Breaking The Habit Of Morning Anxiety

By: Lisa Philippart

In my last article, we discussed the problem of morning anxiety, concluding that it is a habit. And although this means it will take some time, effort, and patience, this habit can be broken. Let’s look at some effective ways to stop waking up with anxiety. Please don’t feel like you need to start doing all of them right away.

The first tip I give you is actually the one I’d recommend that you try first. In many cases doing that one thing alone is enough to break this habit. Stop sleeping in. If you want to get out of this habit, you need to break the pattern of immediately worrying and then feeling anxious when you wake up. The simplest way to do this is to just get right out of bed in the morning. No “snoozing,” no trying to fall back asleep, no breathing exercises in bed to calm yourself down. Just get up and get on with your day. When you get out of bed immediately, you don’t give your brain the chance to worry because you are preoccupied with other things…taking a shower, getting breakfast, going for a walk, etc. Do this repeatedly and your brain will start to unlearn this nasty lesson of waking up to worry. Easier said than done of course. But set yourself a challenge of not sleeping in for 7 days in a row and see what happens.

One of the most subtle but powerful reasons morning anxiety sticks around is because we mistakenly interpret physical aches and pains as signs of anxiety, which then leads to more anxiety. It’s an easy mistake to make because anxiety often causes physical symptoms like muscle tension, upset stomach, headaches, etc. But there are all sorts of reasons you might wake up with physical discomfort…bad sleep posture, a poor mattress, or sleep apnea. It is also important to validate your anxiety. What causes anxiety to stick around is that we worry about anxiety. When you do this, it teaches your brain that anxiety is dangerous. This creates a vicious cycle of anxiety leading to worry leading to more anxiety and more worry. Instead, acknowledge it plainly and remind yourself that just because it feels bad doesn’t mean it is bad. Say to yourself: “Well, I’m waking up anxious again. It’s not really surprising since it’s a habit. And even though I don’t like feeling this way, I know it’s not dangerous to feel anxious. The best thing I can do right now is get out of bed and take a shower. I know that I usually start feeling better once I get on with my day.”

Getting out of bed right away is tough! I know. But I’ve found that people who regularly get out of bed right away have one thing in common — an enjoyable morning routine. Maybe you could set your alarm ten minutes earlier so you have time to make a nice cup of coffee. Or maybe you save your favorite podcast for your morning commute. Whatever you choose, remember that when you have something enjoyable to look forward to, you’ll be more likely to get up for it by getting right out of bed and breaking the anxiety cycle. Other suggestions I have for you include getting moving early by exercising, minimizing daily stressors, making a to-do list the day before, scheduling a worry time on purpose, and improving your sleeping environment.

I’ve saved the toughest suggestion for last: Sometimes the biggest cause of morning anxiety is working in a career you dislike. This one’s tough because a career is obviously not something most of us can change quickly. Many of us have other people dependent on our work and career, so switching to something that’s more meaningful can seem like it’s not an option. And honestly maybe it’s not. However, I think you owe it to yourself to at least consider this point strongly if you’ve tried all the other suggestions here without much success. Why wouldn’t you be waking up with anxiety each morning if you had to do spend all day doing work you despised? To test this, check to see if your morning anxiety is noticeably worse on mornings you have to go to work. You may need to seriously explore the possibility of changing careers, or at least seeing if you can change jobs, companies, or departments. All you need to know: Morning anxiety is a habit. And habits can be broken.

By: Lisa Philippart

Licensed Professional Counselor