We’ve all experienced them haven’t we mornings where we wake up and the day ahead scares us.
Quite often this can be because of an event that is happening maybe a new job, getting married, house move, a funeral.
When big life events happen its natural for us to wake up and feel apprehensive about the day ahead.
But what happens if you wake up every day with a sense of doom or feeling on edge and anxious.
Is this you?
I remember as a single mum in my 30’s this was a regular occurrence for me.
I'd wake up and feel like there was no way I was going to cope with the day, I had a sense of dread and complete overwhelm about what the day ahead meant for me.
2 children under 5 to look after, a full time job, getting everything ready for the child-minder, dressing 2 children, showering and dressing myself, breakfast for us all, the drop offs before work, the day at work, the stress of work, the pick ups after work, dinner, baths, bedtimes, tantrums and fall exhausted into bed.
Just a normal day for a single mum of 2 with a full time job, but my overwhelm was immense, I'd wake up in a complete panic about it all and at the weekends, exhausted from the weeks mornings, I'd often go back to bed and the kids would fend for themselves, how unfair was that when they were so young.
My 30 year old self was frazzled and anxious and sometimes I had no idea how I got through the day, because when I woke up I really thought there was no way I was going to cope.
But I did, everything always worked out OK and my kids have grown up ok, if only I'd known then what I know now about anxiety, my mornings could have been very different.
Although not a medical term, morning anxiety refers to waking up with feelings of stress and worry.
If you are dealing with excessive anxiety, worry, and stress in the morning, there’s a good chance you may also have generalized anxiety.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by excessive and uncontrolled worry that pervades daily life and occurs frequently for at least six months. People with GAD typically worry about everyday actives such as work, money, family, and health.
Researchers have found that there is a cortisol awakening response (CAR) and have found that cortisol (our stress hormone) is highest in the first hour of waking for people with an increased level of stress in their lives.
This helps explain why you may experience this increase in anxiety when you first wake up in the morning.
Even though the symptoms of morning anxiety can feel overwhelming and permanent, they are highly treatable.
So what are the things that you can do to help with morning anxiety
Well first off a good nights sleep will contribute to you waking up more relaxed and so getting into a good sleeping routine can be important,
You can check out my previous blog on sleeping, where I mentioned 5 tips for helping you sleep better
Check your alarm, is it a sudden and loud noise that jolts you awake- startling you.
If you are already feeling stressed and on edge a startle response will switch on your fight or flight to get the day started.
So as soon as you are startled awake your mind and body are ready for danger and straight into protection mode-increasing your anxiety,
Think about changing your alarm to something more gentle like birdsong, a favourite song or some soothing beats.
Do you hit the snooze button and then in your semi-awake state start to worry about the day ahead and the things you have to do.
Stop hitting the snooze button and instead start your day with a 5-10 minute relaxation routine.
Take a few minutes to relax your body and mind, instead of lying worrying about the day or jumping straight into your stressful morning.
You can request my free information sheet on relaxation techniques here
Once you are awake and relaxed you can start to get yourself ready for the day with a positive mind set.
If morning Anxiety is normal for you your brain has likely got into an unconscious habit of worry and negative thoughts as soon as you wake up
I’m not saying you to have to move to completely positive thoughts on waking up as you would likely find that quite difficult, but what would help you, is to acknowledge your anxiety and talk kindly to yourself about how you are going to handle it that day.
You want to shut down your critical voice, so you may say something to yourself along the lines of
"Yes, I feel anxious this morning, but I have felt this way before and have been able to handle it. If I have trouble with anxiety during the day, I can use relaxation techniques that will calm me down. I'm in control. Anxiety is a normal human emotion, and it's my cue I need to relax."
In CBT therapy we spend a lot of time looking at negative and unhelpful thought patterns and learn ways to reframe them to more helpful thoughts, it can take a lot of practice but it is possible.
Check out my previous blog What are unhelpful thinking styles and why do you need to know about them
The night before the morning after is important too, not just the sleep you get, but the preperation you do for the next day.
You can help to reduce your morning anxiety by being more pro-active in organising things for your morning the night before.
The night before do the things you might worry about, or the things that cause you stress in the morning.
For example make up the packed lunches, lay out the schools uniforms for the children, if you know they have a particular activity the next day ie PE or cooking, have everything ready the night before so they can just pick it up and go, rather than frantically searching for stuff just before you leave, raising your stress levels.
Sort out what you are going to wear the next day and hang it up ready, down to the underwear and shoes you are going to wear, its all there waiting for you with no searching or decisions to make that might add to your stress.
You will be surprised at how cutting out the small stresses helps you reduce the feeling of overwhelm or worry.
Lastly cut out the caffeine.
Most of us start the day with a coffee it wakes us up and gives us an immediate energy boost to start the day.
However caffeine is a common and well-known anxiety-producing culprit.
Even if caffeine isn't causing your morning anxiety, it's a powerful stimulant that can fuel anxiety in a few people—so consider eliminating or at least cutting back on coffee and tea to see if your symptoms improve
If your mornings are plagued by anxiety, instead of the coffee, start your day with a herbal tea or something that soothes your system.
Start to take a look at your current morning routine, and evening routines, and see if by introducing some, or all of the above, you can reduce your morning anxiety.
If your morning anxiety persists seek the help of a medical professional or a counsellor
Working through what is causing your anxiety and looking at ways to reframe your unhelpful thoughts and calm down your fight or flight response will lead to changes in your daily routines and your thoughts and behaviours which will ultimately lead to you feeling calmer.
When I start therapy work with someone with any type of anxiety I will ask them to rate their level of anxiety from 1-10.
1 being not at all to 10 being highest its been and generally they will say at a 10, or even above!
6 weeks later I ask the same question it’s usually at a 6-7
At 12-15 weeks they’ve usually got to around a 4-5
Imagine moving from being at a 10 every morning to a 5 in 3 months.
Engaging in therapy transform your mornings from chaos to calm.
Make a commitment today to start to make some of these changes to your morning routine and if you feel you need some help and support why not call me to have a chat and we could book in some sessions to help you get from a 10, where the mornings are overwhelming for you, to a 5 where you can cope every morning and feel in a much calmer place ready to face the day.
Laura Knight is a qualified and experienced Counsellor and a registered member of BACP (The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy)
She is an approved Anxiety UK Therapist and has her own private practice SeeClear Counselling, in Poole Dorset.
She can offer face to face, telephone and video counselling sessions
Laura also spent some time working with Dorset Mind delivering education to local employers on how to identify and manage stress at work reducing the impact that work stress can have on peoples every day lives.