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What to do when anxiety is your wake-up call

By The Health News Team | April 18, 2024
Woman lying awake in bed

Whether it’s an alarm, rooster, partner or small child that wakes you in the morning, you probably don’t want to start your day with a surge of anxiety. Unfortunately, that’s the case for many people.

Morning anxiety is common. If you wake with heart palpitations, racing thoughts, headache, stomachache, feelings of dread, fatigue and tightness in your chest, you may be among the nearly 68 million people in the U.S. who reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety in February 2024.

Research has found there are a few reasons why this might be: Your supply of cortisol, known as the “stress hormone,” is often highest in the morning. What’s more, blood sugar levels are low, since it may have been eight or more hours since your last meal or snack. And the concerns from the prior day or night may still be bothering you if they were not resolved before your head hit your pillow.

“While anxiety can affect us at any time of the day, many people find they often wake up feeling anxious, or even what some would call simply ‘off,’” says Shanette Smith, a licensed marriage and family therapist with Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital. “Causes for this anxiety can range from unresolved worries or fears prior to going to bed, restless night of sleep, or a life situation currently causing stress. But whatever the reason, there are coping skills that can help.”

Smith recommends the following 5 tips to relieve morning anxiety:


Take care of yourself.

Eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, stay hydrated, reduce stress and practice good sleep hygiene with a goal of getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Your physical health can affect your mental health, and vice versa — when one is robust, the other tends to follow suit.


Limit or avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and other substances.

The side effects of caffeine and nicotine can mirror those of anxiety, so a combination of two or more can feel terrible. Additionally, alcohol and other substances negatively affect the brain and body in a variety of ways, causing feelings of both depression and anxiety.


Keep a gratitude journal and a worry journal.

Taking a moment an hour or so before bed to jot down the things concerning you allows you to get the worries — or even a basic to-do list — “out of your head” and onto paper so you can process them before you go to sleep or set them aside to handle later the next day. Doing the same with the things you’re thankful for allows you to focus on the good in your life and head to bed with positive thoughts circulating.


Start your day with mindfulness.

A deep-breathing exercise, meditation or positive affirmations can allow you to clear your mind of concerns and ease your way into the day. Take a moment to focus on your breathing and notice the sensations of your breath entering and leaving your body. Mentally walk through your senses and note things in your bedroom you can see, hear, smell and touch. Or slowly approach your morning activities, trying to stay present in each — from your first steps of the day to brushing your teeth, showering, dressing and making your breakfast.


Avoid your smartphone and other digital devices in the hour after you wake.

Social media, news and work correspondence can rev up your anxiety. Give yourself some time to wake, clear your mind, move your body and eat a nutritious breakfast before kicking off your daily screen time.

“If you find that these tips aren’t relieving your anxiety or you’re feeling anxiety on a regular basis — whether that’s in the morning or throughout the day — talk with your doctor,” Smith says. “Together, you can determine if the care of a mental health practitioner is an appropriate next step.”

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