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The Sunday Night Blues
Do you get that feeling in the pit of your stomach on a Sunday? Do you want the weekend to last forever?
Some people feel dread, and others try to avoid thinking about work by keeping very busy. It is different for everyone. It is not necessarily just the evening time either – The Sun-DAY Blues also exist for some.
What we know is that the Sunday Night Blues are very common, and it does impact mental health and wellbeing for many. If anything, the post-Covid era has encouraged organizations to seriously consider employee wellbeing – both from a legal and ethical perspective.
The hybrid model of working has also impacted The Sunday Night Blues, as the boundaries between work and home life have been blurred beyond recognition. The temptation to work over the weekend to prevent the Sunday anxiety can spiral into a cycle of safety behaviors (things we do to ease feelings of anxiety in the short term) which can then impact family life. You may find it difficult to ‘switch off’ from work, check emails on your phone, and try to ‘catch up’ before Monday.
There is currently some fascinating research being led by Ilke Inceoglu, Professor of Organisational Behaviour and HR Management at the University of Exeter Business School. This study is also being conducted in conjunction with Channel 4 and Investors in People. Read more here.
So now we know that the Sunday Night Blues exist, as backed by evidence, how do we manage them?
Managing the Sunday Night Blues
1.) Acknowledge Your Feelings
For any stressful situation, we benefit from acknowledging our feelings, by noticing them and naming them. When we try to ignore our feelings, they actually grow bigger no matter how we try to deny them. See also the Beach Ball Analogy.
You can acknowledge your feelings by:
- Saying them to yourself – ‘I feel anxious’ or ‘I feel worried about work tomorrow’.
- You can write them down – this can be really powerful and help people to process their feelings. You can use the notes section on your phone or grab a notebook.
- Tell a friend, loved one, or a colleague.
2.) Responding to the Stress
Stress really impacts our body and mind. Our innate stress response has evolved from thousands of years of trying to keep safe when living in the wilderness. So, in our modern world, our response to anything we perceive as a threat can feel like an overreaction.
When we feel threatened, our body has a strong physiological response, commonly known as ‘fight or flight’, though that theory has now been further developed to include ‘freeze and fawn’ in relation to trauma research. This is when we have a surge of stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) that kickstart our sympathetic nervous system.
Examples of common stress response symptoms:
- Racing heart
- Racing thoughts
- Needing the toilet
- Tight muscles
- Blood pressure rising
This list is not exhaustive.
Stress management techniques:
This is scientifically proven to put the ‘brakes’ on the sympathetic nervous system and return our body to calm.
1.) Take a deep breath in through your nose for 4 seconds and feel your abdomen expand as it fills with air.
2.) Hold your breath for around 3 seconds.
3.) This part is KEY – breathe out SLOWLY over 6 seconds – you might make a ‘whoosh’ sound as you let the air out. This method is most effective when your exhale is longer than your inhale.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
A technique that tenses and relaxes the muscles in your body from head to toe. There are many great videos and scripts available online.
The classic 5,4,3,2,1 exercise can be really defective for people. I often encourage clients to create a grounding box for themselves at home.
This exercise requires you to focus on:
5 things you can see
4 things you can touch
3 things you can hear
2 things you can smell
1 thing you can taste
Try these exercises out and see what feels most effective for you. The key is to practice them when you feel RELAXED, so they are not only associated with stress and panic.
For further tips on managing work anxiety, learn more here.
3.) Practical Steps
The ongoing research by The University of Exeter Business School has highlighted some recommendations so far:
Plan a nice activity for Sunday Evening
Be disciplined about any work you do over the weekend
Plan a nice activity at work on Monday
There are also steps organizations can take such as asking their teams about how to best structure the week (meeting times etc), good wellbeing, role modeling by managers, and investing in wellbeing training for managers.
Now you know a little more about the Sunday Night Blues, you can take a few minutes to think about what you are going to do differently if you feel affected.
How will you acknowledge your feelings?
How will you manage your stress?
What practical steps can you take toward the Sunday Night Blues?
Every step is important, and it can take time to work out what works best for you – and that is okay.
Taking care of ourselves is key – and by reading this you are already on the right path.
About the Author
Name: Dr. Elaine Smith
Bio: Dr. Elaine Smith is a psychologist specialising in corporate wellbeing. She draws upon her personal experience and 15 years of working in the psychology field, to make work life better. Elaine facilitates training for leaders and line managers to address leader’s mental health and wellbeing, compassionate leadership and psychological safety at work. She is trained to doctorate level in Clinical Psychology.
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