Mental Health

Sunday night anxiety: what causes the ‘Sunday Scaries’?

Welcome to Sleepless Nights, Stylist’s weekly series designed to help you put your Sunday night anxiety and worries to bed. This week, we’re exploring what causes Sunday night anxiety – and whether working from home has made things worse. 

If you find yourself confronted by feelings of dread and anxiety at the thought of returning to work on a Monday, you’re not alone.

Sunday night anxiety – or the “Sunday Scaries,” as it’s sometimes called – is surprisingly common: research into the phenomenon published in 2019 found that 81% of us experience elevated anxiety in anticipation of the return to work.

However, just because it’s common, doesn’t mean understanding the causes of Sunday night anxiety is straightforward. Sure, we know that this form of anxiety is triggered by the anticipation of returning to work on a Monday morning – but what is it about the return to work after two days off which makes the idea of going back so anxiety-inducing? Why, if work proves such a big stressor for us, do we not experience similar anxiety throughout the working week?

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To find out more about the psychology of Sunday night anxiety – including how the shift to home working during the coronavirus pandemic has affected the phenomenon – we asked the experts to give us some more details. Here’s what they had to say.  

What actually is Sunday night anxiety?

In its simplest form, Sunday night anxiety is a form of anticipatory anxiety that people feel at the end of the week, usually in response to a return to work or school.

Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari, psychologist, author and founder of The Village, explains that, while most of us “feel a longing for a longer weekend,” those with Sunday night anxiety become “overly worried” about the prospect of a new week.

“It might affect your mood and sleep, and you might find your thoughts are difficult to control or that your normal functioning is affected.” 

A woman experiencing Sunday night anxiety
Sunday night anxiety is a form of anticipatory anxiety triggered by the return of the working week.

What is it about Sunday night that ramps up our anxiety? 

While our work can trigger feelings of anxiety any night of the week, according to Dr Ben-Ari, the reason why so many people experience elevated anxiety on a Sunday night is because it’s a “transition time”.

She explains: “We are going from a restful and free weekend to what can be a busy and demanding working week. Transitions activate our nervous system and we are more vulnerable to acting out our fears in our head.”

Dr Ben-Ari continues: “It is also the sudden difference in state of mind – we go from a stress-free weekend to the long endless to-do lists people are usually worried about.” 

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What Dr Ben-Ari is saying makes a lot of sense. While you might experience anxiety during the week, you’re already in that headspace – so dealing with the stress of a new working day doesn’t feel like much of a shock.

However, at the weekend, when you’ve (hopefully) had time to relax and recuperate, the idea of moving back into that state of stress is a much bigger deal, causing your anxiety levels to rise.

Can working from home make Sunday night anxiety worse?

While your experience of Sunday night anxiety will depend on the relationship you have with your job and how stressed out it makes you feel, working from home could be to blame if your anxiety has been higher as-of-late.

While working from home has cut out the stress of the physical commute to the office, according to chartered psychologist and author Dr Meg Arroll, the blurring of work/life boundaries which has happened to many of us over the last 12 months could be making things worse.  

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“The ‘Sunday Scaries’ haven’t disappeared just because our schedules have gone out the window – in fact, the lack of structue and routine may be contributing to higher anxiety levels,” she says.

“Where weekends were once protected time for family activities and relaxation and acted as a vital break to recharge and reconnect, this is no longer the case, as our days all merge into one.” 

Although understanding the causes of your Sunday night anxiety won’t get rid of it completely, it’s a great place to start if you’re looking to get this unique form of anxiety under control.

For more information on Sunday night anxiety, including techniques you can use to feel more calm going into the week, you can check out our guide. 

Tired of anxiety affecting your sleep? Join us at The Stylist Restival on 19 March (World Sleep Day) for the part sleep spa, part workshop that will place you in the hands of our sleep specialists for a truly restorative Friday night relaxation session.

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