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 (GAD). 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.
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
- difficulty controlling the worry or nervousness
Causes of 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. The cortisol awakening response 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.
Managing morning anxiety
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:
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
- reducing stress at work and home
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
- 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
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.