How To Use Your Morning Routine To Reduce Anxiety

by Sebastian Zulch

If you're somebody who suffers with an anxiety disorder, you know how difficult it can sometimes be to start the day. As someone who suffers from many worry-filled days, setting the right tone for the day in the form of a morning routine for anxiety is hugely helpful. Catching the anxious thought patterns as early as possible (aka as soon as you wake in the morning) is both effective for stopping any morning anxiety you may have, as well as taking preventative measures for episodes of anxiety you may have later. According to Calm Clinic, changing your morning routine to something targeted at stress reduction can significantly decrease your chances of feeling anxious in the morning, as well as throughout the day.

Clinical psychologist Jodi Lobozzo Aman explained the importance of routine for anxiety sufferers in her article for Healthy Place, "[Having a routine] helps steady your mind, but also give confidence to your emotions. In other words you feel in control."

A self-care routine can be a difficult thing to implement regularly. And especially when you're crippled by anxiety or sadness, it's hard to execute any routine. But if you can set a specific routine that you are most comfortable with you and that you find the most effective, you have a step-by-step game plan to refer to when your limbs just feel like noodles and your brain is running in a million circles.

Here are some steps to my own morning routine that have been helpful to me in decreasing the likelihood of getting and/or staying anxious. It's difficult for me to always follow each (or sometimes any) of these steps, and it's OK if it's difficult for you at first too. Try these out, and feel free to add whatever calming activities make you feel most centered and relaxed in the morning.

1. Drink a Cup Of Tea

Simple, I know. Many of us begin our day with a cup of hot tea or coffee already, paired with our on-the-go breakfast or the latest blog post from Bustle. But it can be especially relaxing if you create time just meant for sitting and enjoying the warmth of slowly sipping tea first thing in the morning. The warmth of the liquid as well as the cup in my hands always calms me and helps me gather my thoughts before the day begins.

Try out a calming herbal tea like chamomile or rose, or check out this awesome anti-stress powder to add to hot water. My favorite thing ever.

2. Recite Positive Affirmations

If you're building yourself up for a day of feeling awesome, or you're trying to stave away current anxieties and insecurities, keeping a list of positive affirmations that work for you handy. This could be in the form of coping statements, directed specifically at your anxiety experience. Dr. Thomas A. Richards gave an example of one of these in his article for The Anxiety Network, "Anxiety is not dangerous — it’s just uncomfortable. I am fine; I’ll just continue with what I’m doing or find something more active to do."

I find that a lot of my anxiety stems from feeling insecure about myself. Using positive affirmations for building self-esteem can also be a really nice thing to do first thing in the morning. Another source of anxiety for me is the feeling of instability from moving from place to place often, and not feeling grounded or "at home" in any particular place. My energy healer and clarity coach, Vicki Lewis, guided me in creating powerful statements for myself that speak to my specific insecurities when I'm feeling anxious or down on myself. When I feel nervous about going to a new place or unstable about where I belong, I say, "I am the home of me." It's very comforting, and meaningful enough to be able to powerfully shift my mood almost immediately.

3. Make A Relaxing and Uplifting Playlist

Who doesn't like starting the day with a little music? Sing along to your favorite song as you get ready, and even dance out the negative energy. If you're seeking something calmer, make a playlist of soothing sounds and music to play in the morning. Nurse practitioner and assistant professor Cathy Benninger said in a WebMD article about relaxation techniques, "Create a playlist of songs or nature sounds (the ocean, a bubbling brook, birds chirping), and allow your mind to focus on the different melodies, instruments, or singers in the piece.”

I find it particularly helpful to choose relaxing music I can chant, sing, or meditate along to. I love listening to Snatam Kaur in the mornings, especially "Long Time Sun" and "Ra Ma Dasa" to begin my day with optimism and love. Singing along to this music while in a meditative posture is relaxing enough to give you goosebumps. Check her out, her sing along to whatever songs make you feel particularly relaxed and ready for the day ahead.

4. Relax Your Body With Breath and Meditation

Beginning the day in meditation is perfect for stopping anxiety in its tracks, before you're too anxious to sit quietly and feel the benefits of meditation. If you deal with anxiety, it's important to focus on your breath. Practice deep breathing exercises. According to Psych Central and clinical psychologist Dr. Marla W. Deibler, "Deep diaphragmatic breathing is a powerful anxiety-reducing technique because it activates the body's relaxation response. It helps the body go from the fight-or-flight response of the sympathetic nervous system to the relaxed response of the parasympathetic nervous system."

If you enjoy meditating, try to make a habit of meditating as soon as you wake up in the morning to prepare for you the day ahead. If you don't have much experience with meditation, check out guided meditation podcasts. My favorite one is by psychologist and Buddhist teacher Tara Brach. She talks you through mental transformation as you lay quietly and breathe deeply. She has talks targeting specific issues, like overcoming fear and healing from trauma.

5. Keep A Journal By Your Bed

According to Dr. Barbara Markway, keeping a thought diary can be an effective way to manage your anxiety. Divide a notebook page in columns, by the following headings: situation, thoughts, and "How Anxious Do I Feel" For the latter, Dr. Markway recommends using numbers in the third column "to represent how you feel (using a 1-10 scale)" or write a few words as a description.

Writing can be so healing for people. And it's definitely hard for me to speak up about my anxious thoughts to my partner sometimes without crying or over reacting. So this is one of my favorite ways to begin the day, writing out my anxious feelings I often have in the morning from stressful dreams. I also find it helpful and particularly engraining to write out my positive affirmations on mornings when I need a greater pick-me-up.

6. Play With Your Pet

Playing with your pet first thing in the morning can be just the thing to kickstart your mornings. Looking after a pet can be so relaxing and enjoyable, no matter what kind of animal you have. So take your dog for a morning walk, or take your small and furry friend out of its cage for a cuddle. According to Help Guide, playing with your pet can raise your serotonin and dopamine levels, leading pet owners (especially dog owners) to be less prone to anxiety and depression.

On days when I feel too anxious to get out of bed, I find my pet rat Bean being quite helpful to me in my own self care. Since I have to get out of bed in the morning to feed him and fill his water bottle, his very existence forces me out of bed and into a routine that is helpful for both him and myself.

7. Get Moving

Starting the day with an endorphin rush via walking, biking, doing yoga, or whatever exercise you prefer is a great way to combat anxiety. When you're feeling a bit disoriented from your cluttered headspace, getting your body moving is a great distraction as well as the perfect jumpstart to a slow moving day. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, "physically active people have lower rates of anxiety and depression than sedentary people," and exercise can help the brain cope with stress better.

The exercise doesn't have to be vigorous or even long. According to the ADAA, a 10-minute workout is just as effective as a 45-minute workout when concerning mental health because "a brisk walk or other simple activity can deliver several hours of relief, similar to taking an aspirin for a headache." So get moving, and in any way that feels comfortable to you.

8. Get A Change of Scenery

It's easy to feel trapped in your house or bedroom when you're feeling anxious, but the answer is certainly not to avoid social interaction or going outside. Shake your worries, and grab some coffee or food with a friend. I find when my days begin full of anxiety, the longer I put off leaving my room, the worse I feel. It may feel overwhelming, but getting out in the fresh air and having a few minor social interactions can be great for distracting you from your anxious tendencies.

Avoiding the day's responsibilities and routines can further damage your mental state. According to founder of the OCD Center of Los Angeles Tom COrboy, MFT, it's helpful to focus your attention on "meaningful, goal-directed activity" when you're feeling anxious. "The worst thing you can do when anxious," he said in a Psych Central article, "is to passively sit around obsessing about how you feel."

9. Have Your Day Planned Out Beforehand

Write a short and realistic schedule the night before, outlining the next day's activities. Yes, this may seem obsessive and weird, but I promise it's not! Irregularity and uncertainty can weigh heavily on an anxious person's nervous system, so creating a daily routine can help soothe worry. According to an article by Anxiety Unravelled, "Having a basic structure to your day reduces the need to make decisions about what to do next and helps to anchor that restless, flighty nervous energy."

Your morning can set the tone for your whole day, so it's worth the extra effort to start from a positive place.

Images: Pexels