Anxiety On Waking Up? These Tips Will Make a Difference
July 8, 2021
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If the first thing you experience when waking up is anxiety, I root for you. The symptoms of morning anxiety can feel overwhelming and permanent. But you can experience relief from the racing thoughts and worry that invades your mind. It is all about little things that you can change to what you do every day.
One of the best strategy to treat morning anxiety is to have a personalized ritual for the way you spend the last two hours before sleeping and the first hour of the morning. But don’t force yourself to do things others recommend. Try these tips, give them a bit of time and see what works best for you. Some may have 2 hours before going to bed while others may have maximum 30 minutes. And the same goes for the morning ritual.
Prepare things for the next day, everything that will help you have an easier start
Workout clothes. If you exercise in the morning, having your clothes ready it’s a must. You will not lose time searching for what you need and it will motivate you to work out. James Clear’s book Atomic Habits shows the importance of having visible cues that remind you of your habit.
The work outfit. Even if you still work from home or you returned to office, prepare your clothes for work in the evening. Check the weather for the next day (rainy, sunny, windy, cold or hot, it’s worth knowing) and prepare your clothes. Anxiety in the morning can be so high that even finding your clothes can become a nightmare. I used to be so indecisive about my clothes. And not because ‘I had nothing to wear’, but because I am super insecure about my body and other things. Not only I have to choose my clothes to suit the weather but I need to take into consideration my tendency to sweat during stressful times, my desire to hide my tummy rolls and yeah, looking good too. My outfit needs to make me feel good but also look good. So yeah, it needs a bit of time. Thus, the best thing to do is to prepare your clothes in the evening.
Prep your bag / other equipment. If you need additional equipment for work, then prepare that too. For example, if you are a photographer, prepare your tools in the evening. You feel calmer the next morning knowing that you put everything you need beforehand and you don’t have to worry about forgetting anything.
Keys, wallet, phone, choose a place in the house where you can always find them so you don’t look for them in the morning when anxiety hits like a wave.
Prepare your breakfast or at least think about what are you going to have for breakfast the next day.
Plan your next day. You will feel less pressure in the morning knowing that you listed your tasks or goals for the next day. The thing with the plan is that the way you write it must suit you. There are so many books of time management and so many influencers out there who talk about the advantages of creating a plan for the next day. But in the end what matters is for you to be ok with the way you draft your plan. It can be super detailed or just a simple list. Here it is what works for me. I still want to improve the way I create my plan, but at the moment I am comfortable with it. You can use also apps to schedule your day.
Meditate. It releases all that build up energy. Start with 2 minutes (yes, 2 minutes). This is because 2 minutes seems such a small part of your time that you are more eager to try it. Meditation is a powerful tool for anxious people and it’s a good practice for both morning and evening routine.
Journaling. Write about your thoughts and your feelings. Let it out. You will not only feel free from so many anxious thoughts, but you will learn to explore your emotions instead of ignoring them. Your self-awareness will increase. Also, things that seem so scary in your head will feel less threatening on a piece of paper. Journaling is my first response to a difficult anxiety episode. It is part of my evening routine, but also a first-aid tool for my mental health.
No sweet snacking => it causes reactive hypoglycemia (low levels of glucose / sugar in the blood in response to what we eat. The issue is that our brain cannot function without fuel and if there is not enough sugar as glucose in the bloodstream, your body worries because it must protect the health of your brain. Then cortisol rises and adrenaline too. Your body ‘calls’ these hormones to raise blood sugar.
Sleep is part of the night routine but it is so important I need to give it a special place in this article.
Matthew Walker argues that sleep is even more important than diet and exercise for your physical and mental health (Walker, 2015). Basically, the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life. Why? Because sleep is your biological necessity.
Tips for your sleep routine:
NO TV / blue light / stimulation (watching TV, working on your computer, exercising vigorously, and drinking caffeine) minimum one hour before bed. Instead, take a hot bath or listen to music or do yoga, read a physical book, take a walk, have some tea.
Don’t take naps after 3 p.m.
Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every day.
Keep your bedroom cold and dark (invest in room-darkening shades or curtains).
How you sleep, how you prepare for your sleep and what you do each evening will influence your mornings. What you do each morning right after waking up will influence your entire day.
Why routine? Because it is that familiar template you use for your daily life that will make anxiety be less overwhelming or even non-existent. Habits are those things you can rely on when everything seems out of hand. When anxiety hits you like an ocean wave, having control of your time through the form of your routine will save you from a lot of struggles.
TIME. How much time do you have: 30 minutes? An hour? Are you ok with waking up early? As seen above, it is important to prioritize sleep. But you can do that by being in bed at 9.30 instead of 11.00. This way you could wake up an hour earlier and dedicate this time to your morning routine. Once you decided how much time you will allocate, divide the time and see what seems the most helpful to incorporate in your routine. You could try some activities mentioned here or other tips that help your routine.
Wake up to a soothing, relaxing alarm sound. Your morning anxiety will only be higher if you wake up to an annoying alarm sound. Try these mindful ringtones and alarms from Headspace. See what suits your ear and rise and shine. A better alternative is to use an old-fashioned alarm clock. This way you can leave your phone in another room so the next morning you will not touch your phone as soon as you wake up. And you can have them with nature sounds as well.
Drink water. The classic ‘eight glasses per day’ recommendation may be too much for some people. But at least start with a small glass of water as soon as you wake up. It helps you prevent headaches, helps your digestion and improves concentration (Chatterjee, 2018).
Make your bed. The state of your room reflects you and your mind. If your room is messy, your thoughts will follow suit. Unclutter your surroundings so you can unclutter your mind. Also, when you will return in the evening for your sleep, you will feel so good to be welcomed by a nicely looking bed.
Mindfulness. From the moment I open my eyes the thoughts swirl in my head. So after I wash my teeth and face, I allow myself to calm down and breathe deeply. I close my eyes and I sit comfortably and focus on my breathing for 5 minutes. By doing this, I calm down and stop the speed of my thoughts. If I am in a hurry and I don’t feel like I can allow myself 5 minutes, then I do a short breathing exercise. I inhale deeply (I allow the air to fill my abdomen like a balloon), then I hold it for 4 seconds and then exhale slowly until the ‘balloon’ empties. I repeat 10 times. It’s not much, but it is a start. And it helps. I connect to the present moment and for once my thoughts don’t have such a great power over me.
Morning pages. Tim Ferris reminded me about this morning’s exercise in his video, but Julia Cameron popularized the Morning Pages in her book The Artist’s Way. Basically, you write in one page (or more) everything that crosses your mind when you wake up. You don’t stop to care about spelling, grammar or coherent. You dump on the page everything. Erratic as it sounds, this will help you not only take out what’s on your mind and ease the violence of your thoughts, but it will improve your creativity. Morning Pages differ from journaling as they don’t imply deep self-reflection nor awareness of your emotions.
Don’t lay in bed!!!! Get up, get moving. If you don’t have to go somewhere, then staying in bed feels cozy. Nothing bad can happen while you are in bed, right? But your thoughts will continue to fester. If you stay in bed, you will feel guilty for staying in bed, then another wave of anxiety will hit you and it will be harder to get up.
Exercise is such an incredible ally against anxiety. Creating an exercise routine helps you ease the anxiety symptoms and maintain the strength of your body and mind. Try to fit the exercise into your schedule. For example, I love exercising in the morning but I have my ritual afterwards: nice bath, a good cup of coffee and breakfast. When I need to start my work at 7.30 in the morning, I can’t have the luxury of spending much time in the bathtub, right? So my plan is that when I work I lift weights immediately after I finish around 5 p.m. and on weekends and my day off I go for a run soon after I do the rest of my morning routine.
Breakfast! I will never tire of talking about eating habits and how important they are. What you eat influences your anxiety brain fog and can help you prevent (or cause) IBS and other gut-related issues. So yeah, the quality of your food matters. But what also matters is when you eat. Studies associate breakfast skipping with anxiety (Hall et al. 2017 ,Milajerdi et al, 2019). WHY? Clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson explains that people who suffer from anxiety are usually hyperreactive. So they they react more to small things in their environment than average people do => constant state of stress => low blood pressure => levels of cortisol and adrenaline soar.
WHAT TO EAT IN THE MORNING?
NO Sugar and Carbohydrates. ‘If you start the day with foods that are high in sugar or are converted in your body to sugar (foods like white bread and breakfast cereal), your blood sugar soars and you go into a buzzy high’ (Chatterjee, 2018).
YES Protein and Fat. If the restriction of sugar and carbohydrates at breakfast is more commonly recommended, the source of protein and fat is a tricky debate. Some argue that foods high in animal fat and protein can harm your brain and promote inflammation in your body (Mayer, 2016). While others, like Jordan Peterson, argue that protein and fat heavy breakfast will give you more energy and you will feel full much longer and it won’t cause sugar crash before the lunch compared to high carbohydrates high sugar breakfast.
Personally, I feel much better after eating a proper breakfast than a sweet one like cereals. Still, the best thing would be to try various breakfasts and keep a diary and note how you feel on each day. The golden rule still stays: avoid artificial sugar and refined carbs.
It’s difficult to wake up feeling anxious. Persistent anxiety in the morning can take away even the last ounce of motivation to wake up. A solid strategy is to plan your evenings and mornings. This way you will ease anxiety 1. because planning appeases your anxious mind who is hungry for routine and familiar actions 2. because you will shift your attention to your rituals instead of feeding the anxiety.
Still, anxiety has more nuances than we like to think. What works for someone may not work for others. I do not mean this article to give magical solutions that will make your morning anxiety disappear. If things are getting worse, the best thing to do is to get help from a professional.
However, exercise, proper food, mindfulness, sleep can make an enormous difference in the level of anxiety you are waking up with. Hope you find this article useful and your racing thoughts will ease using these tips.