Do you often wake up in the morning with a feeling of dread? Are you up before your alarm goes off with anxious thoughts that just won’t stop? Do you feel “wired but tired” throughout your morning and just can’t seem to get a handle on it? You may have early morning anxiety.
In this article, we will discuss what morning anxiety is, the difference between morning anxiety and general anxiety, the best ways to stop morning anxiety, and how we can help!
Re-origin is a neuroplasticity and brain retraining program that helps you implement new thoughts and behaviors to reduce the frequency of morning anxiety and improve your overall health. If you are interested in learning more, please visit our website.
Morning anxiety is a common effect of the Cortisol Awakening Response (CAR). Our brains naturally produce the stress hormone cortisol in the second half of our sleep cycle in order to prepare us to wake up and function during the day. For those who may experience stress due to high demands during their day, the body produces extra cortisol within the first hour of waking up because it feels it needs more of the stress hormone in order to take on these stressors.
Risk factors for morning anxiety may include, but are not limited to:
Common symptoms of early morning anxiety include, but are not limited to:
Morning anxiety and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) are different from one another in that morning anxiety is generally produced from increased cortisol upon waking, while GAD is multi-factorial. It can occur from a combination of genetic contributions, childhood trauma, and current life stressors. While those with GAD are more likely to experience anxiety in the morning, it does not always occur. Someone with morning anxiety will not necessarily be diagnosed with GAD unless they exhibit symptoms of GAD throughout the rest of their day.
Breaking the cycle of early morning anxiety is possible! Whether the root cause is in your control or not, there are many ways to better support your nervous system in reducing overall cortisol production and improving sleep and mood. Below we have five practices to decrease anxiety levels in the morning and improve overall sleep quality.
Be gentle with yourself and your body during this time. Like all functions of the human body, anxiety is simply another way that your brain is trying to keep you safe. By producing excess cortisol, your brain believes it will allow you to more easily tackle challenges in the day. While you consciously know that this may not be helpful at this time, what your brain is doing is not necessarily wrong, maybe just a little misguided. So don’t forget to thank your brain and body for what it is doing, and gently remind it that you don’t need the extra cortisol in order to take on your day with energy and presence. You are the captain of your ship! You got this!
When you experience feelings of anxiety in the morning, it becomes easy to feel dreadful about the experience. Often, stories like “Ugh, another crappy morning” or “When is this going to go away?!” start to surface. When we buy into this negative thinking, we actually perpetuate the cycle of anxiety and dread because our body produces even more cortisol in response! In essence, we are creating a vicious cycle that leads us to continue to struggle with the mental/emotional and physical symptoms we experience with morning anxiety.
Creating a new narrative that neutralizes the experience can help reduce the intensity of distress you feel while in the cycle of morning anxiety. Next time you wake up feeling anxious, try using a phrase like “Despite the discomfort of this feeling, I am safe in my body, and I know it will pass.” Follow the phrase up with doing something that feels good: maybe a gentle stretch, cuddling an animal, or a warm shower. The positive affirmation followed by an enjoyable activity will not only reduce cortisol levels in the body but also produce positive hormones such as serotonin and dopamine. This will begin to create a positive feedback loop and change your association with mornings, thus reducing excess cortisol production and decreasing symptoms of anxiety.
It can be incredibly helpful to allow your brain some downtime before falling asleep in order to reduce stimulation, maintain your internal clock, and set you up for restful sleep. Let this routine be as simple as turning your phone off, brushing your teeth, and reading for 10 minutes before bed, or it can be as complex as you’d like. Just make sure to create a routine that you can stick to. The repetition will create a sense of stability and safety, allowing your brain to more easily fall asleep.
In the morning, do something similar with a few calming yet uplifting activities. Try taking five deep breaths upon waking, drinking a glass of water, and going outside for 10 minutes. These activities will not only calm your nervous system by activating your vagus nerve but also support your circadian rhythm and ensure better sleep the next evening.
Whatever routine you choose is absolutely fine; just make sure it calms you in the evening and eases you into your day. And don’t forget to allow yourself to enjoy it!
Going to bed and waking up at the same time daily will support your circadian rhythm and reduce any “surprises” to your nervous system. This allows you to feel safe in your body, thus reducing anxiety and promoting a good night’s sleep. Other ways to do this include, but are not limited to:
This is a great thing to include in your evening routine! Journaling helps you process all of the things you experienced throughout the day and will encourage you to release thoughts or worries you might be holding onto that could create morning anxiety. Try putting a timer on your phone for 5-10 minutes and writing anything that comes to mind, or you can use journal prompts. The re-origin program offers a Day Framing technique that helps you end your day on an uplifting note and promotes positive projection for the next day!
Both caffeine and alcohol have been shown to impact sleep quality and increase incidences of morning anxiety. Stopping caffeine intake after 12 pm greatly reduces the amount of caffeine in the system at bedtime, making it easier to fall asleep and sleep deeply. Alcohol is a nervous system depressant, so when consumed at night, it causes the body to overproduce cortisol to compensate. Once the alcohol has made its way out of your system (usually early morning), the increased cortisol will likely cause you to wake up early and feel anxious.
Our blood sugar fluctuates while sleeping and can drop in the early morning because we haven’t eaten for quite some time. Starting your day with a balanced breakfast can help regulate blood sugar and fuel your body to handle the demands of the day.
Choosing your focus and projecting positively onto the day can help shift your thoughts from ones of anxiety towards ones of positivity. Take three minutes after waking, before you get out of bed, to express what you are excited about for the day or something you are feeling grateful for. This will produce feel-good hormones such as serotonin and oxytocin, which will help counteract the effects of increased cortisol.
Many people experience morning anxiety, and you are absolutely not alone! By being compassionate with yourself, combating negative thoughts with brain retraining, practicing enjoyable self-care, focusing on quality sleep hygiene, and recording your daily experiences before bed, you can reduce symptoms of morning anxiety! Start small with one activity per day, and slowly build up as needed.
At re-origin, we will help you implement new thoughts and behaviors to reduce the frequency of morning anxiety and improve your overall health. If you are interested in learning more, please visit our website. Sleep well, friends!