Remember that sinking feeling when it was time to return to the classroom after a fun-filled recess? As adults, many of us regress to that mindset on Sunday night, knowing that Monday morning means a return to the old grind — alarm clock and all.
If you dread Sunday nights, you’re not alone. A survey of over 1,000 people shows 81% said they became progressively more anxious as their restful Sunday came to a close, known as “anticipatory anxiety.” Nearly two-thirds reported a restless night’s sleep Sunday night, which they attributed to job-related anxiety. We call these the “Sunday night blues” or the “Sunday scaries,” and they arrive at the end of the weekend along with these racing thoughts:
- What meetings do I have tomorrow?
- How will I ever finish that project this week?
- What else will my boss toss on my plate?
So, what can you do to alleviate this affliction so that the precious time between Friday evening and Monday morning really is all yours?
Self-Assess to Set Yourself Up for Success
The first step lies in a self-assessment. What exactly is it about returning to work on Monday that sends your spirits into a downward spiral? Try to accurately describe your feelings (our list of 850+ words is a great resource) and what thoughts are activating those feelings. Let your thoughts flow freely, jotting them down on paper or as a note in your phone if it helps. If you need a boost getting started, try answering these questions:
- What is it about work that you dread?
- Are you overwhelmed?
- Are you missing development opportunities?
- How strong are your work relationships – with your boss, your peers, your direct reports? Evaluate any areas within these relationships that may be causing some stress.
- How closely aligned are your personal values and your organizations? Do you agree with and feel on-board with your organization’s purpose and mission?
- What current work projects are you excited about?
- Describe your current work challenges. Do the challenges feel appropriately aligned with your current development? Or are you bored?
- Or perhaps the stretch projects are too great and you feel underprepared or under-supported?
Identifying what thoughts activate your feelings can inform next steps. Do you get stressed out just thinking about the rush of the weekday morning routine? If so, maybe waking up a half hour earlier would help.
Sometimes you simply can’t change the environment in which you work. But there may be ways to make it more palatable or easier to deal with in the moment. Once you have an accurate assessment, then you can use the below strategies as possible solutions.
Strategies to Avoid Sunday Sadness
- Infuse some enjoyment into the week.
Whether it’s binge-watching a popular TV show in the evening, going out for a romantic dinner for two at a favorite restaurant or treating yourself to a manicure after work, there is no rule that says you have to wait until the weekend to do the things you enjoy. By postponing all the activities you deem a “treat” until the weekend, you may be unwittingly making the weekdays more lackluster than they need to be. Scheduling something that you can look forward to on a Wednesday allows you to break up what may otherwise feel like a long work week.
2. Find the joy in your job.
What makes you happy at work? Some people thrive on autonomy, while others need to feel like they’re making some sort of progress in meaningful work. Perhaps you work with a great group of colleagues or at a company that offers a lot of opportunities for professional development. Sometimes we get caught up in the minutiae and forget to appreciate the big picture.
3. Disconnect from email.
If you respond to emails over the weekend, your colleagues will come to expect it. Instead, set boundaries that you won’t check emails during your time off so that you have time to recharge.
I recently worked with a client (we’ll call him Colin) who always talked about how busy he was and how he never felt like he had a weekend. Colin typically ended up working all weekend and sending emails until 10pm some nights. There was no looking forward to Monday because the week just started all over with no refresh behind him to help. Since Colin was the head of a department, we worked on making some internal changes in regards to boundaries and resetting his expectations and essentially his department’s culture. He knew that his employees would follow his lead so he understood that once he stopped sending emails over the weekend, others would do the same and get more time to enjoy their weekends. He made the change, and everyone was happier.
4. Don’t get behind the eight ball.
Starting a new week in catch-up mode is a recipe for disaster. Leaving a mess on your desk on Friday afternoon lends itself to a black cloud over the weekend and a cluttered mind when you return to the office on Monday morning. Tie up whatever loose ends you can before calling it a week, then think ahead. Setting aside time to organize and strategize for the upcoming week can reduce workplace stress — and possibly avoid the Sunday Night Blues.
5. Practice mindfulness techniques.
Mindfulness allows us to live in the present versus ruminating over the past or future. But it takes practice to keep distracting thoughts at bay. Start by setting aside five minutes a day to practice mindfulness. Engage in diaphragmatic breathing, inhaling deeply through your nose and exhaling slowly through your mouth. Focus on the tip of your nose as you breathe. Use visualizations to imagine your thoughts drifting off like puffy white clouds. Find a calming mantra, and repeat it. It can be something as simple as “let go.” When you notice that your mind is wandering, recite the mantra over and over until it becomes your only focus.
When you find yourself starting to feel anxiety with the Sunday scaries, turning to your mindfulness practice will help calm you.
If a deeper issue is at the root of your Sunday Night Blues, a bigger-picture solution may be warranted. If the Sunday scaries is affecting your personal life – not sleeping, snapping at loved ones at home, etc. – it may be time to consider a new job, a move to another company or new career options.