Mornings used to be hell for me. No matter how much sleep I got, I would start my day with the following train of thought:
- A slow, groggy sense of awareness.
- A creeping dread as I realized there were a million things that could go wrong today.
Every. Damn. Time.
It was an exhausting routine that set a horrendous tone for even the best days. Eventually, it became unmanageable.
If you find yourself in distress on a regular basis early in the morning because of persistent anxiety, and if you’re interested in reading about simple ways to make that go away, read on.
This article is part of a much bigger guide on learning how to become happy that I’m sure is the biggest freely available guide on the internet right now. This article contains some great tips, but you’ll find a lot more actionable tips in the section Happiness Tips!
Suffering from morning anxiety
I wasn’t the only one suffering from morning anxiety. Reliable statistics suggest that 4% of the world’s population suffer from some sort of anxiety disorder at any given time. The lifetime prevalence of the disorder category is even higher.
Some people begin to feel their anxiety first thing in the morning before they even get out of bed. And for many of these folks, morning anxiety is the worst and most intense anxiety they feel all day. Naturally, to start every day in such distressing fashion is not an ideal way to go through life
What I eventually found, like millions of other people, was that much of my discomfort could have been prevented if I had just sought out a solution earlier. Like the proverbial frog in a slowly boiling pot of water, I had become accustomed to an intolerable amount of anxiety over time. By the time it got bad enough for me to seek treatment and assistance, I had been suffering needlessly for years.
How to deal with morning anxiety
When I did finally seek treatment, I found out that there were multiple, effective, and simple strategies to combat, reduce, or even eliminate, morning anxiety. If you’re suffering from morning anxiety a lot, these strategies will surely help you make it go away.
This does not include BS advice such as “just snap out of it”. These are real tips that have worked for a lot of others.
There’s no magical fix to morning anxiety, even though Mr. Bean seems to handle it pretty well in his own way. (You will understand it when you watch the video below!)
This video below does not include any of the strategies included in this guide. In fact, this video pretty much shows you how not to deal with morning anxiety.
Try these strategies instead!
Keep a thought journal or diary
This is one of the simplest things you can do immediately to begin reducing your morning anxiety. A thought journal or thought diary (or anxiety journal, anxiety diary, or anything else you want to call it) is exactly what it sounds like. As you wake up in the morning, you open a journal you keep next to your bed and begin to write down your thoughts. They can be in shorthand or full script, detailed or vague, or anywhere in between. Thoughts like “I’m worried my phone will alert me to a missed email,” “I’m anxious about school,” or “I’m looking forward to work today,” are all perfectly valid entries.
You might be able to think of a million reasons not to keep a thought diary. Rest assured, you’re not the first person to wonder how this might help you. But believe it or not, writing down your fleeting thoughts as they scream through your brain at a million miles an hour has plenty of benefits, such as:
It puts your fears in perspective
Sometimes seeing anxiety or fear written out on paper makes you realize how silly it really is. When I started this practice I noticed that I was feeling extreme anxiety about trivial theoretical problems. Writing them down helped me keep my anxiety about minor things to a minimum.
It organizes your thoughts
Sometimes your thoughts are too fast to keep track of. Writing them down helps you to deal with your morning anxieties in a systematic way.
It helps you to recognize patterns
Maybe you always worry about work in the morning. Maybe some of your anxieties revolve around your children. Whatever the case is for you, writing down your fears first thing in the morning can help you to identify patterns of thought that recur time and again. Once you’ve done that, they’re easier to deal with and resolve.
It identifies anxieties you didn’t know you had
Those thoughts that are too fast to keep track of I mentioned earlier? Well, writing them down can force you to slow down your mind enough to capture some of those “free-floating” thoughts that are causing so much dread.
Take a minute, literally
That’s it. Just a minute. When you wake up, and your anxiety is revving up like a high-performance car’s engine and hollering at you to check your phone for missed calls and make sure the dog isn’t dead, just take a minute instead. Breathe deeply and focus on your thoughts. If you’re really anxious, recognize that fact and realize that it’s common.
This may not seem like it serves much of a purpose at first, but centering yourself like this is a major component of mindfulness strategies, which can be hugely helpful to people in your situation. As you learn new ways of coping with your anxiety, the ability to focus on the present moment and be okay with it will take on new importance in your life. Even at the beginning though, just taking a moment without checking your phone or running to the kids can be invaluable.
Exercise has been linked to increases in successful functioning and decreases in the observed symptoms of a variety of mental illnesses since research began in earnest on this topic. The subject of exercise’s influence on anxiety contains enough material to fill books. Spoiler alert: exercise often reduces anxiety.
If morning anxiety is your issue, and you’ve already written down your thoughts and taken a breath, how about going for a run? Or lifting some weights? Or doing anything physical at all?
Exercise in the morning, although a difficult habit to start, can have powerful impacts on anxiety’s influence over your life, especially early in the morning. It doesn’t have to be a full-on, HIIT-inspired, drop-dead workout. It can be a simple walk outside in the fresh air. Or a jog on the treadmill and some stretching. Your body and mind will thank you.
The most valuable step: seek help
This step does wonders for recovery. Seek help! There is usually no good reason to battle morning anxiety alone. Let a friend, family member, a spouse, or a therapist know that you’ve been struggling with anxiety and that you intend to do something about it. Just having someone in your corner can be of tremendous assistance in this area.
When I told my wife (then girlfriend) about my continuing problems with anxiety she was of significant help. Even though I was the one that had to do the heavy lifting, she supported and assisted me throughout the entire process. When I sought treatment, my therapist guided me through the various strategies and treatments in a way only a professional can, greatly accelerating my progress.
Therapists, especially, are invaluable mentors for people with morning anxiety. This is what they do for a living. And, unlike less focused issues like depression or thought disorders, morning anxiety is a specific problem that is associated with specific solutions. In their toolboxes, therapists carry with them a myriad of strategies to help you make waking up anxious an unpleasant relic of your past.
Mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy, breathing techniques, and progressive muscle relaxation are just some of the specific tactics a therapist or counselor might suggest to help you in taking control of your anxieties. If a specific strategy doesn’t work for you, the next one just might!
Of course, it’s not easy for everyone to seek out another person’s help. Some people are uncomfortable talking about mental health. Some come from cultures where this is a taboo subject or a source of shame or weakness. Others may not know someone they trust enough to share their secret anxiety with.
If that’s the case for you, the battle is not over. There are things you can do on your own that will reduce or eliminate your morning anxiety. The small habits I’ve discussed above are extremely helpful in and of themselves. If you like, you can pursue things like mindfulness or CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) on a self-help basis. While it is best to have some help as you move through these strategies, it’s definitely not impossible to work through the steps on your own.
Fighting morning anxiety one step at a time
The fight to maintain a reasonably positive attitude while suffering from morning anxiety is a difficult one. It’s important to keep moving forward though, especially when one has made the decision to seek help or undertake actions to deal with the problem. Things can only get better from there.
I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface with respect to the options and choices available to a person looking for relief from anxiety. In my view, there is no substitute for a qualified and skilled mental health practitioner to help you through whatever your issue happens to be. This holds doubly true for highly specific and clearly defined mental health issues like morning anxiety. While it’s possible to fix these issues yourself, it’s usually more difficult than it would be with some professional help.
That being said, the strategies and tools you would learn from a psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist, or counselor are not so complex that you can’t use them on your own. Whether it’s writing down your thoughts, exercising, taking a moment to center yourself, or engaging in some self-administered cognitive behavioral therapy or mindfulness practice, you’ll thank yourself for taking some active steps to address your morning anxiety.
I hope this guide has given you a few methods on how to deal with morning anxiety. These tips have helped others to break free from the repeating morning routine of panic and anxiety. You can do this too.
I’d love to hear from you what your experiences have been. What’s your experience with morning anxiety? How have you tried to deal with it? I’d love to know in the comments below.
Founder of Tracking Happiness and lives in the Netherlands. Ran 5 marathons, with one of them in under 4 hours (3:59:58 to be exact). Data junkie and happiness tracker for over 7 years.