Your morning alarm goes off and before you even open your eyes you’re overwhelmed by a
wave of panic. More common post-pandemic, waking up in a state of fight or flight can be
debilitating. While some stress can be expected as we look to the day ahead, too much may
indicate an anxiety disorder.
What is Morning Anxiety?
Though not a medical term, morning anxiety is a real issue. It’s much more than not looking
forward to school or heading to work. Worrying about an upcoming test or presentation is
natural. Whereas the physical signs of morning anxiety can be overwhelming:
Pounding or racing heart, tense muscles, or difficulty breathing
Sense of worry for no apparent reason
Feeling on edge, but not knowing why
Wake up exhausted and generally fatigued
Why Does it Happen?
The short answer is a spike in cortisol. In the early morning, our body’s cortisol production
naturally surges to transition us to wake up. This surge, called the cortisol awakening response, continues for 30-45 minutes before returning to its baseline after an hour or so. However, researchers have found chronic stress can cause cortisol levels to spike even higher in the morning causing increased levels of anxiety.
Nighttime Anxiety is also a Real Thing
There’s very little scientific analysis on nighttime anxiety but a lack of sleep can trigger anxiety, while anxiety can also lead to a lack of sleep. They go hand in hand. Research shows that sleep disorders and trouble sleeping are linked to many psychiatric disorders.
What Can You Do to Minimize Morning/Nightime Anxiety?
An anxiety disorder can seem like a life sentence of worry and stress, but it’s absolutely not.
There are many ways to break the cycle. Some strategies to help reduce symptoms include:
Working with a psychotherapist can help you better understand how anxiety affects your life.
Better yet, a therapist can work with you to develop ways to manage it, using a number of tools in their arsenal, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT will teach you new ways of thinking, acting, and reacting to situations that cause anxiety.
A small study on Sleep Quality Improvement During Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT),
examined the relationship between CBT and sleep quality in people with anxiety. It was found that both sleep quality and sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep) improved in participants who responded to CBT.
Start with a personal audit. Are your lifestyle choices affecting your mental health? While
changing these habits may not treat a mental health disorder completely, they may help
manage the symptoms.
Are you getting enough sleep?
Do you live a balanced active lifestyle?
Do you limit alcohol and caffeine (as too much of either can increase anxiety symptoms)?
Are you having balanced nutrition?
Do you reduce stress at work and home?
Medications such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs can help relieve symptoms
associated with anxiety. This is something that can be explored with a doctor on a case by case basis.
What Can You Do When Morning/Nightime Anxiety Strikes?
There are many self-care strategies you can use to lessen symptoms when you feel anxious.
Being Physically Active
Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your mind and body. Regular exercise will not only increase self-confidence, boost your mood, and help you relax, but it will also lower symptoms of mild depression and anxiety. So, wake up a little earlier or make time after work
and throw on your sneakers. Even gentle stretching and a walk around the block are a good
start. It’s important to remember that balance is important and individuals with eating disorders will have different exercise and nutrition needs than other people.
Practicing Mindfulness-Based Meditation
The goal of mindfulness-based meditation is to learn how to detach yourself from anxious
thoughts by practicing awareness, identifying tension in the body, understanding your thinking patterns, and learning how to deal with difficult emotions. It takes practice. But, developing a morning mindfulness routine can be very effective and reduce anxiety symptoms. Commit to the process and be patient along the way, as these changes take time. Be gentle with yourself.
Deep Breathing Exercises
One of the best things you can do when you wake up with morning anxiety is to do a few
breathing exercises. Taking deep breaths calms your nervous system. For example, for triangle breathing you can breathe in for a count of 4, hold for the count of 4, and then breathe out for the count of 4, all while visualizing the sides of a triangle. It will take the focus off any negative and anxious thoughts and help stimulate a more relaxed state.
Confront Negative Thoughts
Try to avoid “catastrophizing.” Catastrophizing is when you often believe that things will turn out 100 % rotten and will be the worst-case scenario. If you find yourself paralyzed by negative thoughts in the morning, try considering their more rational alternatives. Finding more rational alternatives can be done with the support of a therapist who can use several techniques including cognitive restructuring. Don’t suffer alone with your symptoms.
Morning anxiety is highly treatable.
At TPS Therapy, we can help you with strategies to reduce symptoms, build resilience, and
ensure sure you get out of bed on the right side more often.