A few days into my week’s winter vacation from work, I took a piece of printed paper and folded it into thirds. In the first column—labeled ‘FUN’—I wrote the names of books I wanted to read, movies I wanted to watch, and recipes I wanted to try. In the middle column, I outlined ambitious goals and projects specific to The Smile Project. In the far right column, I had personal tasks, like cleaning my closet and mailing a package. I smiled at my handiwork and revelled in the possibility of what I could highlight off my list. Time was all mine.
A few days ago, I found myself rubbing my eyes and checking my new 2021 calendar once, twice, three times. Surely, it couldn’t be Friday, January 1st already? No worries. It was early. And I could still tackle the mostly untouched middle and right columns of my list.
On Saturday the 2nd, as I paced around the kitchen on the phone with my grandmother, I told her that after my long holiday break, I was now just in my normal weekend and would jump back in with a full week’s work on Monday. I couldn’t believe it.
That night, settling in with a movie and bowl of popcorn, something popped into my mind that I hadn’t thought about in years: The Sunday Scaries were here… and on a Saturday, no less.
In an NBC News article, Dr. Susanne Cooperman, neuropsychologist and a psychoanalyst at NYU Langone Health, says the Sunday Scaries, or blues, can be the byproduct of the anticipation of the week ahead. “This is an anticipatory anxiety —not the stress in the moment, but the anticipation of what will come puts people in this fight or flight mode,” says Dr. Cooperman.
I first heard about the Sunday Scaries from a former colleague who explained—during a particularly busy month in the office—that their Sunday evening routine involved red wine and online shopping. Another chimed in that they chose to channel that energy into meal prepping, even though, by their own admission, they mostly ended up buying lunch out during the week.
Ever since that conversation, I have thought about writing about the Sunday Scaries and how we respond. In full truth, the topic has been sitting on my docket for years as I have been beyond blessed to work in environments that don’t meet me with that level of personal anxiety and I struggled to tap into what that has felt like in past environments. But as I laid in bed on Saturday night, thinking about how I had planned to all but solve the world’s problems in a week, I felt a little bit of nervousness creeping in.
And I wasn’t alone. A quick trip to social media told me a lot of my network was feeling the same way. After a week and a half of rest and continued unsettling current events in the news, the Sunday Scaries were out in full force. So how do we respond?
First, I had to take another look at my list. Since I was a teenager, I adopted the habit of highlighting items rather than crossing them off. So while it was tempting to look first to the black ink to see what I hadn’t done, I started with the pink highlights. Maybe making homemade butternut squash soup wasn’t going to move The Smile Project forward, but it was joyful and nourishing and exactly what I needed last week. I went through my entire list like this, feeling gratitude for what I had done, and acceptance for what remained.
Second, I acknowledged that it wasn’t all going to get done and that was okay. After breakfast, I talked about my non-negotiables for the day. I had to get this blog out. I had to send that email. I had to do xyz. With a clear plan and knowledge of my tasks, I relocated the “big goals'' document to my desk drawer. I didn’t need the reminder. I’ll get there. But not today. I have a manageable plan of non-negotiables. The rest will get done in time.
Third, oh did I dance. What normally makes me feel good? Drinking lots of water. Going for a walk. Listening to music. Connecting with loved ones. Pick one (or more!). As I swung my arms around the room with the rhythm of someone you wouldn’t believe played piano for almost 2 decades, I reminded myself of my own resilience. I’ve made it through every Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, etc., of my life thus far. I am capable and innovative and tomorrow is nothing but another opportunity to try my best. So try we will. I hope to meet you there.