Managing the Sunday Scaries as a Teacher

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It’s Sunday night, and as you eat dinner your mind drifts to the stack of papers on your desk that need to be graded, the emails from parents waiting in your inbox, and your lesson plan for tomorrow morning that could use another glance. You have to be at school at 7 am, and you groan when you count the few hours between now and then. 

Sound familiar? Whether you call it the Sunday blues, Sunday anxiety, or the Sunday scaries, the fact is that Sunday night is filled with stress and worry for 80% of professionals, according to a LinkedIn survey. These Sunday scary feelings often come from one of two places:

  • Dread about the work week ahead and upcoming tasks, or
  • Regret over how the weekend was spent and things that did not get done

Both feelings ultimately come from a place of anxiety, and this anxiety can be especially acute for teachers, who not only have a high workload, but are also dealing with increasing external pressures and the educator shortage. This makes having a good work-life balance both important and challenging for teachers. Because, while it can be hard to find the time to balance your life amidst a full to-do list, it’s crucial to your mental health as a teacher. This way, the Sunday scaries do not spiral into constant worrying and procrastination. 

How to Manage Your Sunday Scaries

So, how do you get rid of the Sunday scaries as a teacher? Use these seven helpful tips to help clear your mind, focus, and ease your to-do list as well as your Sunday anxiety. 

1. Take a beat to breathe.

Use this simple yet powerful tip for managing anxiety to reset your mindset. By taking a moment to breathe, you can pause and interrupt any anxious racing thoughts. Make sure to inhale deeply. You can also count your breaths and close your eyes to help calm your mind. If you need more grounding and clarity, you can try a free meditation on YouTube to help guide your breathing and relax your thoughts. Or if you want something more upbeat and teacher-specific, you can listen to an encouraging teacher pep talk.

2. Identify your stressors.

Stress can be so overwhelming that it paralyzes us. But you can’t get rid of stress if you don’t know where it’s coming from. Take a moment to reflect, if you can. Be kind to yourself, as if you were talking or giving advice to a close friend. Ask yourself:

  • What are the things on my plate right now?
  • Which tasks are stressing me out the most?
  • What’s one small, easy way I can make progress on this to-do?

As challenging as this reflection and dialogue can be, it’s an important step to putting your Sunday night anxiety to rest.

3. Be strategic with your time and tasks.

In order to keep the Sunday scaries away, try not to overload your Sunday to-do list. Do what you need to do Saturday morning, so you truly get to relax ahead of the school week. You can also try breaking up big Sunday to-dos into smaller, more manageable tasks that you work on throughout the day or even the entire week instead. 

Pro Tip: Improve your overall time management skills with these helpful time management tips for teachers.

4. Stay present and mindful.

In a recent study, the Journal of Research in Personality found that present-moment awareness, a key aspect of mindfulness, helps people deal and cope with stress. Other studies have shown that staying in the present moment also leads to lower levels of depression and anxiety, improved mood, and a better sense of well-being.

Present-moment awareness is exactly what it sounds like: being present, being aware that we are in the present moment, and not focusing on worrying about the past or future. Mindfulness is taking that present-moment awareness and applying it to our experience. When being mindful, you notice thoughts and feelings, feel them fully, and then consciously move forward and through them. According to Headspace,

Mindfulness doesn’t eliminate stress or other difficulties; instead, by becoming aware of unpleasant thoughts and emotions that arise because of challenging situations, we have more choice in how to handle them in the moment — and a better chance of reacting calmly and empathetically when faced with stress or challenges. 

As a result, mindfulness can be especially useful to teachers dealing with the Sunday scaries. Not only can it help you deal with your own Sunday night anxiety, but it can also help you to go to school Monday morning with more bandwidth for engaging students in a calm and empathetic way.

5. Prioritize sleeping well.

Sleep is essential to managing stress and regulating moods. Lack of sleep not only makes it harder to physically function, but also mentally. When sleep deprived, professionals and people at large struggle more to handle stress, challenging situations, and anxiety, including the Sunday scaries. 

To create healthy sleep habits, consider making a wind-down routine that readies you for rest. Do something relaxing, like taking a hot or cold shower, reading a book, doing a skincare routine, or listening to soothing music. Shortly before bed, try to avoid using screens or devices to minimize the blue light you see. If you have to use them, see if your device has a night mode that minimizes your screen’s blue light, or get a pair of blue light blocking glasses to help ease your eyes and get ready to sleep.

If the Sunday scaries still fill your mind and have you tossing and turning, return to tip 1. Take a beat to breathe. Specifically, use the 4-7-8 breathing technique, a relaxation exercise traditionally used in yogic breath regulation that has been shown to decrease anxiety. This breathwork activity is known for relaxing the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for resting as well as digesting. While the technique won’t directly put you to sleep, it will help quell your racing thoughts and Sunday night anxiety, easing your path to sleep.

Here the steps to the 4-7-8 breathing technique, as explained by CNN Health:

  • Completely exhale through your mouth, making a whoosh sound
  • Close your mouth and quietly inhale through your nose to a mental count of four
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven
  • Exhale through your mouth, making a whoosh sound for a count of eight
  • Repeat the process three more times for a total of four breath cycles

This simple exercise not only will help you get ready for the school week, but it can also help your students! Consider adding this breathing technique to your teacher toolkit for those times when you’re looking to bring your class’s energy down a notch. 

6. Practice gratitude and self-compassion.

As teachers invested in your students’ social-emotional learning, you likely know plenty about the importance of gratitude and self-compassion. But it’s one thing to teach it and another thing to practice it! Apply the same learnings (and maybe even strategies) that you impart on your students to yourself as an educator. When overrun with Sunday anxiety about upcoming tasks, take a moment to remember the things surrounding the task that you’re grateful for, or keep a gratitude journal that you can refer to when times get tough. 

You can also practice being compassionate to yourself by adopting a growth mindset, just like educators encourage students to do. Remember that you’re doing the best you can with the tools you have and that is enough. There will always be room for growth, both professionally and personally, and that journey is what makes life interesting.

7. Connect with your fellow educators.

Forming connections and community at work not only can bring fun and levity to the job, but can actually help buffer against stress. A study by Hilla Dotan, PhD, an assistant professor at Tel Aviv University, shows that “workplace friendships can increase job satisfaction, productivity and job commitment while decreasing stress and turnover.” 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the week ahead, try reaching out to a work friend. Since you both are in the same environment, they will likely be able to relate and understand the full context of your work worries. They can also remind you of the great parts of your job — and perhaps your fellow educator might even be that great part for you! If that’s the case, remind your Sunday scaries that Monday is just another day you get to see your favorite colleague.

In search of more ways and tips for managing the Sunday scaries and general anxiety as a teacher? Check out resources dedicated to addressing teacher anxiety on TPT.