Ever heard of the “Sunday Scaries” – or maybe you get them? It’s those feelings we get at the end of the weekend, the crash after a couple of days off work or school, the anxiety or dread thinking about the week ahead, or the “funk” we might fall into without even recognizing why. It’s really normal to feel this way, and for people who struggle with anxiety or depression, it might be a lot more pronounced. I often notice myself being a little more on edge, irritable, or low on Sunday nights, even though I’m someone who loves my job- after all, our emotions don’t have to be rational!
As a therapist who treats anxiety disorders, I’ve become aware of the ups and downs not only of individual clients but as a collective: certain times of year, transitions, and global events impact us broadly and increase stress and anxiety, while other times tend to be periods of calm and stability. I can confidently say that August, particularly later in the month until after labor day or the beginning of school, is like one long Sunday. My clients who thrived during the summer are suddenly anxious about transitions, depressed about summer ending and the days getting shorter, and grieving all the change – because grief is what transitions really bring up.
This year, the transitions are more difficult. Because of the rise of the Delta variant, we are transitioning from a more carefree summer — finally mask-free! finally able to travel! finally seeing our friends and family indoors! weddings, parties, concerts!!! — back to mask mandates, record high COVID rates, and uncertainty once again about in-person gatherings, work, and school. We’re not just transitioning to shorter days and cooler weather and school schedules – we’re going back to things feeling less safe, and upsetting news everywhere we look.
Knowing that this can be a tough time for ourselves and our loved ones is helpful in and of itself so that we can be tuned into how we’re feeling and on the lookout for increased moodiness or reactivity. It is also comforting to realize we aren’t alone in feeling this way and it is part of a larger pattern, an ebb and flow that is temporary. But beyond being more aware, what can we do about these August Scaries??
- Expect the ups and downs. The captain is on the loudspeaker asking you to buckle your seatbelts because there might be turbulence. Is this anxiety-inducing? Maybe a little bit. It might also be a false alarm, which would be great! But it’s better than the shock or fearful confusion if you don’t have any warning. The captain’s announcement is a calm, “just letting you know” message – you can feel assured that everything is fine, even if there are bumps, the experts are guiding the plane and you are safe. This is the same message to remind your kids if they’re having a tough time with all the transitions right now: we’re expecting ups and downs, the grownups are here looking out for you, and it will be okay even if it gets rough!
- Give yourself a break. Little breaks here and there throughout your day, or 5 minutes of being alone after you put the kids to bed or when you get up in the morning, or a day that you stay in on the couch – whatever way you can give yourself time to pause and rest is better than nothing. “Tuned in” breaks are better for recharging than “tuned out” breaks – that means being mindful rather than distracted, doing something like a brief meditation or yoga/stretching.
- Let your feelings out. Instead of ignoring the uncomfortable emotions, acknowledge they’re there, they’re temporary, and they want out! Let it out. Talk to a friend or partner or therapist, write in a journal, draw or paint, or do a workout next time your tension feels high.
- Take deep breaths. I am like a broken record with this one, but that’s because it is the best brain hack we’ve got for regulating our nervous system. Slow, deep breaths are the most reliable way from “fight-or-flight” to rest mode. Set a timer for two minutes and breathe. I like doing yoga breathing: in through your nose deep into your belly for a count of 4, hold for a count of 7, out through your mouth slowly (like blowing through a straw) for a count of 8.
- Practice self-compassion. This is a nice way of saying “don’t beat yourself up, we’re all having a hard time!” But there are actual practices you can do to build up more of this positive regard for yourself, and it really does help. Check out self-compassion.org where Kristin Neff has great resources including a self-test and guided exercises.
As we get through this transition into the fall and the new school year, expect some bumps, take some deep breaths, give yourself breaks, let out those feelings, and be kind to yourself; and remember, help is available if you need it.