Once again, I am a man ahead of his time. Reading an article from The Atlantic, I noted that lexicographers have determined that “Sunday Scaries” has been a popular term on social media since 2016. Some may think the term references bad homilies or having to listen to the “Balm of Gilead” again at Mass but, its use does not have liturgical connections. “Sunday scaries” is a term for the anxiety, fear, dread, unhappiness, etc.… of having to return to work or school the next day. Reading this I was not impressed: I’ve dreaded Sunday evenings since the 1970’s.
To be fair, if I actually did my math and English homework as a kid or in high school, I may not have dreaded Sunday evenings so much. Yet, several decades later such loathing still exists for me. No longer do I worry about trying to fool Mr. Bruckner that I spent my weekend doing algebra rather than playing sports with my buddies. I laugh now knowing that less effort was probably needed in actually doing my homework than I put in for avoiding the repercussions of not doing it.
What is not amusing is that after 30 years in industry, one would think that the Sunday dread would have subsided or at least had some transference with watching the dismal Chicago Bears lose another game. Then again, being from Chicago we are used to our sports teams losing… Cub fans live a life of denial, Sox fans find something else to watch, Bulls fans tell tales of seeing Michael Jordan in his prime and Blackhawks fans know that once Patrick Kane had a receding hair line that hockey in the Windy City was nearing its end. While men often substitute life with sports, my love of College football has never diminished the Sunday Scaries. After a recent extended period of time off during the holidays, even my wife was dreading having to deal with me on the Sunday before my vacation was over.
I always thought I was alone in this anxiety but, as I talk to colleagues, I find the Sunday Scaries are common among workers. People who study these things say it is because we long for more fulfilling jobs. Others point to the notion that the Sunday scaries were less pronounced in the 1950’s and people seemed happier to focus on having meaningful employment. Gratitude certainly has a place in this conversation but in discerning my Sunday evening ritual of denial no simple solution comes to mind. When I was younger, I’d go in to work a few hours to keep experiments running over the weekend. While that diminished the Sunday Scaries, few outside management would agree that is an acceptable solution…. Worried about work? Work more!
Mentally, we all know that the Sunday Scaries are a dumb thing we do to ourselves. Yet, like St. Paul says, we continue to do what we hate. (Romans 7:15) As with any emotion, the best thing to do is stop, and take the issue to prayer. We must discern what is at the core of the emotion. Before going forward, it is important to caution that while prayer is needed and can be calming, prayer is never a replacement for prescribed medication. Anxiety and depression medications should be taken as prescribed. Spirituality can help manage our responses but can never take the place of necessary medication. Medication is never a sign of poor spirituality. Jesus healed illness. He did not chastise people for treating it… I digress.
For me, I try and discern if my Sunday Scaries are a result of still “not doing my homework,” or just simply doing too much and I’m tired. I reflect on whether the Sunday scaries are worse on weekends where I am really busy or on the ones where I take it easy? In my head, I am guessing they are less intense when I am tired from a busy weekend. I am too tired to be anxious. However, activity is a remedy for anxiety…. Worried about work? Work more!
My wife has often suggested that I should cut back on my “after work” activities. I have resisted this notion countering that it is the “after work activities” that I enjoy. I work to pay the bills. Herein lies part of the Sunday Scaries solution. It seems the Sunday scaries were less common in the 1950’s. People were grateful for their jobs. While this may be a bit of misplaced gratitude, the notion of gratitude does inoculate us from many self-inflicted evils. Need to be grateful? Work more!
While there are no simple solutions for the Sunday Scaries, I would suggest the root cause is our lost sense of the Sabbath. God didn’t need a day of rest after creation, He was showing us what we need to do. People in the 1950’s didn’t go shopping on Sundays for the stores were closed. Like many families, my relatives gathered for a noon meal with friends and family. It represented a more restful time. They came to the table to together. Hmmm, sounds eucharistic doesn’t it? Most of us have lost this sense of Sunday gathering. Sundays have become just another day to cram activities in before going back to work. It was meant to be a day given to God and family. A day to re-center ourselves.
My Sunday Scaries come from the realization that my life and my values are not aligned. Where I work, Millennials have influenced a change in vacation policy and, along with COVID, a freer attitude towards working from home. For as much as we rail against the Millennials, they won a battle for us that we were too naïve or scared to fight. Thank you Millennials for recalibrating perspectives! Carrying over vacation used to be a merit badge for keeping the company’s needs a priority. I always saw it as lost time we could be spending with loved ones or recharging our drained batteries. When I can align my priorities with my faith, I get more relaxed. When I realize that God is not impressed with titles or salaries, I feel foolish for the time I spent on that merry-go-round.
I have six email addresses that keep my identity from deacon to adjunct lecturer apart and separate from my personal email and the email of my primary vocation. With smartphones, this is quite easy to do. While I am great at keeping my worlds separate, I am terrible at keeping them together as a whole. We’ve been taught that in multitasking that extra effort comes at 110% of my time. It is an illusion we all have bought into. There is no such thing as 110%. No matter how much we work, there is still only 24 hours in a day and seven days a week. Balancing effort in one area diminishes time in another. Where have we been taught to subtract? Work More! is time lost to the meaningful aspects of our lives.
I know this. I mentally accept the argument. Yet, I still get the Sunday Scaries. I worry about earthly matters that one serious medical diagnosis instantly negate. I worry about temporal earthly issues at the expense of a permanent heavenly destination. I do, as Paul says, what I hate in me. Why? Because Jesus is still not at the center of my life.
I love the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I preach His Gospel but do I truly live His Gospel? Not when I live it in my head but not my heart. It is easy to say “amen” on Sunday and go with the flow of society on Monday. Perhaps the Sunday Scaries are my inner voice of God reminding me of the mismatch.
It is not a work-life balance that is out of kilter. My life balance is. And, that is scary.