Anxiety looks a little bit different for everyone who experiences it, but one common way it can show up is first thing in the morning. Before you’ve gotten into the swing of the day, to-dos and pressures of all kinds can loom larger than usual, and morning anxiety can make it hard get your day off on the right foot.
Some common symptoms of morning anxiety include:
- Immediate worry upon waking up
- Waking up early unintentionally and/or having a hard time falling back asleep
- Waking up with physical sensations like a quick heartbeat, dry mouth, or stomachache
No matter what your experience with morning anxiety is, building positive experiences into your morning habits can be a great way to make starting your day easier and more enjoyable.
Cassidy Litvack, a licensed mental health counselor in New York City, notes that “when we have a routine, we create order and with that comes a level of personal accountability. It also limits the amount of idle time where ruminating thoughts tend to creep in. Having a routine and sticking to it can create a sense of accomplishment and mastery, which can replace, even if temporarily, feelings of worry.”
So while the specifics of your morning routine are up to you, sticking to even just one or two small activities on a daily basis can make a big difference when it comes to morning anxiety.
Below are a few options you might try out to build your own morning routine. But remember, any activity that makes you feel calm and happy can be helpful – the trick is to commit to the practices that work for you and prioritize starting your day out on a positive note.
1. Mindfully care for your home
One especially simple way to quell morning anxiety is to focus on the physical environment around you. Caring for your home isn’t just a way to check items off your to-do list; it can also be a form of mindfulness practice to help you feel centered, focused, and calm first thing in the morning.
Try approaching activities like these from a mindful perspective:
- Watering plants: Caring for another living thing first thing in the morning is a great way to get out of your own head and feel more connected to the world around you.
- Making the bed: You might think of this as a gesture of kindness toward yourself – you’re already setting yourself up for relaxation at the end of the day.
- Cleaning: Even if you’re just putting away dishes or wiping down counters, try to focus on the small actions involved and look for ways that your home and possessions make you particularly grateful or joyful.
- Food prep: Making coffee or tea, putting together your lunch for work, or even roasting vegetables to use later can all be ways to make your morning more mindful. Instead of focusing on finishing the task, do your best to focus on the sensory experiences along the way—really noticing the sight, smell, and touch of your food can help you feel calm and even make the food taste better.
“The practice of mindfulness reminds us to do one thing at a time—as opposed to multitasking (e.g., cleaning our room while watching TV),” says Cassidy. “When we are mindful about a task, it minimizes potential overwhelm and allows us to really engage with something. This can minimize anxiety levels for many.”
2. Try breathing exercises
You’ve likely heard this advice before, but studies show that it really does work: even a short breathing exercise can do wonders for reducing morning anxiety.
You might try square breathing, simple abdominal breathing, or alternate nostril breathing. These exercises are generally easy for beginners to pick up, and practicing them for as little as one minute can still have positive effects.
Meditation or yoga can be helpful, too. Even if you’ve never tried them before, experiment with simple beginner practices and see what works best for you.
3. Get outside and move your body
Exercising first thing in the morning might sound intimidating, but remember that you don’t need to hit the gym or run a mile in order to get the benefits of going outside and moving your body.
As Cassidy explains, exercise "allows us an opportunity to step away from our thoughts, which can often be overwhelming. It's also a way many people access their 'flow' – and in that state, we are less likely to feel anxious. Additionally, exercise is a way to combat common vulnerability factors for anxiety, such as being tired or not taking care of our bodies and mind."
If exercise doesn't immediately appeal to you, not to worry! You can also try out these other ways to get a little fresh air and activity in:
- Take a quick walk around the block
- Drink your morning coffee in an outdoor space
- Care for plants that you keep outdoors
- Take your dog for a walk (or offer to walk a neighbor’s dog – they might be happy for the help!)
- Stop by the park on your way to work
Not only will you get some morning endorphins from any physical activity, but you’ll also get the benefits of being closer to nature. Research has shown that exposure to nature, even in short bursts, has a powerful effect on mental health and can help reduce anxiety.
4. Read a book
Reading a book can be a great way to help you get out of your own head in the morning. And what’s more, distracting yourself with a physical book instead of your phone or computer can help you avoid checking social media or email right away, which is a common source of morning anxiety.
Don’t worry too much about what you read – anything you enjoy and find engaging will work. And even if you read a lot in general, choosing a book to read only in the morning can help you look forward to this practice and build a sense of a routine.
If you have a morning coffee or tea routine, you can enjoy reading your book as you sip your beverage. If you’re a commuter, you might also enjoy choosing an audiobook to listen to while you’re on the subway or in the car.
5. Express yourself in writing
Even if you don’t consider yourself a writer, doing a bit of written self-expression first thing in the morning can help you feel calmer and more centered.
The key here is to use an actual pen and paper. Whether you use scratch paper from the office or fancy stationary that you buy for this purpose, the tactile experience of writing by hand can set this practice apart from any other writing you might do and give you a way to feel grounded in the moment.
If you’re not sure what to write, try out some of the following ideas:
- Freewriting: Don’t worry about structuring your ideas or even making sense – just keep the pen moving and let your thoughts come.
- Creative projects: Always wanted to write a novel? Now’s your chance! And remember, no one ever has to see what you work on – this time is for you.
- Letters to loved ones: Find a new way to connect with faraway friends and family by sending them letters in the mail.
- Gratitude journals: Even a short list of things you appreciate about the world (pancakes! flannel!) can be a powerful calming exercise.
6. Get grooving with a morning playlist
Don’t hesitate to turn on your favorite music first thing in the morning—no matter what you’re into, turning on music that makes you happy is a surefire way to decrease morning anxiety. Research indicates that many different kinds of music can lower stress levels, improve mood, and even bolster physical health.
You can build your own morning playlist, or you can also try out one of Spotify’s readymade morning options. With different styles like “Jazzy Morning” and “Cozy Acoustic Morning,” you’re bound to find something that suits your taste and gets you excited for the day.
7. Rely on a buddy
You can do just about any morning routine alone, but having a buddy can give you a way to stay accountable and stick with your routine more effectively. Plus, connecting with someone else before diving into the day can also help you feel calmer and more secure.
Consider some of the following buddy systems:
- Making breakfast with a roommate
- Meeting a friend for yoga, coffee, or even just a walk before work
- Doing a crossword puzzle or reading the news with a partner
- Calling or texting a check-in to a long-distance loved one
- Playing with a pet
8. Consider therapy for anxiety
If you find that morning anxiety is consistently interfering with your life, you might also consider getting support in therapy.
A therapist can help you identify the causes of your morning anxiety (Could it be work stress? Or a sleep issue?), practice concrete strategies for reducing your symptoms, and develop detailed routines for making your mornings more positive.
“Sometimes just naming worries and fears, which is what a therapist can help with, can bring tremendous relief,” Cassidy says. “Often, what’s contributing to morning anxiety may be out of one’s direct awareness, so having a safe, non-judgmental space to be curious about anxiousness and worry is so valuable.”
In particular, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness therapy can be helpful for morning anxiety, but depending on your symptoms and circumstances, other forms of therapy may work for you as well.