Maybe this is true for all 9-5 Monday-Friday jobs, but I definitely know it’s true for educators; Sundays, traditionally, have been for preparation, and if you’re not careful, you can spend your entire Sunday dreading the next day. I can speak to that feeling of existential dread. Like the sand is running out of the hour glass, and every action I take is just prolonging the inevitable: heading into work the next day. Recently, I found out that this feeling of impending doom has a name: Sunday Scaries.
Though it does still happen, I am happy to report that my instances of Sunday Scaries have decreased over the years, and now it rarely happens. I want to help others by sharing some techniques that helped me stay in the moment instead of worrying my Sunday away.
Because “Sunday Scaries” is not necessarily an academic term ( Though I found many news articles about it, I could not find peer reviewed academic studies) I decided to go with researching teacher burnout to see what science may be behind why I felt a decrease of stress and foreboding on Sundays. I believe that the source of Sunday Scaries is burnout.
I thought that I was going to fill this blog post with practical solutions to how to get your work done before Sunday, but upon researching the topic, I realized that that wasn’t the real source behind my mitigation of burnout, and thus the cure to the Sunday Scaries. Here is what I found out.
What Causes Burnout?
Essentially, burnout occurs when your job demand is higher than your perceived resources to deal with the demand which leads to emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a lack of feeling personal accomplishment (Camacho et al. 2020). When you feel like what you need to do is greater than your resources to do it, whether that is physical resources or emotional resources, burnout occurs. Though there needs to be more research on the predictors of burnout, it is known that many factors can play into the severity and occurrence of burnout. A teacher’s age, years of experience, coping self efficacy, and internal locus of control are all factors that can affect burnout. However, according to a 2020 study, the “most robust” of these factors are professional and emotional support (Camacho et al. 2020).
Now this study had some limitations. The teachers involved in the study were 90% white and 96% female which means that there is little in this study to speak to how race and gender affect burnout, but I do believe that there is value to be gained from these findings. If you couple these findings with the results of another study, you can see what may be at play. According to Pedditzi et al., “the most predictive variables of burnout … are interpersonal conflicts and the personal image teachers have of themselves. (2020)” So in my eyes, through strengthening relationships and prioritizing oneself, one can positively affect burnout by raising their physical and emotional resources to meet their demands thus getting our Sundays back.
How can we fix it?
- A note to school districts and school administrators
First, it is not completely up to the teacher to mitigate factors that lead to burnout. As I mentioned above, professional support is among one of the biggest predictors of teacher burnout, so providing resources for your teachers is imperative. Set up the master schedule where teachers have common planning time to network and make connections. Make sure that they have access to supplies such as paper and toner (if you’re a teacher, you know how important toner is), and make sure you coach teachers with love. Yes, our goal is continual growth, but if you are adding to their demands and not their resources, your efforts are counter intuitive.
- Improving your personal image
In addition to professional support, it was also cited that a teachers’ self-image and interpersonal conflict are major factors in burnout (Pedditzi et al 2020). I believe this is the biggest factor that helped me to get rid of my Sunday Scaries.
Have a life outside of teaching
As I mentioned in my last blog post (linked bellow), things really turned for the better when I began to do things that were not related to my work. By expanding my identity beyond just teaching, I am able to cope with the stress of my job more because it is not the end all be all of Stephanie. Because I had a bad day doesn’t mean I have a bad life. Or even just because work was not ideal, doesn’t mean my entire day was bad, just a part, because I am way more than my job. Ironically, by not focusing on my job so much, I was able to be better at my job! See my blog post “How to Find True Rest” for resources on how to cultivate an image beyond teaching.
Positive Self Routine
I am going to preach this until I am blue in the face, but it has helped me so much, I cannot help it; my morning routine saved my life. The first thing I do in the morning is meditation or prayer, then I journal, then I start with work. This has been instrumental in getting my mind ready to take on the day and affirm that I am not a machine that jumps out of bed and starts pumping out work products. Yes, I know this is probably the 1000th time you have heard about meditation and affirmations, but it’s what has made a difference for me over the years.
I also know that many teachers need to be at work at the crack of dawn, so a morning routine might not be feasible. It doesn’t have to be in the morning, it can be at a later time, the important part is that you make time to connect with yourself and begin to orient your brain towards a positive self image
Though there are many ways for you to help yourself, sometimes we aren’t equipped to handle it on our own. Seeking help from a professional therapist can be instrumental to gaining tools to improve your life, and it is more accessible than ever with online options available. I would also check with your benefits department because sessions may be covered by your insurance.
Give it Time
Though it is not cited in my research as a major factor, years of experience is still a factor. If you are a new teacher, and you feel like you’re drowning, you are not alone. I will say from my own experience, working as a mentor to first year teachers, and seeing growth throughout the years, that it does get better. Teaching is incredibly complex, and it may feel like you are ruining student’s lives but you’re not. You are learning and growing and that grace can be what gets you through.
- Improving your environment
Sometimes you just need to leave. Though there are many things we can do to change our self-image and improve our resources to meet our demands, sometimes the environment possesses too many demands for us to cultivate enough resources to cope with it. If a school is toxic beyond your mental and physical capacity, you do not have to feel guilty to find a better place. It is okay to seek another campus or even profession. Though my goal is to support as many teachers as possible to stay within the profession, I care about people first. When you have exhausted all of your resources, sometimes you need to change the demands.
So, in the end, Sunday Scaries is deeper than just deciding not to work on Sunday, or getting all your work done before you go home. That dread of going to work may mean that you are burned out. By focusing on improving your physical and emotional resources, you can begin to make steps to take not only your Sunday back, but also your life.
I am so grateful for you! You are needed and loved. I hope you have a beautiful day and remember Mind, Body, and THEN and only then Classroom.
Camacho, D. A., Hoover, S. A., & Rosete, H. S. (2021). Burnout in urban teachers: The predictive role of supports and situational responses. Psychology in the Schools, 58(9), 1816–1831. https://doi.org/10.1002/pits.22561
Pedditzi, M. L., Nicotra, E. F., Nonnis, M., Grassi, P., & Cotrese, C. G. (2020). Teacher Stress and burnout: a study using MIMIC modelling. Electronic Journal of Applied Statistical Analysis, 13(03), 739–757. https://doi.org/10.1285/i20705948v13n3p739