Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of the Sunday scaries. Find out about the science behind the buzzword, and how your organisation can help employees enjoy their weekends and bring their best selves into the new week.
What are the Sunday Scaries?
It’s Sunday night. Tomorrow’s to-do list is racing through your mind. You spend the night tossing and turning, struggling to sleep.
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. A whopping two thirds of us get the so-called Sunday scaries. It's that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach that can ruin an otherwise relaxing weekend.
Although the Sunday scaries is a relatively new idea, the science behind it is pretty established.
Anticipatory anxiety: What it is and why it happens
In a nutshell, the Sunday scaries is anticipatory anxiety that’s specific to work. Anticipatory anxiety is a type of anxiety that arises in response to a future event or situation that we perceive as threatening.
Our brains have an alarm system called the amygdala. It alerts us to potential threats and activates our stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline). These hormones help us to remain alert to deal with the threat – that’s why you might find yourself lying wide awake on a Sunday night.
In short: our brains have evolved to keep us safe from things like bears, and now they can also set off alarm bells over things like meetings or deadlines.
How the Sunday scaries is impacting your business
We all feel anxious from time to time – it’s a normal response to challenges we face in life. Organisations can’t eradicate the Sunday scaries for their people (and stress is part of what keeps us motivated to get the job done – believe it or not, there is such a thing as good stress).
But consistently spending your weekend worrying about work can have a big impact on a person’s wellbeing, and on their performance during the week.
One of the most obvious issues with the Sunday scaries is its impact on our sleep – no one performs their best when they’re sleep deprived. And poor sleep doesn’t just affect our performance, it’s been linked with all kinds of negative health outcomes from depression to diabetes.
Consistent or prolonged stress can also lead to burnout. Burned out employees lose motivation and interest in their work and are at risk of serious health concerns. Not good for them or the organisation.
The bottom line is that employees shouldn’t feel scared to go to work every Sunday. If they do, it’s likely you need to take a look at your workplace culture.
What you can do to limit the Sunday Scaries
Monday morning check-ins
People need time to settle back into their week. Starting Monday mornings with some quiet time and an informal team catch up is a great week to start the week off on a positive note. Talk about your weekends and give people the space they need to organise the week ahead.
Encourage healthy boundaries
It’s vital employees get enough down time. Make sure people know that they aren’t expected to be available constantly and that switching off from work is important. If your company works flexibly and some employees like to work outside standard hours, encourage them to state in their emails or messages that they are choosing to work at the times that suit them but they don’t expect an immediate response.
Create an open and supportive culture
Encourage open communication and create an environment where employees feel comfortable discussing their concerns and fears. This can help reduce anxiety and promote a sense of community and support among colleagues. You can’t change culture overnight, but a great way to start is with leaders. When leaders are open about their own challenges or worries, it gives others permission to do the same.
Offer proactive mental health support
Our mental health and wellbeing isn’t something we should start thinking about when there’s a problem. We can all benefit from proactively nurturing our mental health and wellbeing. All employers should be offering support to the whole organisation. Even employees who don’t take you up on the offer want to feel that their employer cares, and will be glad to know that support is there when they need it.