This week on Truth for Teachers: We’ll talk about the best ways teachers can beat Sunday night anxiety and actually enjoy the entire weekend.
Have you ever wasted half the weekend worrying about the week ahead? Even if you love your job, you might still wake up on Sunday mornings with a feeling of dread and spend the evening in a total state of anxiety simply because there are so many pressures associated with teaching. Here are 7 tips to help you relax, enjoy your time off, AND be more productive:
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1) Don’t leave school on Friday until you’ve prepared for Monday morning.
It’s tempting to run out of the classroom as soon as possible before the weekend, but you’ll enjoy your time off so much more if you make Monday’s photocopies, set up the supplies you need for projects, and get your classroom in a reasonably neat and organized state before heading out the door.
Knowing that you’re not returning to a messy classroom and huge list of things to do before students arrive on Monday will give you some peace over the weekend.
If you feel like staying late on Friday is just not going to work for your schedule or you simply won’t have the energy on Friday afternoons to prep a bit for the following week, try the suggestion a teacher named Justin made when I first shared this post:
“My solution has been to use Thursday to plan for the following week. As a middle school teacher, I know how things are ending for the week enough and don’t feel the voice of Weekend calling for me. I have dealt with some anxiety on Thursday mornings, but I get to enjoy Friday and truly forget about school for the weekend (unless I decide to set aside a couple hours to grade). I wouldn’t do it any other way if I had the choice because I need separation for sanity!”
2) Wait until Sunday morning to decide how much time you’re going to allot to school work.
I don’t like to make that decision in advance because things pop up at the last minute and then I feel stressed if my plans get messed up. Waiting until Sunday morning to decide allows me to roll with the punches if I’m not feeling well or if an opportunity to do something fun arises.
3) Choose an amount of time that fits your life – don’t base it on how much work needs to get done.
Teaching is a never-ending job and there will always be something more that you could do, so there’s no point in trying to work until it’s all finished. Unless you have a special deadline (like report cards are due or it’s the end of the quarter), try to choose how much of your free time on the weekend you’re willing to dedicate to your work.
Can you steal two hours while your little one naps?
Can you squeeze in an hour before the family wakes up and another after they go to bed?
Figure out what will make a dent in your workload in order to make Monday go more smoothly, and do only that amount. It’s more possible than you think if you…
4) Make your work time a true work-only period.
If you choose to dedicate the hours of 2-5 pm to grading papers, do it whole-heartedly. Don’t check Facebook, text a friend, and watch TV at the same time. I’m speaking from experience here: That will only prolong the amount of time you perceive yourself as working. Before you know it, the whole day will be gone and you’ll be moaning about how all you did was work when the truth is that you only truly worked for an hour or two.
Staying focused is tough, but it’s a lot easier for me if I know that I’m sticking to the time I allotted – if I’m really going to put away the work at 5 pm, I don’t have time to peruse Pinterest … and I know that I can go on Pinterest guilt-free afterward.
5) Set a time frame for thinking about school on Sunday.
Part of the reason why Sunday is so stressful is that our minds are constantly wandering into the future, running through the list of things we still need to get done and worrying about what the week will hold.
You can limit this by giving yourself 5-15 minutes to think about the week ahead: I like to have a short time for this in the morning before I do the day’s work, and then again after I finish the work to give myself some closure. Plan out strategies for dealing with challenging issues. Write down any additional tasks you need to complete. Daydream about activities you want to do with your students, and envision yourself having a successful week.
A teacher named Elicia added to this by saying, “Don’t spend time researching/looking at teaching ideas online and on social media. While I’ve discovered so many great resources, I also know that just hanging around and surfing the internet for teaching resources in my free time is NOT helping me unwind and relax.“
6) Train yourself not to think about school outside of the time you allotted.
In Awakened: Change Your Mindset to Transform Your Teaching, I share four mental strategies for dealing with unwanted thoughts: dismiss, distract, reject, and replace. That’s what you need to do when you’re supposed to be relaxing and your mind keeps returning to all the pressures of teaching.
Tell yourself: I am rejecting these thoughts about school because they’re not productive. I’m choosing to replace them with the thought that when Monday morning comes, I can trust myself to know what to do, so I don’t need to think about it right now.
Then distract yourself by doing something more enjoyable, and dismiss any thoughts about school that continue to arise.
It takes awhile to discipline your mind to stay in the present moment, but each time you do it, you’re breaking those unhealthy habits and making it easier for you to be mindful next time.
I also want to share a comment here that was left on the original blog post for this episode by a teacher named Susan, because I think it’s very important to include:
“I have found that the right anxiety meds are the only things that keep me from obsessing about school every hour that I’m not there. Unfortunately, it took me 12 years and a trip to the psych ward to figure it out, but I’ve never felt better. I love my students and look forward to teaching them every day. I may occasionally leave work without everything squared away, but I can go with the flow and not sweat the small stuff anymore. A whole, healthy body and mind are the best thing that I can provide for my students!”
A teacher named Karen replied: “Susan, thanks for being brave enough to say this. When anxiety and depression are biochemical in their primary source, the right medication can mean the difference between coping and not coping. I recently discovered that my B12 levels were low enough to warrant treatment, and since treatment commencing life has been better.”
I think those are such important points — for some people, the habits around re-training your mind are only part of the equation. I don’t want anyone to walk away from this episode feeling like I’ve said the solution to true clinical anxiety is to “just stop thinking about things that make you anxious.” There is great value in seeking out treatment and resources for anxiety, and you don’t have to try to overcome it on your own.
7) Give yourself at least one thing to look forward to on Monday.
Is there a student who always makes you laugh? A fun colleague you’ll have lunch with? A lesson you particularly enjoy teaching? A project you know you’ll get to complete? If you can’t think of anything, create something to look forward to!
One year when I had a particularly challenging class, I built a little bright spot into my daily schedule for each day of the week. On Mondays, a co-worker and I took turns bringing breakfast to school and we ate together in her classroom and chatted about our weekend before our workday hours officially started. On Tuesdays, I enrolled my students in a virtual class that was taught by the school district remotely, giving me an extra break for 30 minutes. On Wednesdays, I team-taught a reading lesson with an enthusiastic coworker who always got me excited about our work.
So, whenever I started to feel dread about going to school the next day, I remembered the fun activity I had planned and stayed focused on that, instead of whatever was stressing me out.
Here are a few more examples from other teachers:
Jess says: “I used to treat myself every Friday morning with Starbucks before I got to school — a “yay it’s almost the weekend” latte … then I decided to switch that treat to MONDAYS. It makes Monday mornings just a little less daunting.”
LaShell says: “I try to find something interesting to share with my students ranging from a YouTube video that relates to our area of study to a song. This gets me super excited for Monday to be able to tell them about it.”
Janet says: “Most of my department (English) has Silent Sustained Reading on Mondays for all of our classes. Makes going in on Mondays less threatening, it promotes sustained reading and gives me my weekends back. I spend about 15 minutes modeling good reading behavior, and the other time doing any work I need to get ready for the week. My students are told ahead of time so they know when I switch gears, it is for their benefit. It has been wonderful.”
Want more resources for tackling the Sunday blues? Check out