Sunday night dread.
Most working people experience the feeling at some point in their career, but it seems like teachers get hit harder than most. No matter how intent we are on using the weekend to relax and refresh, that ugly feeling of anxiety and apprehension creeps up and clobbers us over the head.
JM recently wrote into our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook with this tough question, “Anybody else have trouble with anxiety on Sunday nights? Feeling like you’re not doing enough? Feeling like you’re doing too much? Having trouble feeling motivated or having negative self-talk? I love what I do most of the time, but any suggestions on dealing with this?” Once again, our teacher community came through with support and sage advice.
First of all, be comforted by the fact that you are not alone!
Some teachers feel so much anxiety they’re making themselves sick. “Oh yes,” says fellow teacher LB, “That tight feeling that precedes multiple dreams of inadequacy, failure, and being lost.”
And JA can definitely relate, sharing, “Every week! Most of the time I toss and turn at night stressing about my classroom, lessons, students, class sizes, classroom management, evaluations, etc. It never ends.”
AJ feels it acutely. “The self-doubt, the heart palpitations, the racing thoughts [of] not knowing what tomorrow will bring, and the beginning of feeling sick to my stomach. Why is it that my normal feeling the night before going back to work?”
Which leads us to a very important question: What’s up with that, anyway?
“I wish I could put my finger on exactly why we feel this way,” says BC. “Is it the unexpected? The high expectations from others? The time crunch to get everything done? All of the above and more?”
Yes. And the reality is that sometimes we are our own worst enemies. We get overwhelmed by the tremendous scope of our job and forget to pace ourselves in order to avoid being too stressed. For many, the anticipation of the upcoming week is worse than the actual week itself! As MM puts it, “I really don’t know why I get so much anxiety because the week is never as bad as I imagine, and I’m usually fairly well prepared.”
JS offers a keen insight that may help. “I [liken] this feeling [to] stage fright,” she says, “I perform a different show each day, and once I’m ‘on stage’ I feel much better.” And maybe, just maybe, a little bit of anxiety is not entirely a bad thing. CS hypothesizes, “I believe we get anxiety because we want so badly to be a good teacher and make sure our students learn and make progress.”
Regardless of the anxiety’s source, the first step is to dump the guilt!
“I forget sometimes that there is ALWAYS more to do.” confesses SK. “The guilt thing needs to stop. I’ll figure that part out hopefully soon.” MN agrees, “You cannot feel guilty! Ever! I wasted years feeling like this.”
So how do other teachers cope? They give themselves a break.
Keep your expectations for what type of work you are able to do outside of school reasonable. The work won’t go away, no matter how hard you try or how much you do. Keeping that in perspective will help you keep anxiety at bay.
“Take it one day at a time,” advises KT. “There is always more work to be done. The best thing you can do is prioritize.” Start focusing on things you can control and let the rest fall away.
This is especially important for newbies.
For new teachers, the overwhelming majority agrees—it takes time! New teacher SK laments, “I’m a first-year teacher, and I was really hoping it wouldn’t always feel like this.”
Veteran VR quickly responded, “It won’t! Stay the course. It does become manageable. You will gain more knowledge, more confidence. By year three, you can actually joke about that untouched teacher bag you took home. You will learn how to be more efficient with your time. Don’t give up!”
SS agrees, “I’m in my second year, and it’s not as bad! I promise!”
And MN adds, “You will find a good balance. It took me about five years, but I finally realized I was doing more than enough!”
They practice self-care.
Spend time doing other things that you love. Set personal goals that have nothing to do with work. Sign up for singing lessons, join a book club, or take up watercolor painting—anything that you want to do strictly for the sense of pleasure it will give you.
HR recommends restorative yoga. “I go every Sunday night at 7, and it really helps calm my anxiety and sets me up for the week ahead.” MN set her sights on training for a half-marathon and had to follow a consistent routine to meet her goal. Only you know what your body and spirit need to feel balanced. “Right now I’m eating ice cream and binge-watching Netflix,” admits EH. “And all is ok!”
They set themselves up for success.
“I try to get everything done on Friday before I leave,” says MN, “Sometimes that means working until 6 pm, but then my mind is free all weekend. I used to save my planning until Sunday, and then I would dread it all weekend. Sometimes I am exhausted on Friday, but that few extra hours really makes the weekend so much better!”
JC agrees, “Get it done on Friday, no matter how late.”
And even though it may make you feel like a bit of a work-week hermit, try using your planning time as constructively as you can. “I close my door and put my head down,” says LM, “I don’t even think about picking up my phone, checking social media, etc. It will just be a giant black hole, and I’ll get nothing done.”
MM spends just a small amount of time Sunday evening preparing for the coming week and then lets it go. “I make a list to prioritize what needs to be done in the coming week, briefly look over my plans, jot down anything I need to add or prepare for, say a little prayer, and then get a good night’s sleep!”
How do you deal with Sunday night anxiety? Come share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE! Facebook group.
Also, check out these tips for teachers who are exhausted, stressed, and burned out.