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How to beat the Sunday night blues

If you've ever had that sinking feeling in your stomach as the weekend draws to a close, you aren't alone. Many of us struggle with feelings of anxiety, low mood and a general sense of dread - dubbed by many as the 'Sunday night blues'.

According to a recent survey, as many as two in three Brits struggle with Sunday blues as they start to worry about the week ahead. But why do we get them - and is there anything we can do about it?

What is the Sunday night fear?

"There are two things going on really: loss of the weekend, and anticipation of the week ahead," explains Katerina Georgiou, a counsellor and psychotherapist. "Sunday marks the end of the weekend, the end of a break, and the end of the very brief respite from the previous week's work,

"The party is suddenly over and ahead of you lie five days of work again that can feel like a brand new mountain to climb. The anticipation of that can be very burdensome."

Whether the week ahead fills you with dread also depends on your job.

"If you dislike your job, and you don't feel you had much time to come up for air in the first place, then that feeling worsens," Georgiou adds. "If what lies ahead is high stress, difficult meetings, office politics, maybe an unbearable commute, then that inhalation of breath is going to intensify. It's sometimes only a temporary feeling, but for others it can be so bad."

Most of us only have the two-day weekend to recover from a long working week, which isn't enough time and can create resentment, adds Georgiou.

"The spike of excitement at a Friday night is suddenly met with a dramatic anticlimax on Sunday, rather than a slow burning feeling of relaxation and release."

Sunday is also usually the day when we try to fulfil everything on our to-do lists that we're too busy to tackle during the week, which can bring pressure to be productive.

"Equally, you might have expectations to have a great time at the weekend, and if that doesn't pan out, it can lead to low mood," explains Nicky Lidbetter, CEO of Anxiety UK.

"Often people recall Sunday evening as being a stressful time, going back to school, getting things ready for the week ahead. I think that can carry on into adulthood where you feel the week ahead is the opposite of the weekend.

"You can't be free-spirited anymore; you're not in control. And the 'being in control' is really important for people who have anxiety, because feeling out of control is what keeps anxiety going."

The way we spend our weekends can impact how we feel on a Sunday too, as overdoing it with alcohol, a depressant, can impact our mood.

Additionally, feeling anxious or sad at the end of the weekend can lead to people struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night.

"People get focused on getting a good night's sleep because they have so much to do the next day," Lidbetter says. "People worry they won’t get to sleep or that they will wake in the night. It can become a point of obsession which can become a problem."

Charlotte Underwood, who already struggles with clinical anxiety, finds Sundays particularly difficult.

"Sunday is my safe day. After the stress of the week, it feels cathartic for the world to almost stop turning. Living with pretty chronic anxiety, my mind can spin at 100 miles per hour, thinking about all of the possibilities of the day and the following week, year or decade, so Sundays feel safe," she says.

"As it comes to the evening of any Sunday, my anxiety will build up. By Monday morning, I can find myself struggling to fall asleep, or even, wake up. I sometimes find myself frozen in fear, shaking and worrying about everything that could go wrong and the things that I have to do this week."

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How to tackle Sunday blues

Feeling anxious or down on a Sunday isn't the same as having clinical anxiety or depression, but that isn’t to say that we should ignore these feelings.

"When it starts to be persistent and it's every weekend, and it starts to impact ordinary functioning, then that's the point where we would say someone needs to get some help," Lidbetter says.

"It might be that you have anxiety anyway, and this is another part of it. For people who have a level of clinical anxiety already, seemingly small things can overlay an existing anxiety condition."

Make changes

If it is your work or another aspect of your life that is making you feel low, it might be time to review your current situation.

Hilda Burke, psychotherapist and author of The Phone Addiction Workbook, adds: "If the Sunday night blues are very intense, it's worth asking yourself what it is you're dreading so much about the working week. Are you taking on too much work? Are you putting up with a job in which you're no longer learning and growing? What changes do you need to make so that your working week is actually something you look forward to?"

Plan something mid-week

Fun activities shouldn’t just be reserved for the weekend - planning a mid-week treat can help break up the monotony of work.

"Try to add in something fun during the week like a dinner or cinema or book in a massage on your lunch break to break up the week," Georgiou says. "Make sure you take annual leave and have a holiday at least once every couple of months." Even if you don't get much holiday, a day or two added on to your weekend can make all the difference.

"Try to be a bit more creative with your weekday time," Burke says. "Rather than seeing 'exercise' as the gym, consider another work-out activity you find more stimulating and fun, perhaps which includes a social element allowing you to spend time with a good friend."

Make Sunday fun

Likewise, Sundays don't just have to be about preparing for work the next day and catching up on housework. Planning something you enjoy on a Sunday evening can help tackle the dread.

"The key thing is not to get into habit of seeing Sunday evening as a time when you get that gnawing feeling or knot of anxiety, but to set something nice to do - rather than checking emails or preparing," Lidbetter says.

Stay in the moment

The Sunday fear is all about projecting ahead - we aren't enjoying our weekend because we're busy worrying about what's ahead, Lidbetter explains. Mindfulness, being aware of your surroundings, can help you stay in the moment and improve your mental wellbeing.

"People with anxiety are good at 'what if' scenarios - we have an expression that is 'so what to what if'. You spend your time living in the future that may not ever happen," she explains.

"Grounding techniques are important. If you find yourself getting ahead, have five things you can see, hear and touch to bring you back into the moment. As a cognitive behavioural therapist myself, a technique I ask is, if there's something you are worried about, will it be something you're worrying about in 3, 6, 9 months' time? Most times you would say no. It gives you perspective."

Anxiety UK is partnered with the Headspace app, offering guided meditations for stress, anxiety and other problems.

Be kinder to yourself

"Be kind to yourself. If you haven't got through your to-do list, so what? It sounds simple, but people with an anxious disposition can be hard on themselves. The voice we have telling ourselves off, we would never use on our best friends," Lidbetter adds.

"Even in the worst working weeks, there are some positive things you can find - focusing on those brings more balance to your thoughts. Listing things you enjoy sounds basic, but we can lose sight of it."

Get professional help

If you struggle with anxiety or low mood frequently, speak with your GP about accessing professional help. They will be able to direct you towards the right treatment, whether it is talking therapies or medication. Speaking with family and friends can help too, or you could try reaching out to Anxiety UK or Mind.

"If you think your anxiety is at a level where you need help, contact us and we can help you access a course of therapy," Lidbetter says. "Anxiety UK has a team of approved therapists up and down the country. If you have a difficult situation at work, speaking with a professional - a counsellor - can help too."

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