It’s estimated that as many as 30% of people will experience an anxiety disorder at some time in their lives. People with this type of mental illness may experience symptoms at various points in the day for a variety of different reasons. Even feeling a sense of anxiety first thing in the morning is not uncommon. Let’s take a look at a few reasons why you may be waking up with these feelings, and then we’ll cover five tips and tricks you can try to help manage them.
Reasons You May Wake Up With Anxiety
What are the potential causes of having a sense of anxiety first thing in the morning? There are a few common possibilities, one or more of which may resonate with you.
Poor Sleep Quality
Sleep problems can occur for any number of reasons, from poor sleeping conditions to jet lag to caffeine to stress. Symptoms of various anxiety disorders may also make it hard for a person to fall or stay asleep at night due to uncontrolled worry, racing thoughts, or physical effects of anxiety. Whatever the cause, it’s possible that you could wake up with a strong sense of anxiety simply because you didn’t get enough sleep for your brain and body to reset so you can take on the day with calm and confidence.
Dreams That Cause Anxiety
It’s not uncommon for waking worries to manifest as stressful dreams. These dreams could wake you up at night, or could otherwise prevent you from getting uninterrupted, quality sleep. Those with mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may also experience nightmares related to a traumatic event(s) they’ve experienced, potentially leading to even more disrupted sleep and anxiety upon waking. If the anxieties that manifested in your dream seem realistic even once morning arrives, you might end up with a sense of anxiety as soon as you open your eyes.
Stress About The Day Ahead
If you have a particularly stressful event to face when you wake up, this could be a reason that you feel anxious right away in the morning. The anticipation of a job interview or an important meeting, for instance, could cause you to feel anxious when you wake up. Ongoing life stressors could have the same effect, such as a difficult living situation, physical health concerns, relationship conflict, or financial troubles.
Higher Cortisol Levels
Cortisol is a hormone that helps your body respond to stress. Natural cortisol levels are highest in the morning in most people. Those who experience anxiety symptoms in general and/or who have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder may either have naturally higher levels of cortisol particularly in the morning, or they may be more sensitive to these normal spikes. Note, however, that higher levels of cortisol could also indicate a physical health condition, so it could be worth speaking to your doctor if you’re consistently experiencing high stress or anxiety levels in the morning.
Tips For Managing Morning Anxiety
If you find yourself frequently waking up with symptoms of anxiety, there are a few different tips you can consider trying to help reduce or even prevent it.
As one study on the topic states, “Physical activity has been shown to be associated with decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety”. Cultivating a regular exercise routine can have a host of physical and mental health benefits, including lowering levels of anxiety. If you feel anxious first thing in the morning, getting a workout in right away may also help you manage your symptoms.
2. Try Mindfulness
Anxiety often relates to past or future events, so being absorbed in anxious thoughts can make it difficult to live in the present moment. That’s why cultivating a mindfulness practice may help if you’re prone to anxiety symptoms at any time of day. You can try practicing breathing exercises or physical relaxation techniques, for instance, both when you're feeling anxious and at other times throughout the day. Over time, you may find yourself better able to recognize anxious thoughts as they arise and avoid being overwhelmed by them by staying present.
3. Journal First Thing In The Morning
If you often wake up with anxious thoughts or worries running through your mind, it may be helpful to find a way to release them before you start your day. Journaling is one way to do this. You can simply take out your computer or a pen and paper and write down your racing thoughts and anxieties in a stream-of-consciousness style. You don’t have to worry about spelling, coherence, handwriting, or anything else: Simply putting your busy thoughts into words can help you let go of those feelings and the distress they may be causing so you can start your day from a calmer place.
4. Say Positive Affirmations
Positive affirmations are simple, concise statements that you might repeat a few times per day to help change your patterns of thinking. If you’re experiencing anxiety in the morning, you might try repeating a few affirmations and see if they help you reframe your thoughts over time. For example, you could say, “I welcome peace and happiness into my day” or “I begin this day from a place of calm”. Repeating these a few times out loud can help you change the tone of your day so you can approach it with less anxiety. One study suggests that positive affirmations can help an individual feel safe and non-threatened, which may increase their feelings of confidence and self-worth and decrease feelings of anxiety.
5. Choose Carefully What You Eat
What you eat and/or drink first thing in the morning can affect your mood. A high-sugar breakfast, for example, can cause a glucose spike that may lead to a racing heart and other anxiety-related symptoms. Caffeine intake right away can have a similar effect. Instead, starting your morning with a glass of water and a high-protein, low-sugar breakfast may help you feel calmer and be better prepared to cope with stressors that may come your way.
Seeking Support For Anxiety Symptoms
If you’re regularly experiencing symptoms of anxiety that are affecting your work, school, relationships, daily functioning, and/or overall well-being, you may benefit from meeting with a healthcare provider. A medical doctor can run tests to see if there may be a physical health condition at play. Then, a mental health professional can determine whether a mental health condition might be affecting you and offer a treatment plan if so. Even if not, they can help you develop healthy coping mechanisms for handling stress.
If you’re interested in meeting with a therapist to address symptoms of anxiety you’ve been experiencing, you can typically choose whether you want to see a provider in person or online. For those who feel anxiety at the thought of meeting with a therapist in person or who have trouble traveling to and from appointments regularly, online therapy is another option to consider. Research suggests that online and in-person therapy can offer similar benefits for those experiencing anxiety—and with a virtual therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can meet with a provider via phone, video call, and/or online chat from the comfort of home. Whichever method you may choose, know that support for anxiety symptoms is available.
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