Weekend emails and unfinished to-do lists to blame for the Sunday scaries, says research

Written by Ellen Scott

Do the Sunday scaries always hit you hard? New research might explain why.

No matter what you do for work and how much you enjoy your career, it’s highly likely that you’ve experienced a spot of Sunday night anxiety, better known as the Sunday scaries. 

The bubbling dread begins midway through the final day of your weekend. It claws at your attempts at relaxation, reminding you of how little time you have left before you’re back at your desk. It builds as you do life admin, simmers through dinner, then bubbles over when you attempt to sleep, forcing you to think of everything you’ll have to do on Monday instead of drifting off for the night. 

We know this isn’t a healthy, helpful pattern. So why does it keep happening, week after week? And what can we do to break the cycle?

The key might lie in strengthening the boundaries between work and weekend, according to new research from Channel 4, the University of Exeter and Investors in People. An initial study, which is part of an ongoing research programme titled ‘Banishing the Sunday night blues’, looked into triggers for Sunday night anxiety, and found a common theme: when the line between work and life blurs, that spells trouble. 

The survey had a limited sample size of just 650 people, so it’s clear more research needs to be done, but the responses from participants noted common causes of the Sunday scaries, including receiving emails at the weekend and having unfinished tasks from the week before. Self-imposed pressure to perform also plays a significant role. 

Researchers also confirmed that more than two-thirds of Brits experience Sunday night anxiety, and that even those who love their job can experience these blues. 

Channel 4’s people director Kirstin Furber said: “Our study confirms that the Sunday night blues exist, and that they can negatively impact employee wellness and performance, and that’s something we should all be concerned about as employers. This is about supporting our people so they feel fresh and rested on a Monday morning, and ready to face the week ahead.”  

“Every person at every level within an organisation, regardless of length of service, industry or working pattern, has experienced the Sunday night blues,” said Paul Devoy, chief executive of Investors in People. “I know I have! We must do more to identify the key causes and more importantly, the solutions to better support people and ultimately make work better. I am very excited about the next stage of this project and hope that together with Channel 4 and the University of Exeter Business School, we are able to support as many organisations and individuals as possible to eliminate the Sunday night blues.”

The University of Exeter team is now devising a toolkit, to be issued later this year, which will help employers tackle Sunday anxiety. This will include suggesting people make a to-do list on a Friday for the week ahead, and organising positive interactions on a Monday so people have something to look forward to.

But in the meantime, how can we reduce the pre-Monday dread on an individual level? We have some tips…      

How to tackle the Sunday scaries

Reduce the pressure on your Mondays 

It’s tempting to feel like Monday is the day that absolutely everything has to get done… but logically, you know that’s not the case. Remind yourself that you have a whole five days of work to get through your to-do list, and consider a ’bare minimum Mondays’ approach to ease yourself in. 

Do a digital detox at the weekends

Set some boundaries around your tech – especially your work-related tech – at the weekends. You know full well that checking your emails, dipping your toe into work-related tasks and looking at analytics is a path to misery. So… don’t do it. Bar yourself from opening your laptop. Hide your phone in a drawer for the day. Get out of the house and do something away from screens. 

Try a brain dump before bed

Before you get into bed and try to rest, take some time to write down all your worries, all the things you need to do on Monday, and anything else that’s on your mind. The act of doing a brain dump can be transformative when it comes to stopping those racing thoughts that keep you up all night.

Consider ‘quiet weekends’

The ’quiet weekend’ trend simply means taking things a little easier on a Friday, allowing you to more gradually slide into the relaxation of Saturday and Sunday. 

“For those with a traditional Monday-to-Friday schedule, this often means clearing Fridays of long meetings, hard deadlines, highly collaborative activities or tasks that can’t be completed in a day,” says Jill Cotton.

Stick to the same wakeup and bedtimes at the weekend

We know, we know, a Sunday lie-in is a true joy. But stick with us. If you let your sleep routine get off track the second Friday hits, you’re setting yourself up to feel tired all weekend (which can trigger anxiety), and to find it difficult to drift off come Sunday night. Stick to your bedtime and wake up at a reasonable hour to make sure your body and mind are ready for rest and feel genuinely recharged.

Have a self-care Sunday 

Make your Sundays a super relaxing, recharging time by consciously scheduling in self-care. Mentally marking this up as a Sunday night ritual can help to make these tasks feel more special and restorative.

Perhaps you’ll always have a bath on a Sunday night, or you’ll read some chapters of a great new book, or you’ll do some meditation. Whatever you choose, make sure you carve out some time to make yourself feel good and ready for whatever Monday throws at you. 

Main image: Getty

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