Do you wake up feeling anxious or worried that something is amiss? Morning anxiety is a common affliction – triggered by everything from work stress, to a generalised feeling of anxiety over something you can’t quite pinpoint.
If you ever feel out of sorts in the morning, you are not alone. Stress and anxiety are on the rise and according to recent research, a third of young people suffer from anxious thoughts about everything from the climate crisis, to the rising cost of housing and employment instability.
But while modern worries are legitimate, why are the effects of anxiety felt most acutely straight after waking up – and can you overcome morning anxiety? We speak to Nicky Lidbetter, CEO of Anxiety UK, about why we feel anxious at the start of the day and how to address your anxious thoughts and feelings:
Morning anxiety explained
So why do some of us feel anxiety more acutely first thing? ‘The morning is a time where many people will often experience the symptoms of anxiety,’ says Lidbetter. ‘For example, if you regularly wake up feeling nauseous, this could be an indicator that anxiety is affecting your day-to-day functioning.’
According to Lidbetter, one reason may be that we are more alert in the morning. ‘After a restful night’s sleep, we are more refreshed and ready to process information,’ she explains. ‘Having relaxed so well in our sleep, we can therefore unfortunately be caught off guard by the anxious thoughts first thing in the morning and a brain that is refreshed and ready to engage with these thoughts.’
‘Throughout the rest of the day we usually become more tired and hence have less capacity to explore these worries and stressors,’ adds Lidbetter.
Common causes for morning anxiety
There are a number of factors which may trigger morning anxiety, as outlined by Lidbetter:
• Time to think
We’re more likely to focus on our thoughts in bed, which can be both a good and bad thing for people with anxiety.
• What if?
Mornings are also usually a time to think about the day ahead which can generate lots of hypothetical “what if” anxiety about new or difficult situations, which may be due to happen that day.
• Bad dreams
Our dreams can affect our anxiety levels. Some people may wake up feeling as if their nightmares actually happened and will feel the real physical symptoms of an anxious situation that has only happened in their dream.
• Fear response
Many of us wake up to an alarm which may interrupt our rest and jolt us awake, which may also trigger anxiety. This is because our alarms simulate a “fear response” in our bodies which is similar to “an anxious fight or flight response” if it awakens us during particular sleep phases.
How to overcome morning anxiety
Try the following steps to help reduce feelings of anxiety first thing in the morning:
✔️ Give yourself extra time
One of the most effective ways to combat morning anxiety, is to give yourself a little extra time – for example, setting your alarm 10 minutes earlier. This can help you to wake up and avoid the additional stress of having to rush and the potential for worrying about being late.
✔️ Sidestep caffeine
Instead of reaching for the coffee, swapping to camomile tea might help too – as stimulants can often exacerbate anxious symptoms.
✔️ Pause social media
Avoiding social media first thing may also help if you feel yourself constantly needing to check your feeds, as you may find yourself becoming anxious as a result of social media pressures.
✔️ Try mindfulness meditation
Make time to meditate using wellness apps such as Headspace. They can help you to check in with your emotions and thoughts, so you can relax and prepare you for the day ahead.
✔️ Boost endorphins with exercise
Make time for yoga or exercise. Yoga can help to channel your energy and help to switch off your fight or flight stress response. Similarly, exercise first thing in the morning can release endorphins to combat low mood or anxiety.
✔️ Talk about your worries
If you’re really struggling, it is important to address the underlying reasons for your anxiety. Counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy or talking therapy support through your GP might be beneficial.
Last updated: 23-10-19