By Amy Marturana, C.P.T.- Self
Plenty of daily events can cause anxiety. Whether it’s triggered by stress at work, relationship problems, current events, or any other emotional event, everyone knows how it feels to be anxious, worried, or panicked. But for some people, simply waking up in the morning and starting a new day can instill this sense of fear. This is called morning anxiety.
Morning anxiety is just what the name would suggest: anxiety that sets in at the start of each day. For some, this means just worrying—about what happened the day before and what might happen today. For others, it can be much more extreme. Katherine Glick, licensed professional counselor, certified holistic health coach, and therapist at Talkspace, tells SELF that for some of her anxiety patients, the morning is their worst time of day. “I had one patient who would have a panic attack like clockwork every single morning,” she says.
While not all people experience anxiety in the same way or at the same magnitude, the reasons morning anxiety happens are similar across the board. And there are ways for everyone to minimize it and look forward to—instead of dread—the start to each new day.
Morning is a prime time for anxiety for a few reasons. One is that most of us don’t get enough quality sleep.
A lot of anxiety comes from a physical, hormonal, chemical place, Glick says. Sleep is one of the best ways our bodies can regulate these physiological aspects of our mental health. “It’s during good sleep that brain chemicals related to mental health are replenished,” Glick says. “So if you don’t get good sleep, you’re going to wake up anxious off the bat.” Skimping on sleep leaves us with elevated levels of stress hormones, “so we’re starting off the day in a biologically stressed place.” Considering a third of Americans aren’t getting the recommended amount of sleep, it’s not surprising that many of us feel mentally off in the morning.
On top of that, it’s normal for all of yesterday’s worries to resurface the second your brain’s awake.
“Not only physically will you be out of whack, but as soon as your brain shakes away the sleep clouds, it’s going to remember everything that was on your plate yesterday that wasn’t resolved,” Glick says. “Now you have to figure that out while being in a chemically stressed place, which is really tough.”
And you probably also start thinking about everything new you have on your plate today.
“Morning anxiety may be triggered when we are consumed with the ‘what ifs’ of the day or week,” Jamison Monroe, CEO of Newport Academy, a healing center for adolescents struggling with mental health issues, eating disorders, and substance abuse, tells SELF. (Monroe, who was in and out of treatment centers as a teenager, co-founded Newport Academy with his father to provide better options for teens facing the same problems.) He explains that this fear of the future is called “future tripping.” “When someone is focused too much on the future, upon awaking they may be tormented by all the things they have to do for the day, or even worse, all the things that may go wrong.” This worry can be all-consuming and lead to an increasing amount of anxiety.
To quash morning anxiety, you need to first break the mental habit, and then learn how to focus on living in the present.
If you have morning anxiety regularly for a period of time, your brain starts expecting it, even on days when you have no real worries, Glick says. You need to break the cycle by retraining yourself to not fear the mornings. Then, adopt morning habits that foster calmness and living in the present. Here’s how.
- Get more sleep. Brush up on your sleep hygiene. “Establish a bedtime routine, and stop looking at screens at least a half hour before bed, do a quick meditation or yoga before bed,” Glick suggests. “Good sleep is really important for biological functioning.”
- Start an enjoyable morning routine. That means not snoozing until the very last second and then leaving the house in a panicked frenzy. “Set your alarm for early enough to get up, have breakfast, maybe even read the paper for 5 minutes, so you can deliberately start the day with some calm and relaxation,” Glick suggests.
- Speaking of the snooze button—stop using it. You get 8 more minutes of sleep at the expense of confusing the hell out of your body clock. Get up when your alarm goes off.
- Meditate. Glick suggests a breathing exercise like The 4-7-8 Breath, developed by Andrew Weil, M.D., but doing any simple breathing exercise in the morning will help focus and relax your mind and body and train you to focus on the present instead of the past or future. Monroe suggests using an app like Headspace or Calm—“make sure to put your phone in airplane mode so you don’t get interrupted,” he says.
- Use positive affirmations. “Say out loud, or to yourself, some positive affirmations such as, ‘I am focused on the present moment,’ or ‘I am happy and healthy,’” Monroe suggests. Positive affirmations are an insanely simple way to train yourself to be more positive and present. There’s a reason therapists recommend them—over time, they do work.
- Write whatever’s on your mind. “Write two or three pages in the morning, whatever comes to mind, it doesn’t have to be full sentences or make any sense, just get out whatever stuff is in your brain,” Glick suggests. “It’s a nice therapeutic practice and sets up the day in a way that’s calm and meditative.”
- Stretch or practice yoga. This can be a more physical form of meditation. Taking some time to meditate and relax will help you stay present and face the day with a calmer disposition.
- Get out and move. Take a walk, go out for a run, or hit the gym. If you’re someone who feels better after getting up and moving (it really does help), work it into your new morning routine. Exercise relieves stress and does a whole load of other great things for our brains and bodies.