Plenty of people wake up in the morning anxiety-free and fully prepared for their day. And then there are the rest of us. It's not uncommon to feel anxious in the morning as you think about all the stressful and scary things that may lie ahead — whether they be meetings, appointments, or the simple act of commuting to work. Facing the stresses of the day is enough to make anyone's blood run cold, and is precisely why having a stress-relieving morning routine can be such a big help.
This is especially true if you struggle with an anxiety disorder. "Morning is a time when many individuals with anxiety disorders can be particularly vulnerable, if they find themselves anticipating something in their day that triggers anxiety," says anxiety, phobia, and OCD specialist Nina F. Rifkind, LCSW, ACS. "For someone with social anxiety, that may be meeting with a boss, or a date; for someone with panic disorder, it might be a long drive on the highway or spending the day in a crowded mall."
But even for people without specific issues, the morning can kind of suck. "It can be a tough time since most of us, the first thing we do when we wake up is check our phones," speaker and business coach Ajit Nawalkha tells Bustle. "The thoughts of what needs to be accomplished that day can feel overwhelming and we begin to start creating to-do lists in our heads." This leads to a panicked, stressful morning and then a panicked stressful day. Since I doubt that's what you want, read on for a few genius ways to lessen your anxiety in the morning.
1. Give Yourself Enough Time To Get Ready
Even though it's tempting to snooze for nine more minutes, make a point of getting out of bed with more than enough time to get ready. "Most people literally start their day in a state of anxiety because they are trying to accomplish too much in a time-frame that won't accommodate getting everything done," says certified counselor David Bennett. "So, either cut down the things that 'need' done before work, or else give yourself more time." The simplest way to do this is by learning how to wake up earlier.
2. Create A Go-To Centering Activity
Once you're up, take a few minutes to center yourself with a relaxing activity. "This can be a few minutes of prayer, meditation, drawing or coloring, or even quietly enjoying your coffee while looking out a window at nature," Bennett says. "Whatever you choose, find something you can mindfully focus on that has a relaxing effect on your body." This will slow you down, calm your mind, and help you start the day on a less-anxious note.
3. Check Your (Already Prepared) To-Do List
Every night before bed, create a to-do list so you'll know exactly what needs to happen the next morning. "Having a list ... always starts a morning off with a clear plan," life coach Heather Monahan tells Bustle. "Then you are tasked with crossing things off the list as you achieve them, which gives you a sense of accomplishment." This habit will hopefully set you in motion for the rest of the day, all while keeping your anxiety in check.
4. Write In A Gratitude Journal
If you've yet to try this whole gratitude thing, now may be the time. "Keeping a gratitude journal everyday helps to shift perspective from negative to positive in an instant," Monahan says. If you're stressed about a big project at work, or a chore you really don't want to do, focusing on all the ways your life is going well — even if it's only for five minutes — may be just what you need.
5. Take A Few Minutes To Sit Quietly
I know... when you're trying to get ready for work, the last thing you want to do is sit down and do nothing for a few minutes. And yet you totally should. "It's all about quieting the mind and challenging your energy," says Nawalkha. "With a morning routine, you will actually increase productivity and feel energized."
6. Spend Some Time Focusing On Your Breath
Whether it's while you're sitting quietly, or whilst you make coffee, make a point of calming yourself down by focusing on your breath. "Taking just a few deep belly breaths calms the sympathetic nervous system and lowers the heart rate allowing you to think more clearly," says mindfulness practitioner Karen Whitehead, MS, LMSW, DCC, CCFP. You can also do this during your commute, as well as throughout the day at work.
7. Wake Yourself Up Without Coffee
Coffee is pretty much everyone's go-to morning beverage. But if you have anxiety, all that caffeine might make your nervousness even worse. So look for something a bit more calming. "Rather than a cup of coffee or caffeinated beverage, go for a short walk to wake up," Whitehead suggests. It'll get your blood pumping, without all extra shakiness.
8. Review Your Plan For The Day
If you feel like you're plunging headlong into the day, it can make you feel out of control — and thus more anxious. So do yourself a favor and make a plan for the day the night before, then review it. "Reviewing your upcoming day the evening before can allow you to feel more in control as you start your day, lessening feelings of anxiety," Whitehead says.
9. Switch Up What You're Telling Yourself
If your morning mantra is just a bunch of negativity on repeat, make an effort to switch things up. For example, instead of thinking "Today is going to be stressful and scary," start thinking, "Great things are coming my way." As life coach Roger Ziegler says, "Listen to what you are telling yourself, and if you don't like the message, change it to what you want it to be. And keep changing it, until it sticks.
10. Write It All Down
When your mind starts reeling in the a.m., take some time to put those worries down on paper. "Journaling is a great way to get our racing thoughts out of our heads and onto paper," says psychotherapist Brooke Novick, MFT. "Often times when we write everything down, it doesn't seem as overwhelming as it did in our minds."
11. Let It All Out With Exercise
If your anxiety is feeling out of control, the best thing to do is release it with some aerobic exercise. As life transition coach Robert Barner, PhD tells me, there is extensive research on the health benefits of exercise on stress and brain function. You can go for a walk, or try doing some cardio for 30 minutes. It'll make all the difference in the world.
12. Don't Look At Your Phone
Even though it's tempting to wake up and grab your phone, practice a little self-care first. "I aim to complete my hydration, nourishment, meditation, exercise, and setting my intentions before I connect with social media," says meditation teacher Kathleen Lisson. "Taking this time (less than an hour) to do things for myself instead of for others sets the right tone for my day." Sounds worth it, right?
13. Do The Same Thing Every Single Day
Once you find a morning routine that seems to lessen your anxiety, stick with it. "Routine is critical," Rifkind says. "Incorporating structure into your mornings keeps you focused on each task. It helps you feel that, no matter what your day brings, you have stability and consistency in your life that you'll always come back to."
It may be difficult at first, but stick with it. There's nothing quite like a relaxing morning routine to truly keep anxiety in check.
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