Sunday Scaries: How to stop pre-work anxiety

Sunday Scaries. (Getty Images)
Are you being taken over by the Sunday Scaries? (Getty Images)

The 'Sunday Scaries'... the phrase alone might be enough to fill you with dread.

Unfortunately – unless you're one of the lucky ones – Sunday night anxiety is all too common. In fact, seven in 10 of us regularly report experiencing the Sunday Scaries, which are shown to peak after 5pm, according to a government report.

Whether the doom is brought on by weekend emails and looming unfinished work tasks, as suggested by a recent University of Exeter study, or just an extreme reluctance to face Monday, it can ruin what should be a relaxing evening off.

But what exactly are the Sunday Scaries and is there anything we can do to prevent them? Dr Sarah Bateup, CBT therapist and chief clinical officer at the mental wellbeing platform Oliva, guides us through it.

Are the Sunday Scaries real and what are the symptoms?

“The Sunday Scaries are a very real phenomenon, and can be described as a general feeling of unease or anxiety towards work," says Dr Bateup.

"These feelings might be triggered by the undertaking of a new role or responsibilities, or even just particularly busy periods in our working lives. They tend to be heightened by the anticipation of facing them during the days leading up to start dates, or on Sunday evenings." Sound familiar?

They're more than just feeling tired from the weekend, and can manifest in both our mind and body.

"Symptoms can range from low-level anxiety and agitation, to more physical symptoms such as being unable to sleep, an increased heart rate, or experiencing a tight feeling in the pit of your stomach," Dr Bateup explains.

To note, if you feel anxious about a wide range of situations and issues, rather than one specific event, this could be a sign of generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).

Read more: How to find motivation and be more productive

Woman working on laptop in evening and stressed. (Getty Images)
Working on Sunday night to prepare for Monday isn't the answer. (Getty Images)

Why do we experience the Sunday Scaries?

Contrary to what you might think, anyone can get caught up in the pre-week feeling of doom.

"You don't have to 'hate' your job to feel a bit anxious on a Sunday," says Dr Bateup. "According to one survey, over 80% of professionals experience the 'Sunday Scaries', and this could be down to something as simple as the anticipation of returning to work after a break.”

As well as being caused by heightened times of stress in the workplace, Dr Bateup adds, "they can also be caused by self-imposed pressure to achieve."

While the Sunday Scaries might feel overwhelming, they're not unusual. “The most important thing to remember is that these emotions and symptoms are completely normal. They are a result of our body's natural stress response," Dr Bateup points out.

"A moderate amount of stress is needed for us to function at our best, but during periods of increased pressure (like when we are managing an increased workload) these levels rise. As a result, our stress response and related symptoms become more noticeable."

But the important thing is to ensure your weekend anxiety doesn't escalate. Luckily, there are techniques that can help with this and prevent any sign of the Sunday Scaries in the first place.

Read more: 10 expert-approved ways to sleep better, as millions of adults complain of being 'tired all the time'

Man looking anxious in bed. (Getty Images)
Don't let your Sunday Scaries take control of your life with these expert tips. (Getty Images)

How to stop the Sunday Scaries

Get to the root cause

Understanding why we feel the way we do is an important first step to take.

“When you begin to feel anxious, pay attention to your thoughts and consider what’s triggering your emotions," recommends Dr Bateup.

"For example, maybe you begin to feel anxious about the prospect of work in response to work email notifications that come in outside of working hours. Understanding your personal triggers can help you limit opportunities for them to arise and target the specific feelings they lead to."

Release emotions

If you're still struggling to pinpoint things, grab a notebook and pen.

"You may find it helpful to write down how your 'Sunday Scaries’ triggers make you feel. Externalising thoughts can be an effective way of clearing a racing mind and putting any anxieties into perspective," says Dr Bateup.

Woman journaling. (Getty Images)
Put pen to paper to free yourself of anxiety and worry. (Getty Images)

Separate work from leisure

This is one of the most important steps, but perhaps the most difficult to maintain.

“Removing physical signs of work from your home can also help create more healthy work-life boundaries, and remove triggers that could spoil your Sunday evening," says Dr Bateup.

"For remote workers, this might take a little more effort – but that will be all the more worthwhile. Start by removing your work email from your phone, or simply turn off notifications on work-related apps outside of working hours."

Your environment really does reflect your state of mind. "If you normally work from home, having a clearly defined workspace can also help you create separation between work and your personal life. This doesn’t need to be a completely separate room," adds Dr Bateup.

She instead suggests putting your laptop and work belongings in a drawer or somewhere else, out of sight for the weekend.

Read more: Major trial of four-day work week results in happier employees and higher revenue

Woman putting tablet away in bag. (Getty Images)
Put your work equipment and belongings out of sight for the weekend. (Getty Images)

Re-shift your Sunday

It's known as the day of rest, after all.

"Scheduling activities that you enjoy on a Sunday can help change the focus of your attention, and reframe the last day of your weekend as something to look forward to," says Dr Bateup.

"This might be meeting up with a friend, a trip to the cinema, or reading a book before bed. Even better, pick activities that centre around ‘self-care’."

This can also work wonders for our wellbeing. "When we get anxious, we tend to neglect our physical and mental health, which can leave us feeling worse," she adds. "So take the time to cook a healthy meal, phone a family member for a catch-up, or go for a walk outside – and make it a regular Sunday habit to reset and feel as prepared as possible for Monday morning."

Ask for help

While there are things you can do independently to ease your Sunday Scaries, there's no shame if you need a helping hand.

“If you’re struggling to address your symptoms alone, or if your anxieties increase or start to interfere with your everyday life, it’s important to seek professional support," urges Dr Bateup.

"Your GP should be able to point you towards a mental health professional, who can teach you strategies to effectively navigate and manage your emotions.”

So, remember, while the Sunday Scaries are relatively normal, you don't have to live with them. And don't reach for that laptop before Monday comes around!

Watch: Benefits of 'bare minimum' Mondays