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Morning Anxiety

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Feeling particularly anxious in the morning? You’re not alone

Morning anxiety is very common. In fact, most of us have woken up at some point feeling edgy, jittery or panicky, with anxious thoughts racing around our heads. Occasional morning anxiety can be caused by all sorts of things including unresolved worries from the day before, a bad dream, or feeling nervous about an upcoming event, such as an important meeting with the boss or an exam. However, for some, morning anxiety is a regular occurrence and it can feel pretty unpleasant. If you’re experiencing morning anxiety on a regular basis, this article is for you.

What causes morning anxiety?

There are a number of things which can contribute to feelings of morning anxiety. However, if you are experiencing morning anxiety on an ongoing basis, you may need to seek advice and support from an appropriate professional.

Causes of morning anxiety may include the following:

  • Bedtime thoughts: Being unable to switch off from our worries in bed at night may mean we feel tired and stressed when we wake in the morning.
  • Waking thoughts: We don’t always notice our first thoughts of the day but ongoing, unresolved concerns or worries about the day ahead can trigger those early morning feelings of anxiety.
  • Sleep: Lack of good quality sleep has been linked to feelings of anxiety and when we’re tired difficult feelings can feel more overwhelming.
  • Cortisol: The stress hormone, cortisol, is higher during the first hour after waking in order to help us get ready and focused for the day ahead. In addition, if you are experiencing stress and anxiety in your day to day life then your ‘baseline’ level of cortisol is already higher than it would normally be, so the extra boost of cortisol in the morning may make you feel excessively anxious.
  • Caffeine and Sugar: Too much caffeine or sugar can increase feelings of anxiety. This is because caffeine stimulates the stress response, while the dip following a sugar ‘high’ can make existing anxiety symptoms worse.
  • Blood sugar levels: Blood sugar levels are lower when you first wake up which can contribute to feelings of anxiety.

How can I reduce morning anxiety?

Here are some suggestions for things you can do to help reduce morning anxiety.

  • Before bed: If you find yourself worrying as bedtime approaches, write down your worries in a notebook, with possible solutions. This can help you to let go of the worries while in bed so that your mind doesn’t feel drawn to try and ‘control’ the problem through obsessive or repetitive thinking. Writing things down can also help us to gain clarity around our next steps.
  • Sleep routine: Sticking to a regular bedtime and waking time can be a helpful way of encouraging good sleep. Drinking alcohol and caffeine can interfere with sleep so avoiding alcohol and caffeine-based drinks before bed is important. Introducing a relaxation routine in the evening, such as taking a warm bath, reading a non-demanding book or meditating, can also help.
  • In the bedroom: Don’t use your mobile phone as an alarm. Our phones are often associated with busyness so it’s important to create a sense of space from our phones when we go to bed. If you need an alarm to wake you up in the morning, try and find one that wakes you gently, rather than jolting you awake with a loud or jarring ring.
  • When you wake: Practising a mindfulness technique when you wake, such as mindful breathing, can help you to avoid getting caught up in unhelpful worry loops. Mindfulness is also a good way of building resilience for the longer term and has been linked to less stress and anxiety.
  • Morning nutrition: Consider your morning intake of caffeine or sugar. Could this be contributing to feelings of anxiety? You may also find it helpful to experiment with the time you have your breakfast as a way of managing blood sugar levels. For nutritional advice relating to anxiety, seek advice from a nutrition expert.
  • Morning routine: Bringing a planned self-care routine to your mornings can be a very useful way of managing morning anxiety. For example, exercise can help to disperse the stress hormones linked to anxiety, while mindfulness, yoga and journalling have all been linked to improved wellbeing. Also, try to avoid using your phone or reading the news first thing. It’s risky, as you don’t know what you may read there, and it brings you straight into the world of busyness. Getting up in good time means you can start the day without rushing around too.
    Generally: Take steps to address the root causes of stress and/or anxiety in your life, which will help to reduce your baseline cortisol levels. If you find that stress and anxiety is affecting your life on an ongoing basis, contact me about my short 1:1 programmes of support designed to help you bring more calm to your life and reduce stress and anxiety quickly and effectively.

© Michelle Drapeau, 2020


Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash