So often, my students and clients share with me that they struggle with morning anxiety. They share that they either wake up and immediately feel anxious, or they wake up and the anxious thoughts and feelings slowly creep in as they start their day. Whichever of these resonates with you, this episode will be hugely helpful to you!
But before I jump into some helpful tips and tools, I want to talk about a couple of things that I think are helpful to be aware of when it comes to morning anxiety...
01. Multiple studies have shown that cortisol, the “stress hormone,” is often at its highest during the first hour of waking up.
Interesting, huh? This is more of a fun fact, but I’m telling you this because it’s also a helpful thing to be aware of. I want you to acknowledge that your feeling really anxious when you wake up is not always due to something that you’re doing at the moment. When you’re already struggling with stress and anxiety, mornings can be especially challenging for this reason alone. But luckily there are things you can do to lower your stress levels, which is what we’ll dive into in just a minute!
02. Regularly waking up feeling anxious or panicked likely means that you’re living in a constant stressed state.
And what I mean by this, is that many of your days are filled with you feeling stressed, anxious, and experiencing anxious thoughts, symptoms, panic, and fears. And when your brain is constantly bombarded with these things, it’s no wonder you wake up feeling anxious! Sleep is a wonderful thing, but unfortunately, sleep alone won’t magically heal a whole ton of stress and anxiety.
So this means that if you’re often anxious throughout the day and go to bed feeling anxious...you’re likely going to wake up feeling anxious! This is why I talk so much about the importance of creating a healthy relationship with anxiety. One where you’re taking small, healthy steps every day to help you create healthy responses and habits that will allow you to work through the anxious thoughts and symptoms in a healthy way. And in response, they'll stop popping up, especially in the morning!
I want you to acknowledge that the tips and tools that I share in this episode aren’t going to be all too helpful if you aren’t looking at your overall relationship with anxiety and regularly taking healthy action to change your response to, and your relationship with anxiety. Because this episode isn’t as simple as me saying… Oh, you struggle with morning anxiety, do this and you’ll stop waking up feeling anxious! But boy, did I wish it were that simple!
So let's get started!
Tell me, what’s the first thought you have when waking up in the morning? Is it…
I don’t want to get out of bed. I’m already tired.
How much anxiety and panic will I experience today?
I can already tell that this day is going to be bad/hard.
I have so much to do today! How the heck am I going to get any of it done feeling this way?
I already feel anxious!
I'm having a panic attack already?! How is this even possible?
And if you aren’t a morning person (I'm certainly not!), mornings can already be tough. Never mind throwing anxiety into the mix! On top of these thoughts, anticipatory anxiety is often in full swing, especially if you have lots to do that day. Anticipatory anxiety is so overwhelming because it fills you with dread and fears about how your day will go. And this brings me to the first helpful tip…
01. Acknowledge that the start of your day doesn’t define the rest of it.
How you start your day is important, but experiencing anxiety or panic in the morning doesn’t mean that your entire day is ruined. Remember, you always have a choice in how you respond to your thoughts and feelings and the action you take.
So if your morning starts out with lots of anxiety, I want you to acknowledge and accept it, and see it as your opportunity to decide what happens next! Say to yourself, “Yup, I feel anxious.” And then ask yourself… “What is one thing I can do right now to change how the rest of my day goes?” Asking yourself this one simple question can help to redirect your focus and put you on a healthier path that won't have anxiety making all of the decisions for you.
02. Acknowledge when you’re checking or scanning.
If you struggle with morning anxiety, there’s a good chance you’re doing some checking or scanning. Here’s the thing… Your thought patterns are a huge contributor to anxiety. For example, if you wake up every morning and immediately check and scan for anxiety or the symptoms, what you’re doing is reinforcing thought patterns that are actually leading to the anxiety and symptoms. This can look like waking up and thinking to yourself… Do I feel anxious? How’s my heart rate? Do I feel like my breathing is okay? Do I feel okay? And this may even involve you actually checking your heart rate or seeking reassurance.
And yes, I acknowledge that it’s really easy for me to tell you… Hey, stop doing that thing where you check and scan for symptoms! When I know that in practice, it’s much harder to resist doing these rituals, especially if you do them often. So for now, I just want you to start by acknowledging when you’re scanning and checking. And this can simply look like saying to yourself… “I’m doing that thing where I’m checking or scanning for anxiety.” Awareness is huge! Because once you develop awareness, you can actually begin to respond differently so that you aren’t creating and heightening the anxiety and symptoms.
03. Get Out of Bed!
I know that this one seems really silly, but it makes a huge difference! When you wake up, instead of laying in bed scrolling through social media, looking at the news, checking your email, checking and scanning, or ruminating, try just getting up and doing something! Because laying in bed, inundating your brain with information or tasks is only going to cause you to feel overwhelmed and lead to anxiety. I’m talking about getting up and brushing your teeth, drinking a glass of water, jumping in the shower, sitting outside for a few minutes, or stretching your body… Getting your body up and moving and mindfully moving through your day Heck, let me jump into the next one and give you a real reason to roll your eyes if you aren’t already.
04. Create A Morning Routine
Did you roll your eyes? Yup, I get it! Whenever people would talk about creating a healthy morning routine in relation to anxiety recovery, I would cringe. But having a morning routine and sticking to it can help tremendously. Because getting present and intentional in the morning can make such a huge difference in how you feel throughout the day.
For me, it was so helpful to set a morning routine because well, my brain (like all brains) loves routine. And once I created a healthy routine, my brain began focusing less on the anxiety and more on the present moment. My morning routine looks like getting up, walking to the kitchen and drinking a full glass of water while looking outside, saying a few affirmations or expressing my gratitude for things, then doing some stretches while my cats walk all over me, and then cooking breakfast and sitting down at the table to eat with my Amelia and Adam, while the cats beg for some bacon.
For you, maybe your morning routine includes making your bed, exercising, sitting outside in the sunshine for ten minutes, putting on some music and jamming out, meditating, spending some time with your pets, or reading. This might mean that you have to get up 10 minutes earlier so that you aren’t rushing around in the morning. And on the flipside, if you’re planning to wake up 10 minutes earlier you should probably go to bed 10 minutes earlier. And trust me, carving out this time is worth it! Because you know the mornings when you feel rushed and behind before you even start? Mornings like those only lead to, or add to anxious thoughts and feelings. Try it out! Think of what your morning routine could look like and really give it a shot.
05. Set and commit to healthy habits.
Healthy habits are huge! It’s so important to make healthy decisions throughout the day because whatever decisions you make throughout the day will roll into the evening and into the next day. Healthy habits can look like moving your body for a half hour every day, drinking lots of water, taking breaks when you need to, saying no, practicing mindfulness, doing something that you enjoy doing every day, getting out in nature, making sleep a priority, making time for self-care, and the list goes on!
Healthy habits are intentional. And you have to make a choice to set and stick to whatever habits you create. Because habits require lots of practice and repetition to really stick and see the benefits from doing them. Speaking of healthy habits…
06. Eat breakfast!
I know you might be thinking… Shannon, what? Let me explain! Eating breakfast is so so important because your mind and body are connected. Your mind can’t thrive unless you’re giving your body nutrients and fuel. If you skip meals or you don’t eat a balanced meal (especially the first meal of the day), your body is going to feel run down and tired, and it’s going to wreak havoc on your blood sugar levels. And when your blood sugar levels are off, you can experience things like shakiness, sweating, dizziness, feeling jittery, anxiousness, and brain fog.
In the morning I used to wait and eat breakfast while driving to work, and I typically just ate a granola bar. And I can tell you that I often experienced those symptoms that I just listed, as well as having very low energy throughout the morning and into the rest of the day. Now, I sit down and I eat breakfast at the table within an hour of waking up. And my meals include protein, fat, unprocessed carbs, and fiber. And I feel so much better than I used to! I don’t get hungry. I don’t experience the symptoms. I have lots more energy. And I feel better all around!
Don’t underestimate the seemingly little things. Eating a balanced breakfast is something that can actually prevent you from feeling anxious. And it’s really quite an easy thing to implement in the grand scheme of things. So rather than skipping breakfast, or only reaching for a cup of coffee or a granola bar, start being intentional and making time for and eating a balanced breakfast.
07. Look to see what you can take off of your plate (but not from your breakfast plate). Funny? I try!
But in all seriousness, sometimes we’re doing nothing but adding to the stress we’re already experiencing by saying yes to everything and everyone, taking on too much, having unrealistic expectations, and putting too much focus and energy on our recovery. I want to talk about that last one because it’s something that I often see people doing and it truly only adds to the stress and anxiety that you’re already experiencing.
I know that you want to recover and feel better, but this doesn’t happen more quickly by focusing all of your time and attention on your recovery. My platform is called A Healthy Push because I want you to push yourself but I want you to do it in a healthy way. This means not dedicating every second of every day to your recovery. And instead, it means resting, taking breaks, and doing things that you enjoy doing that aren't related to your recovery.
So do yourself a huge favor and take a look at what you’re currently filling your days with and where you’re putting your attention and focus and see where you can make some healthy shifts. Ask yourself… Is there something that I can take off of my plate? Can I say no to someone or something? Are my expectations realistic? Am I resting when I need to? Am I making time to live and do things that bring me joy? And I bet by asking yourself these questions, you’ll find at least one thing that you can do right now to relieve stress and in turn anxiety.
And lastly, acknowledge that you’re going to wake up and feel anxious sometimes, and this is okay. Like I said at the beginning of this episode, waking up feeling anxious doesn’t mean that the rest of your day will be filled with anxiety and panic. Remember, you choose how you respond to your anxious thoughts and feelings and what actions you take.
Did you see a theme in these seven tips? Yup, there is a theme, and it’s mindfulness! Mindfulness is one of the most helpful tools when it comes to anxiety recovery. Because the reality is that when you start practicing mindfulness and choosing where you put your focus, you start to shift your brain away from the anxious thought patterns that often lead to anxiety, the symptoms, panic, and fears. You truly start to train and teach your brain how to experience more peace. Mindfulness is one of the biggest tools that supported my recovery. And when you become intentional about using mindfulness as a tool, you’ll start to experience lots more peace, joy, and freedom.
Alright, start by evaluating what small shifts and healthy actions you’d like to start taking, and just pick one to start with. And maybe it’s the one that resonated most with you. Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to tackle it all. And don’t underestimate the small steps!
Until next time, keep taking healthy action!