Tips & Tricks to Combat Your Morning Anxiety
Apart from the Sunday Scaries, weekday morning anxiety is more commonplace than it might seem. I have been living with it for as long as I can remember, although some mornings are better than others. Everyone will experience this particular kind of anxiety to a different degree, but if you do have bouts of morning anxiety, know that you are certainly not alone and in good company!
There are different ways to combat your morning anxiety and in this blog, I would like to share with you simple, natural, and drug-free ways to do that in about five minutes. This small time investment could make your morning, and potentially your whole day a lot better and less stressful.
Morning anxiety can be caused by many factors that contribute to certain anxiety disorders, the most common one being generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD in short. I have come to learn that scientifically it is usually a heightened reaction to stress and worries of future things that need to be accomplished/resolved, have yet to even happen, or the fear, or panic of something going wrong (that hasn’t yet).
I tend to ruminate and catastrophize about things that occurred the day before, and of course what might happen in the near future. When I get up in the morning, I am reminded of what is on my plate for the day, on top of what wasn’t completed yesterday, or items still unchecked on my to-do list, and sometimes that fills me with a sense of morning dread.
When we perceive something as stressful, our bodies produce a hormone called cortisol. Typically, cortisol levels are highest in the morning, to prepare us to start and face the day, and this is a healthy response. However, at times, when we experience anxiety, those levels might be higher, causing us to feel stomach knots, sweaty palms, heart racing, and even feeling panicky. At times, this can feel debilitating, especially when it happens in the morning before we even start the day.
I am a mental health & wellness writer, and an educator, with a graduate degree in Psychology. I have also been tackling morning anxiety for about a decade.
If you, like me, have a similar experience, I would like to share a few tips below as I found them helpful in lowering stress levels, boosting the mood, and getting more energy. The strategies I’m about to share with you gave me that extra spark which I needed to meet the challenges of the day, or at the very least, got me through the morning in a good and calm headspace before embracing the day ahead.
While they may not be a cure for anxiety, they might be helpful in managing it better, which is more than half the battle from my perspective!
Maintain a good sleep/wake schedule
Getting adequate sleep is crucial to controlling your morning anxiety or at least minimizing it. I realized that if I skimp on the number of hours of sleep that I need to function, I suffer a lot more in the morning.
Make your bed to get out of your head It’s a small ritual that can help create a calm environment for you in your bedroom. Author Gretchen Rubin recommends making your bed as a daily habit in her book, The Happiness Project. She recommends doing it the first thing in the morning. This way, you’ve got one less thing to worry about for the rest of the day, and you can look forward to slipping under the clean and neat covers when you turn in for the night. This is actually something I look forward to all day. Stop Snoozing Soaking up those last minutes of sleep by pressing the snooze button will only make you more anxious when you finally do get up. Although it may feel good in the moment, it might not be worth the mental anguish it will cause you upon awakening. Pack a snack, and clean up your diet Before you head out the door in the morning, prep a healthy snack to take with you, or eat from home if that is your work schedule. This might include fruit, unsalted nuts, and low-fat cheese or yoghurt. When you get hungry later in the afternoon, you’ll be ready! Cutting back on processed food will derail you from midday mood/hunger swings and sugar crashes. I find that when I don’t aim to eat healthy food groups like good carbs, veggies, and protein, my anxiety gets worse. This also happens when I skip a meal.
Curb Clutter From stray papers to scattered coffee mugs, clutter can make you lose focus, curb productivity, and create chaos and stress within. Avoid this at all costs. Declutter your outer environment, and you may feel more organized and calmer within, and better able to concentrate on the task(s) at hand for the day. If it seems overwhelming, throw out one thing at a time so things will not accumulate. Pump up the Jam Several studies have found that listening to music can help to lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and boost your mood. The right music has the power to change your attitude. Create a playlist that will make you smile, and increase your endorphin levels, whether you’re working or working out. This is a safe and healthy way to make your day more enjoyable and manageable. Smell an uplifting scent For a quick de-stressing trick, I like to smell something citrusy. Researchers found that limonene, a substance found in lemons, may turn down the classic “flight-or-fight” stress response. If lemons aren’t your thing, there are other scents that have been found to have beneficial properties, like lavender, or eucalyptus, which have been found to lower your cortisol levels. I find that sniffing these scents in a napkin while in transit to work is enough to alleviate some stress.
On most mornings before getting out of bed, the first thing that I do is stretch, even as little as stretching my arms over my head, or doing a gentle torso twist in bed helps. Other types of stretches I found relaxing are bringing my knees over into my chest, and hugging it, while holding that stretch for a minute or two. It brings me comfort. Be gentle with yourself.
Stretching can help improve your circulation and flexibility and may help ease the tightness in muscles and joints, including sore neck and shoulders where we tend to carry the most tension, and stress. The key is just to get up and move without even thinking about it. Sometimes just the act of physically stretching helps me from feeling frozen and trapped in my head.
Embrace the 3–3–3 rule
Psychologist Tamar Chansky, and author of Freeing Yourself from Anxiety, suggests this unique rule. The idea behind it is to look around you and name three things you can see, followed by three sounds you hear, and finally moving three parts of your body. This trick helps to calm your mind and recenter you to the present moment. This is especially helpful when your mind starts to wonder with worry, and you need to reorient yourself quickly.
Although it is not for everyone, it’s worth trying. Settle into a comfortable position in a chair, or on the floor. Proceed to follow your breath, in and out, for a few minutes. Thoughts are bound to bubble up in your mind. Let them float on by like a passing train, and turn your attention back to your breath.
Meditating daily, even for just a few minutes, has helped me tame my stress. Dr Andrew Weil created the 4–7–8 breathing exercise which I regularly do. All it involves is simply breathing in through your nose to a count of 4, holding your breath in for a count of 7, and then simply exhaling through your mouth for a count of 8. It has really helped me to stay in the present moment, and maintain a positive mindset in the AM.
Adjust your mindset
It’s helpful to remember that it all comes down to your attitude, and reaction to stress. Stanford Psychologist Kelly McGonigal says that “embracing stress is more important than reducing stress.” While difficult to do at times, that concept always struck a chord in me. I do what I can, and try to have an action plan to combat particular stressors, and if I feel I reached my limit, I call it a day.
Keep a gratitude diary Keeping a gratitude journal is another helpful strategy I have been using for years, and I find that it helps to remove anxious thoughts from my head as I think about something positive to counteract any negative emotions I feel. I take a minute every day before going to bed to write down what I am thankful for, big or small. It’s easy to vent about anything that is not to our liking, or things we can’t change, but complaining brings negative energy along with it. Being thankful for what you have can make you appreciate all the positive things in your life. Additionally, I also keep a little notepad by my night stand to jot down all of my worries before I go to bed. I set a timer on my phone for 15 minutes. This helps me to get all of my anxieties and worries down on paper, but with a time limit. Once the timer is up, I close my notepad and put it away. I am not allowed to worry any more, because that dedicated time is over. That’s it. I usually go to bed right after knowing I have done the best that I can on a particular day. Sometimes that’s enough to lull me into a deep sleep. Turn off your electronics in the AM Taking a little break from all my gadgets, especially as soon as I wake up has helped me a great deal. Staring at computer screens and electronics in the AM can zap your energy and encourage inactivity, dread, and fear. Just because the world is on 24/7, doesn’t mean that we have to be. While it’s tempting to get obsessed, and worried about the latest Coronavirus variant, it will only add more stress to your sacred AM. Be mindful of what you watch and listen to as that negative energy can be very powerful, and draining on your psyche. I make it a rule to not look at my phone or emails immediately upon waking up, and I would recommend trying it to anyone who shares my struggles. Know that you can’t do it all Learning how to prioritize goes a long way. Not everything is an emergency, so take the time to figure out what’s truly important on your list of tasks, and go from there. Other less important things can wait. This method has helped me sharpen my focus and raise my productivity levels. So, make a list, figure out what really matters, what can wait, and what you can skip. Work your way down the list, handling your top priorities first. This method might seem elementary, but it can help in reducing the number of stressors you may feel, and help you feel less overwhelmed and anxious. The suggestions above may sound very simple, and intuitive, yet many of us wake up in a panic without making any adjustments to our mental health routine in the AM. These suggestions, when practised consistently, can help you bring a sense of calm and wellness and appreciate your mornings more. However, if you continue having problems managing your symptoms, talk to a mental health professional to help you get to the root of your morning anxieties and stressors.