Managing the Sunday Scaries | Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis
MSW Student Leila Hunter
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Managing the Sunday Scaries

Please note that this post is not meant to trivialize mental health issues related to anxiety, chronic stress, or depression. If you are in need of any assistance related to mental health, please contact your medical and mental health providers for assistance (current Wash U students can contact Habif Health & Wellness Center to access mental health resources and referrals). Your mental and emotional wellbeing is of the utmost importance and anything you are experiencing is valid and real.

Last Sunday, in true former-camp counselor fashion, I was facilitating a “roses, thorns, and rosebuds” reflection activity with some undergraduate students I work with at my practicum. One of them said that her thorn was something I’d never heard of but deeply understand: the Sunday Scaries.

The Sunday Scaries are a phenomenon that it seems like pretty much everyone in grad school and beyond can relate to. It’s that feeling of not being able to fully enjoy your fleeting time off because you know that you start thinking of all the things you have to do for the upcoming week. 

Because we’re in academia, please refer to the following graph display scaries over time for further explanation:

Sunday Scaries Graph


There are so many things to balance in graduate school, and I sometimes feel like I have the Sunday Scaries all the time. But I know I’m not alone, and if this is an almost universal experience, there have got to be some interventions that work to help either avoid or mitigate this emotional sensation. Here are some tips that have helped me in the past! 

1. Talk it out!

Talk out some of the things that are stressful, worrying, and overwhelming with people you trust. This will help get all the thoughts that are rolling around inside OUT of your head so that people can validate you and normalize that these feelings happen to just about everybody. If you’re uncomfortable with talking about it, that’s okay – maybe you go solo and journal, record, or talk out loud to your pet (literally that’s what I do) as a way to verbally process and get it out of your head.

2. It is A-OK to take a break! 

If you’ve been powering through nonstop, please give that beautiful brain of yours a break and do something quick that will bring you immediate pleasure or stillness. This can look like a walk around the block, doing a quick body scan or a mindful breathing exercise, petting a cat, or looking at really cute things on the internet for restorative purposes before getting your mind back to the grind.

3. Perspective!

Graduate school is a short-term investment with long-term impacts; sometimes it can feel completely consuming. But, this doesn't mean it's the "end all be all," and applying some perspective can help lift you out of feeling bogged down in details. One thing I do is practice gratitude for all that I’ve learned and try to give myself grace when I’m feeling stressed. I am able to stimulate self-compassion by remembering that I’m constantly learning from classes and discussions and I'm also learning by setting boundaries and allowing myself to feel pleasure in time off.

4. Make a Not-To-Do List 

If you’re anything like me, your to-do lists never stop growing and it's just plain overwhelming! I keep my sticky-note to-do list underneath my laptop's keyboard and it reminds me of all the little things that I’m not doing. Last semester, a class introduced me to the Not-to-do list. It's designed to help you figure out the high priority things and stick to those – the rest (the "not-to-do") can be dealt with later. This has helped me put things into perspective and allows me to feel a sense of accomplishment.

Obviously this is not an exhaustive list and these points may not be what works best for you. Sometimes the Sunday Scaries are inevitable, and that’s okay because you’re not alone. Managing the Sunday Scaries is something that takes practice – you’ll get there. In the meantime…