” says Adam Goulston, PsyD, MBA, and organizational psychologist. In his research, he examined how remote work affected the well-being of US and Japanese employees in the first year of the pandemic. “I found that those who had a physical boundary as simple as a dedicated office or even a door to close—thereby separating themselves from the rest of the household—were correlated with better well-being.”

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Create a psychological boundary

Whether you work from home or at the office, take the time to distinctly mark the end of the work day. This can start with turning off those email notifications (…and Slack…and Teams…and any other communication tools you use on the job).

But making a habit out of a full end-of-work routine can help switch your brain and body over to “you time.” Konchar suggests that before even pulling out of the parking lot, switch off your notifications, take three deep breaths, validate how much you accomplished for the day, and tell yourself: The rest can wait. “Then put on a podcast or something that will shift your mind to out-of office-mode.”

If you work from home, try out this routine on post-work walk.

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