You know that feeling when you’ve been enjoying a nice, restful weekend, and then all of a sudden Sunday rolls around and you’re hit with feelings of dread and doom?
If so, you’re not alone. This common phenomenon is known as the “Sunday scaries” and refers to the feelings of nervousness that come with the start of a new week. A type of anticipatory anxiety, the Sunday scaries generally revolve around returning to school or work — and all the things that could happen once you’re back in the classroom or office.
“For many people, the Sunday scaries can look like general feelings of nervousness or unease. Sometimes people have racing thoughts, so they’re really anxious and they find it hard to relax and hard to enjoy the rest of the weekend,” says Jor-El Caraballo, a licensed mental health counselor and co-founder of Viva Wellness in Brooklyn, New York. “It can be really disruptive in that way.”
The good news is that if you have a pet, they can help you cope with the Sunday scaries — because they’re great for our mental health in so many ways.
“Pets can produce a mild euphoric feeling and put people at ease. Even being in the same room or looking at pictures of pets has been found to reduce heart rate and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety in people,” Caraballo says. “So they’re really good to help ground us.”
So the next time you feel those Sunday blues start to creep up on you, try these seven coping strategies that involve the ultimate decompression machine: your pet.
1 Do meal prep together.
If you’re the type of person who likes to plan and prepare your meals ahead of time, why not get your pet involved? You could try making homemade dog food, or if that’s a bit too ambitious, make some simple homemade treats for your pet to enjoy throughout the week.
For some people, meal prep can be a bit of a daunting task, so Caraballo suggests making it more fun by letting your pet be your sous chef.
“Have them be your de facto vacuum as you are chopping and stuff is falling on the floor,” he says. Just enjoying that time together and looping them in, like you would if there were another person there helping you — that could be a really great way to make the experience more enjoyable, and it’s also a way of taking care of yourself, so it’s a win-win.”
2 Plan at least one fun activity for the week.
“One of the things about the Sunday scaries specifically is that it’s this nervousness, anxiety, and unease about what’s to come, and I think if you can create a way in which there’s also something you’re looking forward to, the timeframe of that week feels less daunting,” Caraballo says.
It doesn’t matter what it is — a trip to the pet store, a hike in the woods or just playing with your pet’s favorite toy — as long as you both enjoy it and, most importantly, that you set aside the time for it. Seriously, put the activity in your calendar ahead of time!
“If you have something positive that you know is coming, that anticipation can create a little bit of extra energy,” Caraballo says, “and a little bit of extra hope.”
3 Have a little spa day.
If part of your self-care routine involves things like bubble baths, essential oils and aromatherapy, maybe your pet will want to get in some spa time too. Could they use a bath? Try using a calming aromatherapy shampoo with a scent that you’ll also enjoy. Want to really get into it? You can even throw in a pet-friendly bath bomb.
Or, if you’ve got a pet who obsessively licks and scratches themself, try soothing them with a gentle herbal remedy. Remember: You both deserve plenty of pampering!
4 Get your heart rates up together.
“Pets help encourage more physical activity, which helps our mental health by the release of certain hormones and brain chemicals that produce feel-good sensations,” Caraballo says.
Whether that means going for a hike with your dog or a trail ride with your horse, or just getting up and actively playing with your cat or bird, more joyful movement will benefit everyone.
“Play for pets is both pleasurable and exercise, and I think that’s a way we can approach it too. Whatever people want to do to get their heart rate up involving their pets, just make sure it’s fun for both of you,” Caraballo says. “That can be a nice way to reduce stress, get in some extra movement, and just feel a little bit of joy, because we certainly need more of that.”
So make some time to get up and get moving!
5 Talk out your fears and worries with your pet.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed about the coming week, try doing what Caraballo and his business partner call a “worry dump.” All this means is taking a few minutes to either write down or talk out any troubling thoughts you're having.
“The practice is a good way to externalize what is often just internal, and sometimes that helps put things in perspective,” he says. “Often people feel a sense of catharsis from it.”
So whether it’s a big presentation, a difficult exam or an ominous meeting with your boss, try talking out your fears about the coming week with your pet. “Tell them about what worries or scary things are coming up for you as you prepare for the week,” Caraballo says. “They’re going to be great at offering you that simple comfort and support.”
6 Try reading to your pet.
After you’ve talked out your fears and worries with your pet, try reading to them. Sure, it might sound a little silly, but it can be a soothing, stress-reducing activity. Caraballo has seen the benefits first-hand through his work with Pet Partners, an organization that encourages people to read aloud to trained therapy animals.
“Reading to pets helps children who are learning to read or learning different languages and helps build confidence because they have this nonjudgmental listener, but it also reduces stress for people,” he says. “So that can be another potential thing for people to do on a Sunday to reduce their anxiety — just read to your pet, tell them a little story.”
As an added bonus, making time to read to your pet might motivate you to finally get through that magazine article you’ve been saving or finish that novel stashed in your bedside drawer.
Some tips from Pet Partners on how to successfully read to your pet:
- Set up a comfortable spot for both the reader and the pet.
- Have a favorite toy on hand to keep the pet engaged.
- Pause and pet your animal throughout the session to keep them settled and comfortable.
- Reward the pet for their good listening behavior with a treat when you're done.
7 Zen out and be mindful together.
If you’re experienced with meditation, you can try bringing your pet into your practice. But, according to Caraballo, who has tried to meditate with his own pup, it can be pretty difficult unless you’re well practiced in managing distraction and have a “super zen” pet. The good news is there’s another great (and easier!) way to zen out with your pet: mindful petting or brushing.
“Just petting a pet produces oxytocin, which is that feel-good hormone. Most people talk about it in the context of mothers connecting with their babies and that experience of snuggling or cuddling with their babies. We get the same things from pets as well,” Caraballo says.
So instead of absentmindedly giving your pet a quick belly rub while you’re watching TV or scrolling through Instagram, take a few moments to be present and mindful. Really focus on the connection you feel with your furry friend and look out for that rush of feel-good chemicals as you pet them.
“The awesome thing is that oxytocin works in both directions,” Caraballo says. “Humans get it and pets get it too.”