Do you ever experience racing thoughts or anxiety in the morning before you even have a chance to hit snooze on your alarm? If you do, you’re not alone.
While some anxiety is considered a normal part of life, excessive worrying about daily tasks or situations that others see as nonthreatening may indicate an anxiety disorder.
What is morning anxiety?
Although not a medical term, morning anxiety refers to waking up with feelings of stress and worry. If you are dealing with excessive anxiety, worry, and stress in the morning, there’s a good chance you may also have generalized anxiety.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by excessive and uncontrolled worry that pervades daily life and occurs frequently for at least six months. People with GAD typically worry about everyday actives such as work, money, family, and health.
What are the symptoms of morning anxiety?
The symptoms of morning anxiety often mimic those of generalized anxiety disorder. If you are struggling with anxiety upon waking, you may be experiencing:
- feeling restless, “on-edge,” or “wound up”
- signs of a panic attack, such as tight chest, tense muscles, higher than normal heart rate, or difficulty breathing
- difficulty concentrating and finding your mind goes blank
- difficulty controlling the worry or nervousness
What causes morning anxiety?
Morning anxiety can be caused by many factors that may also contribute to an anxiety disorder. Since morning anxiety is a reaction to excess stress and worries, there are several potential causes that may contribute to your symptoms.
The “stress hormone” cortisol is released by the adrenal glands in response to fear or stress. Researchers have studied the cortisol awakening response (CAR) and have found that cortisol is highest in the first hour of waking for people with an increased level of stress in their lives. This helps explain why you may experience an increase in anxiety in the morning.
What you eat and drink first thing in the morning can also contribute to higher levels of anxiety in the early hours of the day. Caffeine and sugar can increase anxiety symptoms. But low blood sugar due to a lack of food can make anxiety symptoms worse.
If you go to bed worrying or wake up during the night with anxious thoughts, you are likely to feel anxious and concerned about your day in the morning.
How is morning anxiety treated?
Living with an anxiety disorder can feel like a never-ending cycle of worry. But it doesn’t have to take over your life. With the right treatment, you can learn ways to cope with your symptoms. Some of the more common ways to treat morning anxiety include:
Otherwise known as “talk therapy,” psychotherapy can help you understand how anxiety affects your life. Your therapist will also work with you to develop strategies that decrease the severity of your symptoms. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) looks at the important role of thinking in how we feel and what we do. CBT teaches you new ways of thinking, acting, and reacting to situations that cause anxiety.
Medications such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs can help relieve the symptoms associated with anxiety.
Many lifestyle changes can help you manage morning anxiety, including:
- getting enough sleep
- limiting alcohol and caffeine (both can trigger anxiety and panic attacks)
- eating a healthy diet that limits processed food and sugar
- reducing stress at work and home
What are some self-care strategies for treating morning anxiety?
There are also self-care strategies you can use right when you wake up feeling anxious. This includes:
Exercise is one of the best things you can do for yourself in the morning, especially if you are dealing with an excessive amount of worry when you wake up. Any physical activity, such as taking a walk, can:
- lift your mood
- reduce anxiety symptoms
- improve your body’s ability to handle stress
- help you relax
Aim to exercise at least five days per week for 30–45 minutes each session.
Practicing mindfulness and meditation
The goal of meditation practice is to be aware, and to observe and notice thoughts, feelings, and body states without reacting to them or believing them to be true.
While it may take practice to get into a mindful state when you wake up in the morning, it can help to reduce anxiety symptoms.
Deep breathing exercises
Deep breathing done first thing in the morning can help take the focus off of your negative and anxious thoughts and turn your focus and energy toward your body.
Challenging negative thoughts
If you wake up with negative thoughts about your day (often called “awfulizing”) challenge them and focus on what you can control. You can keep a journal by your bed and write down what you are grateful for. It’s also a good idea to list at least three things you are looking forward to.
Don’t fight it, just limit it.
If you’re new to these techniques and you’re finding that managing morning anxiety is a lot harder than you thought, try setting a worry timer. Give yourself a time limit of 10 minutes to experience those feelings. When the timer goes off, move on to your self-care strategies. Though you can’t expect to simply “turn off” your anxiety, this approach allows you to acknowledge your worry and gives you a concrete point at which to move on to self-care.
Even though the symptoms of morning anxiety can feel overwhelming and permanent, they are highly treatable. When you combine professional treatment along with the self-care strategies listed above, you can experience relief from the racing thoughts and worry that invade your mind.