How to Handle Morning Anxiety: Everything You Need to Know
There are strategies you can use to help get it under control.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to wake up each morning feeling refreshed, relaxed, energized, and ready for your day? Unfortunately, for many people, that’s not what happens at all. Instead, they wake up feeling stressed, overwhelmed, panicked, and tired all before they even get out of bed. This is called morning anxiety. It can happen to anyone from time to time, but for others, it’s a daily occurrence.
Often, morning anxiety is a part of life for people who have excessive anxiety throughout the day, as well. Additionally, having morning anxiety one day can make it more likely the next. And it can feel like a self-fulfilling prophecy, as worrying that you’ll have morning anxiety the night before pretty much guarantees that you will be plagued by it the next. Plus, dreading morning anxiety can also make falling asleep—or getting any restful slumber at all—even harder. So, soon you may have sleep issues coupled with morning anxiety, with each problem feeding the other.
However, there are plenty of ways to lessen, or even get rid of, this stress at the beginning of the day. In this comprehensive guide, learn more about morning anxiety, why it occurs, how to prevent it, and tips for coping when it occurs.
Waking up feeling stressed about your day—or just anxious in general—is something that many people experience. It can feel inevitable and inescapable. However, there are techniques you can use to reduce its grip. The first steps are to understand what morning anxiety is and why it happens.
What Is Morning Anxiety?
Morning anxiety is what people often call the overwhelming feeling of stress or worry they wake up with. It often lasts for an hour or so. Or it might last all day. But what distinguishes it from general anxiety is that it is there first thing in the morning and may be accompanied by a sense of dread for the day ahead.
Why morning anxiety happens
The exact causes and mechanisms of morning anxiety are unclear, particularly why one person gets it and another person does not. And why one person may suddenly (or gradually) begin having this experience in the mornings. However, those with heightened levels of anxiety generally and those experiencing stressful or traumatic events are more likely to have morning anxiety.
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Additionally, studies show that those with morning anxiety—and anxiety in general —exhibit higher levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the morning than people with lower levels of anxiety. So, it is theorized that waking up with this surge in cortisol increases a person’s feelings of anxiety upon waking.
Symptoms of Morning Anxiety
If you have been experiencing overwhelming feelings of tension and worry in the mornings, then you may have morning anxiety. It can be experienced in a variety of ways that are unique for each person. Some people will have one or two key symptoms, while others may have a whole host of them. Additionally, severity varies as well, with some people having mild, more manageable symptoms, while others feel completely overwhelmed and controlled by this problem.
However, generally, the typical symptoms of morning anxiety may include the following:
- Anxiety about the coming day
- Body tension (tight muscles)
- Difficulty breathing, racing heart rate, and tightness in the chest
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling panicked
- The desire to stay in bed
- Uncontrollable feelings of stress and worry
Morning anxiety tends to include both physical and mental health symptoms and is present right once a person wakes up. And it tends to happen day after day—and feel difficult to manage and control. Often, people who have morning anxiety also have other forms of anxiety, such as social anxiety disorder (SAD) or general anxiety disorder (GAD). Contact your doctor if you are uncertain about what mental health concerns you may have and to get any help you need managing them.
Treatment of Morning Anxiety
While it’s not an official medical diagnosis, morning anxiety is a problem that can be discussed with your doctor or a therapist. Your medical provider will likely evaluate you for other mental health concerns, particularly to screen you for anxiety disorders. Whether or not you are diagnosed with an anxiety condition, they can help you create a treatment plan, which may include talk therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, stress relief techniques (more on these below), and/or medications that treat anxiety.
One key way to reduce the impact morning anxiety has on your life is to work to prevent it from happening in the first place. Knowing why it is happening to you is a good starting point, as once you know why it’s occurring, you can take steps to stop it.
You may already have a good idea of why you are having morning anxiety. For example, you may be under a great deal of stress at work or at home, such as because of taking on a new job, experiencing financial strain, or going through a breakup or divorce. Alternatively, you might know that you have SAD or GAD, so having morning anxiety may simply be a part of your general experience of living with heightened levels of anxiety.
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However, if you’re unsure of what might be contributing to your propensity to have morning anxiety, your doctor or therapist can help you explore why it may be showing up for you. However, while you may have specific causes for your morning anxiety, there are general reasons why it tends to happen. These commonly include life stress (such as financial, professional, relational, social, societal, and physical), times of transition, coping with trauma, and having an anxiety disorder.
Once you narrow down the reasons why your morning anxiety is occuring, begin to address those underlying issues. So, if it’s financial strain or a health issue that’s feeding your morning frenzy, come up with a plan to work toward solutions and/or ways to cope. By taking care of whatever issues are bothering you, you will reduce the likelihood (and ideally, the frequency and intensity) of feeling stressed about these problems in the morning.
Another key way to reduce and prevent morning anxiety includes prioritizing self-care. This means making sure you are taking care of yourself, as in getting enough sleep, healthy nutrition, relaxation, exercise, and time for fun. Also, it’s super helpful to practice stress-relieving techniques. These include meditation, breathwork, taking walks, talking with friends, watching movies or shows, listening to music, aromatherapy, beauty treatments, massage, acupuncture, and taking a shower or bath. Really, whatever activities, hobbies, or distractions help you feel more calm, relaxed, self-confident, valued, and safe can work.
Tips for Coping With Morning Anxiety
When morning anxiety strikes, there are ways to loosen its grip. Firstly, utilize any stress relief strategies that you know work for you. This might mean letting yourself sleep in a bit, taking deep breaths, getting up and taking a warm shower, eating your favorite breakfast, calling your sister, or listening to your favorite podcast or song. Try self-affirmations, too, such as saying, “I can do this,” “I can do hard things,” or “I can take on my day.”
Visualization along with breathwork can also help. To do this, close your eyes and think about your “happy place” and/or picture yourself in bed without anxiety. Visualize your day going well, see your worries melting away, and literally picture your body and mind relaxing. Some people find it helpful to also incorporate mindfulness and mediation techniques into their morning as well.
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Putting yourself on a set morning schedule can also ease morning anxiety. This may include whatever routine you think would be most restful and stress-easing for you, such as listening to music when you get up, setting the alarm a bit early so that you have more time to longue in bed, picking out your clothing the night before, or drinking a certain kind of tea or coffee. Are you always late to work and rushing to get there on time? If so, come up with ways to streamline your morning schedule to eliminate always feeling behind. Additionally, it’s helpful to look at your evening routine, too, as getting restful sleep goes hand-in-hand with curtailing morning anxiety. So, aim to get at least 8 hours of sleep a night and practice optimal sleep hygiene by sleeping in a cool, dark, distraction-free room. Additionally, address any sleep problems, such as insomnia, that you may have.
Morning anxiety is that feeling of stress or worry you wake up with that you just can’t shake. However, while its hallmark is that the anxiety is hard to let go of, there are strategies you can use to help get it under control. However, seek help from a therapist or doctor if morning anxiety continues to plague you despite taking the steps above. Whether your symptoms are relatively mild or severe, with proper attention and care (and possibly outside help, as needed), you can free yourself from the torment of morning anxiety.