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Sunday anxiety

Sunday scaries: How to beat Sunday night anxiety

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 scaries'.

Around 2 in 3 people in the UK struggle with anxiety or the blues on a Sunday as they start to worry about the week ahead.1 But why do we get these feelings - and what can we do to ease them?

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Causes of Sunday night anxiety

Sunday scaries and loss of freedom

Katerina Georgiou, a counsellor and psychotherapist, says there are two main things happening on a Sunday night. For many, it's the loss of the weekend, when we get more freedom and time to ourselves. But we're also anticipating the week ahead and wondering what that holds.

"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," she says.

"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."

Sunday scaries and work stress

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."

Many of us only have the two-day weekend to recover from a long working week, which is not enough time and can create resentment.

"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," says Georgiou.

Sunday scaries and pressure to enjoy the weekend

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.

Nicky Lidbetter, CEO of Anxiety UK, says you might also expect to have a great time at the weekend - and if that doesn't pan out, it can lead to low mood and resentment.

"Often people recall Sunday evening as being a stressful time, going back to school, getting things ready for the week ahead," explains Lidbetter.

"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 and 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."

Sunday scaries, alcohol and poor sleep

The way we spend our weekends can affect how we feel on a Sunday too, as overdoing it with alcohol, which is a depressant, can harm our mood. Also, feeling anxious or sad at the end of the weekend can lead to sleep problems, which can worsen your mood.

"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*, who already struggles with anxiety, says she enjoys the quiet of a slow Sunday, but feels gradually more anxious as the evening arrives.

"As it comes to the evening of any Sunday, my anxiety will build up. I can find myself struggling to fall asleep, or even, wake up," she says. "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."

How to tackle Sunday scaries

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, says: "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. Go out for dinner or meet a friend after work on a weekday.

"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 a difference.

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 scaries are about thinking ahead - we aren't enjoying our weekend because we're busy worrying about what's going to happen the next week. 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," says Lidbetter.

"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 a few months? Most times you would say no. It gives you perspective."

Be kinder to yourself

It's also important to be kind to yourself. If you haven't got through your to-do list, so what? It's easy to be hard on ourselves if we've not achieved everything we feel we should have on a weekend.

"Even in the worst working weeks, there are some positive things you can find - focusing on those brings more balance to your thoughts," says Lidbetter. "Listing things that you've enjoyed during the week or making note of small successes sounds basic, but can be helpful."

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 for advice and information.

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Further reading

  1. Reed survey: 2 out of 3 Brits suffer 'Sunday night fear'

Article history

The information on this page is peer reviewed by qualified clinicians.

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