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The ‘Sunday Night Blues’

Most of us can identify with the feeling of Sunday night blues. Those stomach-churning moments as the weekend draws closer to an end and the worries about the week ahead start to creep in. Unfortunately, this experience is all too common and many of us begin to accept this as an inevitable facet of our busy working lives, assuming that the absence of Sunday night blues is something that is reserved only for the lucky few. We stop questioning whether this experience really is inevitable, inviting these feelings of anxiety, worry and stress into our precious weekend with a resigned acceptance of our fate.

Understanding why Sunday night blues are such a common experience requires us to understand the nature of our mind and its basic motivations. Ultimately, as evolved beings, our basic primitive instinct is to survive; we have an ‘old brain’ which is primarily concerned with scanning our environment for threats in an attempt to keep us safe. Alongside this, we also have advanced ‘new brains’ which are able to think, reflect, ruminate and time travel. The problem comes when our new brain abilities get hijacked by our old brain motivations. At any opportunity, considering our week ahead let’s say, our old brain scans for threats and invites our new brain along for the ride, encouraging thoughts, memories, worries, and predictions which are threat-based in nature. Our old brain isn’t concerned about whether these anxious thoughts make us feel good, fulfilled or excited about work, it is purely concerned with survival. When it comes to survival, better safe than sorry!

So as we can see, Sunday night blues are a product of our tricky human brains. So, what can we do about this? Well, we can create a work environment in which we are never stressed, face no high-pressure deadlines, have no clashes with colleagues and feel consistently appreciated, validated and successful…..remove all possible ammunition for our old brain to pull out and ruminate about on a Sunday night. Sounds great right? However, whilst this may feel like a wonderful idea, it likely also feels fairly unrealistic for the majority of us. So, what is the alternative? The alternative is to understand why we get caught in difficult loops, what is happening in our brain to pull us towards these threat-based mindsets and offer ourselves kindness and understanding for this complex brain we are working with. We also need to pause, reflect and notice when we are being pulled into these patterns of thinking and catch this as it is happening. How often have you found yourself feeling stressed, frustrated, snappy or tense, only to realise that you have been feeling this way for hours (or days, weeks…months!?), worrying about the week ahead, without even pausing to notice that this had been happening? How might things be different if you were able to catch this in the moment, and make a conscious decision at that point to re-direct your attention to those things that matter? To take back your Sunday and experience yourself being fully present in your weekend.

I wonder how we might approach our week on a Monday morning if we haven’t already exhausted ourselves over the weekend with rumination and worry? If the weekend has provided a true break from work, would this allow us to approach our work with a refreshed energy, ready to approach the challenges of the week from a calm, soothed mind?

Of course, whilst we can look at our own role within our emotional wellbeing at work and respond to those aspects which fall under our control, we also need to acknowledge the responsibility of our workplace to facilitate an environment which supports mental health. When we notice that Sunday night blues are suggestive of wider challenges within the culture we are exposed to at work, it is also important to ask whether the workplace you are in is trauma-informed, sensitive and responsive to the needs to their employees. Check out our blog ‘What is a trauma-informed organisation’ to explore this further.