Key Takeaways

  • Morning anxiety is when people wake up with feelings of uneasiness, worry, or dread on most or all mornings. 
  • High cortisol levels, low blood sugar, and underlying mental health conditions are several reasons why people experience anxiety in the morning. 
  • Morning anxiety can be managed with quality sleep, a peaceful morning routine, and professional support.

Most of us know what it feels like to wake up with a knot in our stomach. It’s usually over something we’re dreading, like a job interview or a big presentation. For some people, though, this feeling of dread is a regular occurrence, regardless of whether or not something stressful is happening. 

Morning anxiety is an overall feeling of worry or nervousness when a person wakes up in the morning. Although morning anxiety is not a clinical diagnosis, its symptoms can be extremely disruptive without the proper coping techniques. 

What does morning anxiety feel like?

If anxiety interferes with your ability to get up in the morning, then you may be experiencing morning anxiety. Morning anxiety is usually most noticeable during the first hour of being awake. Signs of morning anxiety include:

  • Irritability
  • Fatigue 
  • Restlessness
  • Racing thoughts 
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing
  • Difficulty managing worry
  • Anxiety attack symptoms, like muscle tenseness, rapid breathing, and chest tightness

What causes morning anxiety?

One of the leading reasons for morning anxiety is that our bodies have higher amounts of cortisol in the morning. Known as the stress hormone, cortisol levels are highest in the first 30 to 60 minutes after waking up.

Other potential causes of morning anxiety include:

  • Low blood sugar: Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) can trigger a response that feels like anxiety. Low blood sugar can cause rapid heartbeat, dizziness, shaking, and sweating.
  • Stressful life events: Thinking about financial concerns, relationship problems, medical issues, and other stressful life events can lead to anxiety in the morning.
  • Poor sleep quality: Not getting enough sleep or quality sleep can have a negative impact on your mood and ability to tolerate stress.
  • Underlying mental health conditions: Although anyone can experience anxiety in the morning, frequent morning anxiety may be a sign of a mental health condition.

Five expert tips to cope with morning anxiety 

1. Create a peaceful morning routine

Having a calm and predictable morning routine can help reduce morning anxiety. Waking up at the same time each day provides you with enough time to ease into the day without feeling stressed or rushed. Set your alarm so there’s time to begin the day with breakfast and an activity that makes you feel calm and in control.

One idea is to practice mindfulness techniques like deep breathing exercises, meditation, or journaling. Another helpful tool is to set specific and realistic goals that you’d like to achieve that day. And remember, each morning is a new chance to show yourself compassion and kindness. Try greeting the day with positive affirmations, like “I am worthy of happiness and joy” or “I am strong and capable.” 

2. Sleep hygiene and relaxation

A healthy morning routine actually begins the night before by creating a sleep environment that’s conducive to a good night’s rest. Practicing healthy sleep habits can improve your sleep quality, boost your overall mood, and help you wake up feeling rested and ready for the day. 

To start, it’s important to create a consistent sleep schedule. Try going to bed at the same time each night so that you can get 7-9 hours

Here are a few other ideas for creating a consistent and comfortable sleep routine: 

  • Limit screen time before bed
  • Avoid eating or drinking too much after 8 p.m.
  • Create a cool, dark sleep environment to signal to your brain that it’s time to produce melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep cycles (the optimal temperature for quality sleep is 60 to 67 degrees)
  • Limit noises (ear plugs and white noise machines can help) 

3. Balanced nutrition and hydration

We know having a healthy, well-balanced diet is important for optimal health, but research suggests that healthy eating patterns may also help reduce anxiety symptoms. So what does this mean for your grocery list? 

Consider eating more foods that help reduce or manage anxiety, like:

  • Foods rich in omega-3, including salmon, mackerel, and walnuts 
  • Leafy greens, including kale, spinach, and swiss chard
  • Complex carbohydrates, including whole grains (brown rice, farro, and quinoa) and legumes (lentils, black beans, and chickpeas)

A healthy diet also means limiting certain food groups, like sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and processed foods. And last, but not least, stay hydrated. Drinking water can improve mood and may reduce the risk of anxiety, so it’s important to get your recommended intake: 15.5 cups for men and 11.5 cups for women (and keep in mind that you get about 20% of the water you need from food.)

4. Physical activity

Another self-care practice that has been proven to help reduce anxiety symptoms is physical activity. We often associate exercise with physical benefits, but regular exercise can also increase relaxation, mood, and quality of sleep.

The most recent federal guidelines suggest at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, or approximately 30 minutes of exercise, five days per week. Here are a few suggestions from the American Association of Anxiety and Depression to help you incorporate exercise into your routine:

  • Exercise with a friend to help you stay committed 
  • Choose activities that are a good fit for your personality and preferences. For example, some people prefer a lively group Zumba class, while others opt for solo pursuits like yoga or cycling
  • Listen to music, audiobooks, or a podcast to keep your mind entertained while exercising
  • Be patient with yourself, especially if exercise is new for you 

5. Seek out expert help

If you’re waking up with anxiety most mornings, then you might want to consider speaking with a mental health professional. Morning anxiety can be a sign of an anxiety disorder or another mental health condition that would benefit from treatment, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), lifestyle changes, or medication. 

Wake up happier with Rula

Morning anxiety begins as soon as you wake up and can make it difficult to focus on the day ahead. If this struggle sounds familiar, Rula can help you find the anxiety therapy option you need. 

Rula can help you find a therapist who has availability, accepts your insurance, and specializes in the type of treatment you’re looking for. Rula’s diverse network includes more than 5,000 licensed therapists who are experienced in treating anxiety, depression, and other clinical specialties. Plus, Rula’s platform is designed to make it easy to attend sessions virtually from the comfort of your home.

Find anxiety therapists near you

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