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If there's one thing I know for sure, it's this:
The friends you make in this profession are likely the only ones in your life who are going to truly understand the roller coaster of emotions that this job involves.
Your family, or your husband, if you’re married, will want to support you as best they can, but nobody really understands Sunday night teacher anxiety like another teacher does.
It's time to talk about it - what is this "Sunday Night Anxiety" thing anyways?
Well, you probably already know – it’s that horrible feeling in the pit of your stomach that starts sometime on Sunday – sometimes even as early as when you wake up Sunday morning, and then this ocean of emotions starts rolling in like tidal waves until you start to feel more and more anxious.
Then often, the negative self-talk begins. You might begin to wonder if you’re ready at all for the upcoming week.
You might begin to worry because you might have forgotten to photocopy that activity for science, or you can’t remember if you bought mini marshmallows for your math lesson, and then you realize that you completely forgot to check if Sasha brought her field trip permission form back.
You might start worrying that you aren’t doing enough to support your struggling readers, and wonder what the heck you should be doing to support anyways, and wonder if you should just forget Sunday morning brunch and get out your computer right now and start looking up strategies. Who has time for brunch anyways?
Then you might realize how utterly exhausted you are and you begin resenting that you’re doing too much and you’re suddenly not motivated to do anything at all so you just lie in bed and begin to feel like you’re drowning.
You might feel completely lost, you might start constantly replaying something that happened last week that you just can’t get out of your mind, and then, you just might begin to feel like a complete failure and wonder if you should even be in this profession at all.
Does some version of that waking nightmare feel familiar to you?
If so, welcome to the Sunday Night Anxiety Club.
And no, it isn’t a fun one to be in.
It’s awful, right?
Okay, so then WHY do we do this to ourselves?
Why does it happen?
Well first of all, it isn’t your fault that you’re feeling this way. As you probably already know, teaching has been named one of the most stressful jobs in the world.
That’s because we aren’t “just” teachers. We are social workers, nurses, mediators, strategists, and a hundred other professions rolled into one….
Also, because this isn’t just a "job" - you can’t help but feel genuine love and responsibility for all of those tiny human beings our lives are consumed by in every moment.
It’s like being a mom to more than two dozen kids, so it’s really hard to turn that off, right? We love our students.
Of course, for new teachers, it's even harder because there is just SO much to learn all at once.
Because you care so much, and because the guilt is real because we can never do “all the things,” as hard as we try, there is a constant fear of failing, and a real fear that the week ahead is going to be terrible (even though it rarely is as terrible as we envision it to be),
That’s because what’s behind Sunday night anxiety is actually FEAR.
Fear that we aren’t prepared enough.
Fear that things won’t go smoothly enough.
And quite frankly, when we get right down to it, fear that we aren’t good enough.
Well, if that’s true for you, I’m here today to give you some great news:
First of all, just realize that this crazy Sunday night anxiety and depression is SO common.
You are not alone, and you’re not experiencing this anxiety because you are any less capable than everyone else.
It’s because our job is extremely demanding, and there wouldn’t be literally hundreds of articles about this very topic in many different professions if it wasn’t extremely common.
Sometimes, just acknowledging that this is very common and that we aren’t alone in feeling this way helps us to breathe a sigh of relief.
So congratulations, you’re normal. We all go through it, and you aren’t alone.
I think that a big part of the reason that so many teachers experience this dreaded Sunday night anxiety is because we just hold ourselves to such a frigging high standard.
And so does society – I’m not saying that this is your fault.
We spend a lot of our time surfing social media for great ideas because we care so much about being a great teacher, and hours on Pinterest in our free time…
...but then too often, we come away from those experiences feeling terrible about ourselves because there is no way that OUR classroom will ever measure up to that.
But - why do we care so much about what someone else’s classroom looks like compared to ours?
It’s an easy trap to fall into (even though we spend so much of our time telling our students not to compare themselves to other kids and to believe in themselves and to stay in their own lane, right?)
We fall into this trap of comparing ourselves because we are human, and this can add to the overwhelm and the anxiety that we will never be good enough.
However, the truth is that it isn’t realistic or fair to compare what someone is doing on Pinterest after 15 years of teaching to what you are trying to do in your classroom in your first few years.
You’ve gotta cut yourself some slack. Because here’s the thing –
You ask your students to take risks and you tell them that it’s okay to mess up and make mistakes, right?
You are patient and kind and loving with your students as you continually work with them until they “get it.”
So, perhaps you need to extend the same grace to yourself.
You're just learning, too.
You wouldn’t get really frustrated and give up on one of your 1st grade students because they can’t do 5th grade math, right?
That would be ridiculous!
And yet here we are, expecting ourselves to perform at 5th grade level when we’re only in OUR 1st year.
So, let’s give ourselves some space and grace and permission to mess up.
Drumroll please: I hereby grant you “Permission to Fail.”
To not take yourself so seriously.
The reality is that one of the biggest gifts you can give to your students is to let them see you make mistakes.
That’s worth repeating.
The reality is that one of the biggest gifts you can give to your students is to let them see you make mistakes.
When one of your lessons fails, or when you plan something less than perfectly, you have just created the perfect teachable moment to model for your students what it means – what it actually looks like - to get back up and try again.
So, on Sunday evening, when you’ve gotten yourself all worked up into a giant stress ball (like I’ve done what feels like one million times), I invite you to stop fearing that you are going to make mistakes and that the week ahead will be less than perfect, and instead, embrace the fact that something probably will go less than perfectly, and that’s okay, because you are just learning, too.
In our home, it’s common to have a whole house full of teenage boys over for dinner on Sunday evenings because our 17 year old son, Kai, loves to invite his friends over for what was originally intended to be our family night dinners – but some of his friends have become like family to us, so he’s always asking if he can invite friends to dinner on Sunday evening.
At first, I was really hesitant to do this because I thought it would cause a lot of extra stress and leave me feeling exhausted for Monday morning, but then I figured that I was making dinner anyways, and Kai really loved to have his friends over, so I gave in because I thought we could at least try it.
Once we had done it a couple of times, I realized that these guys actually provide quite a bit of comic relief, and we often found ourselves laughing our heads off all evening.
This was a pretty big surprise to me because I’m actually quite introverted – I spend a lot of my time writing – like I did to prepare for this podcast, and I worried that having them over would leave me feeling depleted on Sunday evening and then make Monday morning even more difficult.
But instead, what happened was that I realized that having these guys over actually refocused my attention away from work and stopped me from thinking about it and obsessing about it all evening, so I went to bed thinking about all of the funny things that happened that evening instead of obsessing over what I might have forgotten to do for the next morning.
Whatever it is for you that you think might work to take your mind off of school on Sunday evening, even if you think at first that it might wear you out even more, just try it for a couple of weeks and see if it actually works to energize you.
If there is a teacher who lives close to you, why not start a Sunday night ritual with them that brings you both some lightness and happiness?
It takes a whole lot of mental energy to worry and let stress take you over – so instead of doing that, why not spend your precious time and energy on something that will bring you joy and lighten your heart instead?
Here’s the other thing - I was really surprised by how much happier I woke up on Monday morning because I hadn’t been focusing on work and worrying all evening.
It wasn't even possible - have you ever tried to work when there are half a dozen teenage boys trying to play the guitar and do background vocals in your living room? Seriously entertaining.
However, if I were left to my own devices, I would have spent the entire evening obsessing over what I should be doing.
I’m the first one to admit that normally I HATE the idea of exercise in the evening.
I’m definitely one of those annoying morning people (as long as I’ve had my coffee – just want to be clear about that. I would not be nearly as sunshine-happy if I didn’t have my coffee first. That’s kind of absolutely necessary).
After coffee, I normally prefer to go to the gym in the morning, but that isn’t always possible with both my husband’s and my busy work schedules.
So, with the weather being beautiful right now, we’ve started taking walks almost every evening after dinner to try to get some exercise each day.
What we hadn’t anticipated were all of the related benefits that came with walking in the evening.
We have so much fun connecting and spending some time together talking about our day as we walk, and we were both surprised by how much more energetic we felt as a result, and - here's the big one - by how much better we both slept as well.
In fact, when I searched online to learn more about why it might be helpful to go for evening walks, I found out that psychology research has discovered that Sunday night anxiety and depression over work can be combatted by exercise because it increases endorphins, and has been dubbed “nature’s antidepressant.”
I thought that was pretty cool – that something as simple as walking can actually work as an anti-depressant. I can tell you that that is certainly the case for me. Somehow, after an evening walk, nothing feels as heavy or as stressful any more.
Whatever it is for you – going for a walk with that teacher friend we just talked about (you know, the ONLY one who really gets it), maybe doing some yoga (which I’ve really tried to like but just can’t get into…), get your mind off of school on Sunday evenings.
You could even listen to a great book as you walk in the evening – but try not to let that book be about teaching. Let it be entertaining and light and something that makes you happy and makes you laugh.
The point is to NOT let your mind wander back to school until Monday morning, and to release some of those fantastic endorphins so you can feel lighter and happier and more capable of handling whatever comes your way.
If you’re still dreading Monday morning, it’s time to not only implement a Sunday evening routine, but to give yourself a Monday morning treat and routine that you can look forward to.
So many teachers (including me), enjoy treating themselves to a Starbucks on the way to school on Monday mornings.
Maybe your special thing on Monday morning is to take the time for a real breakfast and 20 minutes to actually savor your food. Or, maybe you treat both you and your pup to a refreshing Monday morning walk. Whatever it is for you, build in and plan for a way to care for yourself on Monday morning.
Also, I encourage you to purposely and intentionally plan something really fun for your students either first thing in the day on Mondays, or do something that I used to love doing – I would plan a surprise for my students sometime throughout the day on Monday.
I wouldn’t tell them what it was, but sometime throughout the day, I would say “Okay, are you ready for your surprise? It’s time!” and then I would either tell them a story about something that happened on the weekend, show them a little video I found of an adorable animal, or even read them a great book I had found.
It doesn’t have to be big – just a special little treat hidden somewhere in the middle of the day because here’s the thing: you aren’t the only one who dreads Monday morning.
While some of your students may really look forward to school, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but - there are others who would much rather be doing something else, as great as we are. 😊
Another thing I loved to do with my students first thing on Monday morning was to do something I called “Monday Morning Dreaming.”
I would gather my students in the reading corner and give them some time just to dream a little..
I would give my students 2-3 minute conversation topics, either in pairs or in small groups, to talk about things like:
“If I could be doing anything I wanted to right now, I would…..”
“My perfect morning EVER is to….”
Then, I would invite one or two of my students to share some of our biggest goals and dreams and wishes after each conversation prompt.
It was just one simple way to start the day on a brighter note and to raise everyone’s energy for the new week.
Finally, in my opinion, there is no better way to start the day in a positive way than with some great music – so I thought I would share this free "Great Start of the Day Playlist!"
I’ve created another fantastic freebie for you called the Monday Morning Inspiration Packet that includes speaking and writing prompts to help lighten the Monday morning heaviness, as well as my Classroom Morning Playlist, including links, so you will have all of the tools you’ll need to make Monday morning a lot more enjoyable from this point forward!
I hope these ideas have given you a little bit of relief and help to cope with Sunday night anxiety so you can actually look forward to Monday morning. 💛
Now of course, one more way to help alleviate the stress of Monday morning is to try to get all of your planning done before you leave school on Friday.
On next week’s show, I’m going to share my system for how I planned each week so that I could leave the school with the kids every Friday AND NOT COME BACK until Monday morning.
It’s going to be another really great episode, so I really don’t want you to miss it!
Also, I want to give YOU an opportunity to tell me what you’d love to hear featured on on this blog and to connect with other teachers, just like you.
If there is a topic or something in particular that you are struggling with or wondering about, or if you have a question and you would love for me to answer it on this podcast, I encourage you to join our new, FREE and PRIVATE Beginning Teacher Talk FB Group.
I’m going to be running lots of great contests and challenges inside the group, similar to what I do with my private READY for School Academy Members Club, so when you join the private Beginning Teacher Talk FB group, you will get access to some super fun freebies that will only be available to group members.
I really hope to connect with you inside our new FB group!
I hope that you have a wonderful week and remember - just because you are a beginning teacher, there is no need for you to struggle like one. Bye for now!
Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor
Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at drlorifriesen.com and at howdogshelpkids.com.
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