How to Stop Morning Anxiety

How we start our mornings often sets the tone for the rest of the day and dictate how we are going to feel as we go through our daily routines and interactions. If someone is in a bad mood then, this is why we often say that they ‘must have gotten out on the wrong side of bed’. Few things are worse then than waking up stressed and facing anxiety which is a highly unpleasant but rather common occurrence.

The reason that anxiety is worse in the morning for many people is because this is when the body produces the most cortisol. This is a stimulant and the body produces it of course to help you to wake up. However this is also one of the hormones produced when we are under stress, and one of the ones associated with the ‘fight or flight’ response. This is then compounded by the fact that for many of us the morning is something of a shock to the system where you go from lying comfortably in the warmth without a care in the world to being jolted awake by an alarm and having to hurry out the door to work. If you have to commute, or you are stressed at work then this will mean that you are further heading into an environment where you can expect more stress.

If you are someone who suffers from anxiety then you will know that this can be crippling, and that it is far from conducive to a productive start to the day. Here we will look at what to do about an anxiety in the mornings and how you can reduce its occurrence.

Wake More Naturally

If you have your alarm on your phone set to ‘ring’ or ‘beep’ then that means you’ll be being jarred suddenly awake by a loud noise which can startle you. When we’re shocked we produce stress hormones as part of our survival instinct – so it’s no surprise that this causes morning anxiety. It’s also far from the natural way of waking up and not what our bodies are designed for. Instead then, try to wake yourself with a sound that brings you around gently – this could be the radio coming on, an alarm that gets gradually louder, or a daylight lamp that wakes you with natural looking light. Just leaving the curtains and window open is also a good strategy as this way you will be woken by natural sounds of birds and by the light hitting your eyes. If you set an alarm then as well then this will wake you out of a lighter sleep and be less of a shock.

Leave Time

Again it’s no wonder that you feel anxiety in the morning if you are waking moments before you need to get ready for work as so many do. This then leaves you racing around your apartment grabbing things and that fuels the production of those stress hormones further. After a while this can also cause you to actually associate waking up in the morning with being in a stress and being in a hurry to leave. It also means you have to go straight from being asleep to being highly productive which is something of a jump. Instead then get an espresso machine with an alarm and get it to make you a coffee half an hour before you need to be up. Then go and sit in the living room for half an hour and nurse that mug while sipping and watching TV. It will make a huge difference to how you feel about getting up and how you feel in general.

Sleep Well

Part of the stress of waking up of course comes from still being tired and this can make you feel a lot more anxious first thing in the morning. Being tired can then further cause anxiety as well as various other problems and mood disorders throughout the day, so it’s important to try and make sure that you sleep heavily and feel well refreshed in the morning as a result. There are many ways to achieve this but some include:

  • Going to bed earlier
  • Going to bed at a set time most nights
  • Making sure your room is free of light and noise
  • Making sure your bed is comfortable and supportive
  • Making sure you are a good temperature
  • Trying to clear your mind of the day’s worries and just enjoy lying down

Control Your Breathing

The extra cortisol as well as your subsequent stress can both lead to an increased heart rate which then further aggravates the stress creating a self perpetuating cycle. By controlling and slowing down your breathing it is possible to slow your heart rate down and this will help to keep you calm. Gentle music can also help to slow down your system and help you feel more at ease.

Increase Blood Sugar

Another reason that anxiety is more likely to strike first thing in the morning is that you have gone all night without food. This then means that your brain is low on fuel in the form of carbohydrates and it interprets this as a serious threat. Thus as a result it responds in the same way as it would to other threats – by triggering the release of adrenaline causing you to shake and experience heightened arousal. Low energy can also cause the brain to run sluggishly and this can contribute to feelings of depression. Thus a good way to combat morning anxiety is to have a bowl of cereal as soon as you wake up, and to make sure that you have a healthy and large meal before bed the night before that is full of complex carbohydrates which release sugar gradually into the body.

Start the Day With Positive Affirmations

Some of your anxiety is likely to be psychological and caused by anxious thoughts. If you find yourself stressing consciously about the day ahead then you need to find ways to reign in this habit. A way to do this is with positive affirmations which are things like ‘I am a powerful and successful individual’ and ‘today is going to be a great day’. This then replaces the negative thoughts you might have had that were perpetuating and stimulating anxiety, and over time if you repeat them to yourself enough they will start to dominate the way you think. If you think you will struggle to repeat the affirmations to yourself, then you can try just sticking them on post-its in places you’ll look – on your drawers, on the bathroom window, on the front door etc – and then just take a moment to read them as you go around your morning routine.

Understand It

More than anything though, just understanding and coming to terms with your morning anxiety can have a great impact on how it affects you. Morning anxiety doesn’t have to set the tone for the rest of the day unless you let it, and the more you worry about the anxiety, the more anxiety you will create. The same thing happens with panic attacks – they start with slight heart fluctuations but because these feel like heart attacks, that then triggers concern which leads to a full-blown panic attack. Doctors treat this by simply explaining to the patient that what they are feeling is not a threat and won’t cause them any danger and over a few weeks they then learn not to react to the symptoms. Eventually they forget they ever had them and they stop occurring.

So to apply this logic to morning anxiety, it makes sense that stressing about the anxiety itself will only cause it to get worse. Instead recognize that this is merely the result of hormones and is nothing unusual and nothing to worry about. Let it wash over you and accept it and then when you feel better start making a move. This undermines the anxiety and puts you in control, and eventually you shouldn’t encounter it at all anymore.

Comments 22
  1. I think this is a very helpful article, I have done a lot of reading on the subject and I believe that the authors approach is quite common and realistic.

  2. Morning coffee?? This is one of the causes of my heart palpitations… and isn't good for anxiety. Decaf coffee I guess.

  3. Obviously the person who wrote this article has never dealt with morning or any type of anxiety… just let it wash over you??? Are you for real???? Anxiety isn't something you can turn on or off… if it were, none of us would wonder why we have it or what to do about it!!!

  4. Caffeine increases anxiety. I agree with other comments that suggest the writer has no personal experience of just how debilitating anxiety can be. When in the grip of panic/terror, the brain doesn't even function properly, so it's impossible to put any techniques into action because that requires a rationally acting thought process, which no longer exists… that's the whole problem, you are trying to solve a problem with the thing which is causing the problem in the first place.

  5. Are you serious? The author has obviously never felt the trembling, shakiness, unsteadiness, dizziness and heart palpitations caused by cortisol and adrenaline release in the morning. It's almost impossible to stay focused on getting ready for work and leaving the house on time. High cortisol and adrenaline run my life from about 5am to 9am. I'm a virtual basket case. It has nothing to do with positive affirmations. It has to do with hormones! Do some more research and find out how you can help.

    1. Hey this is me… you described it perfectly… sometimes I feel like a chicken running round without a head… What did you do (or do you do) to manage this?

  6. I've been dealing with anxiety for years and find that most Doctors do not have a clue what they are talking about. If you've never had a panic attack or anxiety than how can you understand and relate to the problem? The whole breathing, relaxing thing is a joke when your heart and mind are racing and your body feels like a jackhammer.

  7. You never experienced this anxiety, right? It's clear. What you say is just a dream. It doesn't go away as u think…

  8. I thought this was a very helpful article, as someone who has anxiety, and just woke up in the grips of it. Not many articles explain the physical causes of this, so it was really reassuring to hear, and the prevention methods are sound. Caffeine may be bad advice, and affirmations are rough, but telling yourself 'this will pass' at least, helps me.

  9. This article is spot on… it's only by accepting the inner feelings and not adding more fear that they can subside. This is not easy… better to get up and start moving around. Our thoughts prolong the anxiety. Sensitized nerves will heal themselves!

  10. I often wake with intense levels of anxiety and have been prescribed a lot of different medications in the past. My doctor and I decided to reduce and eliminate most of them because I noticed much increased anxiety related to dependence.

    These days I tend to just plow through the intensity of morning anxiety and do my best to let the business of the day distract me from it. Many of the tools you listed have helped me immensely in the past so thanks for the reminder and encouragement.

  11. This makes a lot of sense, esp concerning the cortisol levels being high in the am.

    When I wake up with anxiety, I tell myself that it’s simply a result of my hormones having a temper tantrum (early menopause) and that while it sucks, it won’t last.

    I also tackle the ego-boosting issues by feeding myself good thoughts, such as, “I am calm, clear-headed and strong”… sounds corny, but it works.

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