The opening and the ending are always the most important parts of any story. The Dusk ‘til Dawn blog series is centred around the idea that the way we start and end our days set the tone for how we feel.
Cold sweats, racing heart, sinking stomach, buzzing mind. And all you’ve done is open your eyes. Morning anxiety is a bitch.
So, why does it happen?
There’s no one clear-cut answer. Generally, and as you would expect, people who are dealing with high stress and anxiety in their daily lives often suffer from instant anxiety upon waking. Maybe because they know what rollercoaster lies ahead or because they’ve been through the cycle so many times its just become habit. From a biological point of view, cortisol (the fight or flight hormone) levels in stressed people are kicked up a notch early in the morning as our body prepares for another day, adding to the slightly ‘wired’ feeling.
Whatever its cause, waking up like this everyday is no breakfast in bed. Here are some little tips on how to cope with and hopefully overcome with waking anxiety, allowing you to get on with smashing your day!
One step at a time
When you wake up with the anxiety monster sitting on your chest, the last thing you want to do is carry on with the day ahead. You just want to tuck the little creature up beside you and stay in bed together forever, pretending the world doesn’t exist. But let’s face it, that isn’t going to happen. What’s more likely is you will lie there in a state of existential dread, meanwhile feeding the monster all your guilt and self-judgement, letting it get bigger and heavier and more crushing.
You need to, in the words of the earth-bound goddess, Florence, “Shake it Off”.
Take it one step at a time. Sitting up isn’t scary. Walking to the bathroom and washing your face or standing in the shower, easy. Putting on clothes? You might not always get your jumper on the right way but you can do it. By breaking your routine down into little manageable chunks, it makes the whole process of getting up and ready in the morning feel so much less daunting. You can even chunk it up by time if you know you need to be out of the house by a certain point. This not only allows you to stay focused on the current task in hand, but it also helps you to create a routine that enables you to go through the motions until you start to feel more prepared to tackle the day ahead.
I won’t go into it too much here as we will be covering it in more detail later blogs, but sleep a is super important factor in how we feel. Getting enough good-quality sleep will really help in the short and long term.
Preparation is everything
You know the drill. Get your bag and clothes ready the night before, set your alarm a little earlier than you need to get up etc etc. These small nightly steps mean you don’t have to get up and immediately start rushing around.
This doesn’t work for everyone all the time. You might change my mind about what you want to wear, forget to make your lunch (or manage to drop it all over the kitchen floor…), worry that you haven’t put that important form in your bag and end up tipping it out on the sofa. However, in the waking moments of panic, knowing in the back of your mind that the basics have been taken care of is one less thing to worry about.
Let go of nightmares
I’ve always had really strong, visual nightmares. The kind of ones you can remember long after you wake up. And these have sometimes impacted the way I wake up.
When you initially wake up from a nightmare, affirmations work. Repeat, out loud if you can, “I’m okay, it’s just a dream.” Sounds a bit patronising, like you’re in some cheesy horror movie. But there isn’t a more powerful weapon against your mind than itself. Grounding techniques are also useful to bring you back into your reality. You could keep some aromatherapy oils or perfume by your bed or swap your pillow over to the cold side.
If you can’t fall back asleep or do but wake up still feeling a bit strange, try to distract yourself with a book or some mood-boosting music.
Step away from the caffeine
As tempting and habitual it is to reach straight for the coffee granules, stimulants such as caffeine often aggravate the symptoms of anxiety. If you know this is a problem, try and steer away from highly-caffeinated drinks first thing in the morning. Instead you could try herbal tea, fruit juice or, if you want something that will still shock the system, some ice-cold water from the fridge. If you really can’t imagine your day without the taste of that bitter goodness, get yourself the decaf version of your favourite brand or even switching to a black tea can reduce your morning intake.
Leave that phone alone
Being able to keep in touch with the world around you 24/7 can be wonderful, but there’s some things that just shouldn’t be done first thing in the morning. Scrolling through your social media feeds, browsing the news, reading emails are all things that can set anxious thoughts racing.
These things can wait until you’re ready to deal with them. The notifications aren’t going anywhere.
Obviously, for many people, actually leaving your phone on the side all morning is pretty impossible. It’s often your alarm clock for one and sometimes it’s reassuring to give it a quick glance over to check what the weather is doing or that no one important has tried to contact you. In these cases, I’d recommend either turning off notifications for non-essential apps or set it to ‘Do Not Disturb’ (or equivalent) to a time you know you’ll be up and about. You could also create a folder of apps you know you need in the morning, such as the weather, mediation apps or public transport timetables.
Do one thing for yourself
If you are spending less time scrolling through Twitter or agonising over what to wear, that means that there’ll be a little bit of time in your morning for you- yay! How much time depends, but always try and do one thing every morning for yourself. This could be some deep breaths whilst you wait for the kettle to boil, listening to a podcast whilst you get ready, or putting your washing away. If you’ve got a bit more time in the morning, you could even go for a walk, do an exercise class, or just sit in the window and read a book. Having something small to look forward to will give you something to focus on when you wake up.
Kick the negativity to the curb
Whether you challenge negative thoughts, categorise your worries or put them to one side whilst you concentrate on the task in hand, try not to forget your usual coping techniques.
A shit morning does not equal a shit day
Even if it takes you until tea time to shake it off, don’t let a bad morning take over how you feel about your entire day. Some people say one day at a time, I think one moment at a time is better advice in this situation. You might have woken up badly, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the day the world will be out to get you. Try to just take every moment as it comes.
Deal with the underlying issue
Ultimately, the best way to beat morning anxiety is to figure out and try to tackle the thing that is making you feel this way in the first place. It could be because you’re dreading something in the day ahead, or something you have to deal with when you come home, or it simply could be because the chemicals in your brain have gone a little wobbly.
Of course, identifying this and working out how you want to deal with it can take time and perseverance. There are lots of support systems out there that can help you do this, from medical professionals and organisations to friends and family. The most important thing to remember is that this is not something you deserve to, nor have to put up with every morning of your life.