Remember when you were fifteen or sixteen and Sunday evenings really sucked? The thought of going back to school the next day, starting a whole new week of work, was just too depressing and sometimes, if you were anything like me, the Sunday evening dread could easily spoil your whole weekend.
Maybe you still feel like that now. Maybe you regularly feel that growing knot in your stomach that tells you it’s almost time to get back into work mode.
I’ve only realised, in the past couple of years, what a waste of my weekends that was. What a shame it is to live that way.
I have had so many great experiences, concerts, parties, picnics with friends, that have been sullied because of my tendency to overthink what is coming next. Constantly anticipating and letting my mind wander to something I ‘should’ be doing is a recipe for anxiety and spoiling the present moment.
But it’s not always easy to resist.
Even right now, I am on the train back to London, feeling a little flat and nervous at the thought of going back to work. Not because I hate it, far from it–I work in a fantastic school with great, supportive colleagues and amazing kids–but all of the things on my to do list are suddenly jumping up and down, yelling at me impatiently. “ENTER ASSESSMENT DATA!” “EMAIL YOUR COURSE TUTOR!” “FIX THAT DISPLAY!” “REHEARSE YOUR PLAY!” There is so much to do that it can be overwhelming. I’m sure you feel the same way about your work, whether you are based in a school, in an office or taking care of kids at home. Life has its demands and it doesn’t like to be silenced.
But you can make it behave.
When I find myself feeling this way, I try to stop, breathe and get in touch with my surroundings. Notice the sensations, the feel of the material on the couch or the bed, the noises around me, the temperature. I observe my thoughts and my panic, without judgement–like a child watching a cloud drift by. And then I ask myself one question: “Can I do anything about it RIGHT NOW?”
I’ll give you an example. I referenced a play above–a Shakespeare play in which I am directing a group of students. Our performance is in a couple of weeks’ time and I get that flush of slight dread every time I think about it at the moment. Will the children have learnt all of their lines? Will they remember their cues? Will the costumes arrive in time? I took part in the same festival last year, leading a different group of students in another Shakespeare play, and I felt exactly the same way this time last year. In fact, I remember waking up at four in the morning, anxious, tossing and turning and just panicking about it. And then I asked myself: “Can I do anything about it right now?”
Of course, the answer was no. I needed the children. I needed the scripts. I needed a hall and rehearsal time and a clear head. Answering the question didn’t solve my problem, my worries were still there, but I was able to put them aside, knowing that there was absolutely nothing I could do at that moment and that stressing about it was just futile–a waste of energy and time. What I did do was resolve to speak to my head teacher first thing in the morning and tell him that I needed more rehearsal time in school if we were going to make a success of this play. He was great about it and the play went brilliantly on the night.
That one question gave me permission to go back to sleep and to rest easy until I could do something about my concerns.
Of course, sometimes situations are tough and action needs to be taken. But if you find yourself worrying and unable to rest, ask yourself honestly whether there is anything you can do to help that situation right now. If the answer is yes, do it. If it’s no… go back to sleep, or enjoy your evening, and take action in a calm and assertive way at the first opportunity.
It will be feel much easier on a full night’s sleep, too, I promise you!
And if you’re feeling blue because of your work environment in general, I’ve been there, and I feel for you. It really does suck.
But allowing the thought of Monday to rob you of your Sunday night just seems like one more thing you don’t need. Hang in there. Take it moment by moment. Deal with one minute, and then the next.
And, though it is not always easy, usually we have far more options available that we realise.