How to Deal With Morning Anxiety
Your morning sets the foundation for your day. For people with morning anxiety, starting the day right can be a challenge. If you wake up with anxiety, you’re not alone.
Based on their most recent data, the World Health Organization estimates that more than 260 million people worldwide struggle with some sort of anxiety disorder.
With a little work, you can reduce the role morning anxiety plays in your life. This guide will help you understand the causes of morning anxiety and what to do about them so you can take back your mornings.
What Is Morning Anxiety?
Morning anxiety is a very real, and sometimes debilitating, form of anxiety. Like other forms of anxiety, morning anxiety affects different people in different ways, but it’s usually characterized by:
- Edginess or irritability
- Fatigue—even after a good night’s rest
- Difficulty focusing or feeling “blank”
- Difficulty muting worries
- Morning panic attack symptoms, including shortness of breath, a higher than normal heart rate and a tense feeling in the chest or muscles
The symptoms of morning anxiety are similar to some of the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), but they’re very different conditions.
Morning anxiety likely won’t include some of the more intense symptoms of GAD, like:
- Nausea, diarrhea and sometimes irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Trembling or twitching
- Difficulty sleeping
- Persistent anxiety that causes a significant disruption to your personal or professional life or both
- A near-constant feeling of dread or apprehension (even when symptoms aren’t especially prominent) that lasts for at least six months
Some people with morning anxiety also have GAD, so keep an eye out for symptoms that are more intense, extend beyond the morning, affect your overall quality of life and persist for six months or more.
What Causes Morning Anxiety?
Many factors can cause or amplify morning anxiety symptoms. It’s important to note that morning stress and morning anxiety aren’t the same things, and they don’t have the same triggers.
A stressful morning can be the result of sleeping through your alarm, dealing with kids who’d rather wear their breakfast than eat it, or realizing you forgot to stop by the supermarket the day before to pick up your favorite dark roast.
Morning anxiety, on the other hand, is caused by elevated stress overall (unrelated to the events of your morning), work or school stress, too much caffeine or sugar, too little exercise or not getting enough quality sleep.
In addition to the lifestyle factors that lead to morning anxiety, researchers at the United Kingdom’s University of Southampton report that in people with elevated stress levels, cortisol (stress hormone) levels are highest within the first hour of waking. This phenomenon, called the cortisol awakening response (CAR), is a distinct phase of the circadian cortisol rhythm. Researchers believe this increased level of cortisol in the morning could be linked to anticipation of the day’s demands or thinking about the struggles you’ll face later in the day.
Overcoming Morning Anxiety
Morning anxiety can be an obstacle to living your best life. Fortunately, many of the factors that trigger morning anxiety are within your control. In tackling your anxiety, it’s best to employ a combination of different interventions.
The first step to addressing your morning anxiety is to gauge the severity. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is my anxiety at its worst immediately upon waking, or does it intensify later in the morning?
- Does it last all morning, or does it gradually diminish as I carry on with my morning?
- Am I waking up with anxiety every morning, most mornings, some mornings or rarely?
- Does my anxiety prevent me from living a typical life?
Next, identify the cause (or causes) of your anxiety. Ask yourself:
- Am I bringing my work stress home?
- Am I giving myself enough time to get ready in the morning and prepare for my day?
- Am I letting my friends’ and family members’ issues get to me?
And finally, ask yourself these stressor-focused questions, and make a list of changes that would minimize your anxiety:
- Are there changes my friends and family could make to reduce social pressure and stress in my personal life? Consider asking a friend or family member to help you with your personal life commitments if you’re struggling. Don’t feel bad about saying “no” to social outings if you don’t have time. And don’t forget to ask for help.
- Am I taking on too much responsibility at work? If your workload is too high or too stressful and you’re still worrying about it when you’ve left your workplace, consider asking your boss or manager to lighten the load. If you work with a team, ask your co-workers to help you with your tasks once they’ve made it through theirs.
- Could sugar and caffeine be the culprits? If you’re a coffee drinker or you love sweets, consider cutting them out, at least temporarily. Make sure you rate your anxiety level before and after making the change to assess the impact caffeine and sugar may have on your anxiety.
- Have I been getting a good night’s sleep? If your sleeping habits are subpar, work on maintaining a regular sleep schedule (try to go to bed and wake up around the same time every day). Improve your sleep environment by reducing screen time before bed, keeping your room dark and cool and using a white noise app to mask outside noise if you live in a noisy area.
Morning anxiety shouldn’t be normalized. It isn’t something you have to deal with just because you’re busy with school or work. It’s important to take the necessary measures to reduce your anxiety and improve your quality of life.
If you’re still struggling after making lifestyle changes, you may benefit from professional help. A certified mental health professional can be a great asset if you have persistent anxiety.
Tips for a Stress-Free Morning
Being afflicted with a common condition has a silver lining—anxiety is a well-researched condition with many adversaries. Through science and real-world experience, we’ve identified many practices that combat anxiety.
Try incorporating these habits into your morning routine to reduce your anxiety:
Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present in the moment without distraction. According to the professionals at Mindful.org, mindfulness is something we’re all naturally capable of.
If you don’t practice mindfulness, you can get started with the following simple process:
- Choose a setting that’s calm and quiet.
- Set a time limit. Start with 5 minutes and increase the duration gradually.
- Be aware of your body. Sit in a position that’s comfortable and requires little effort to maintain.
- Focus on your breathing. Track your breaths in and out.
- Be patient with your mind. When your mind wanders, and you become distracted, simply refocus. Bring your mind back to your breathing and continue.
Learn more about how to do morning meditation.
Try Deep Breathing
Deep breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, is a stress-relieving practice that’s quick and easy:
- Sit or lie down with your back straight. Close your eyes if the situation permits.
- Place one hand on your upper abdomen, just above your ribs, and the other on your chest.
- Take one normal breath.
- Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose. You should feel your abdomen expand.
- Hold your breath for a few seconds.
- Slowly breathe out through your mouth. Pay attention to your abdomen as it deflates.
- Repeat steps four through six and find a relaxing rhythm. Aim for 10 minutes of deep breathing to start and work your way up to 15 to 20 minutes.
Make Time for a Morning Workout
A morning workout can reduce stress by improving alertness, keeping you energized (without caffeine), improving your sleep and initiating the release of stress-fighting hormones.
Make time for a short workout each morning, and you’ll reap the rewards all day.
Keep a Journal
Journaling can reduce anxiety by helping you prioritize your concerns and track your symptoms so you can recognize triggers and avoid them.
There are no rules for journaling. Write what you feel, combine words and sketches if you’d like, and journal when you want to.
Learn about the Benefits of a Morning Journaling Practice.
Make Time for Things You Enjoy
When your schedule is demanding, it’s easy to forget about the things you enjoy. It might be the last thing you’d think of, but doing an activity for pleasure in the morning before work is a great way to de-stress.
Make time to read a book, bake, paint, garden or engage in other activities that bring you peace of mind.
Eat a Better Breakfast
Eating a healthy breakfast is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. Ideally, your healthy breakfast should be made up of natural, whole foods without artificial flavoring or coloring. It should be low in sugar and high in fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Discover the Healthiest Breakfast Foods to eat in the mornings.
Self-care can be a massage or a candle-lit bubble bath, but that’s not always the case. Practice self-care by saying no to personal and professional commitments when you know they’ll place a strain on you. Self-care also means getting enough sleep and doing things that are just for you.
Learn more about Morning Self-Care Tips.
Look Forward to the Morning
Morning anxiety isn’t a life sentence. With the right interventions (and the right mindset), you can take control of your morning anxiety and start your days right.
Remember, improvements are gradual, and the changes you make won’t resolve your anxiety right away. Over time, though, these small changes can help make “good morning” more than just a cordial greeting.