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How To Nip Early-Morning Anxiety In The Bud

You know the feeling when your alarm goes off and the second you open your eyes you’re inundated with worry or panic? Maybe your brain starts running through your to-do list for the day, you replay that fight with your partner from the night before, or your heart feels fluttery for no apparent reason. It’s truly the pits. 

Fortunately, there are some simple ways you can nip that early-morning anxiety in the bud and set a calmer, more positive tone for the day. Keep scrolling for expert-backed tips and tricks you can use around bedtime and in the A.M. to settle your nerves and start each day off with greater ease and less urgency. 

The Night Before

If you typically feel rushed and stressed from the moment you get out of bed, finding calm in the morning needs to start with taking a few steps the prior evening.

1. Do Some Prep Work

It sounds simple, but anything you can do to streamline your morning and minimize stress or chaos helps keep anxiety at bay, says clinical neuropsychologist Jessica McCarthy Psy.D. Often, this requires a little basic planning in the evening. Whether it’s picking out your clothes, packing lunch, or meal prepping breakfast, knocking out a few tasks you typically squeeze into your morning the night before will free up some A.M. bandwidth and help you feel less rushed.

2. Create A To-Do List 

Writing down your to-do list for the next day can be incredibly helpful by eliminating the need to mentally rehearse or remember information, says McCarthy. For bonus points, organize your to-do list in terms of urgency so you have a clear sense of direction for your day come morning.

Read More: 9 Daily Habits That Mess With Your Focus

If you need a little morning pump-up, consider putting easy tasks like brushing your teeth or making your bed on your list, suggests McCarthy. Why? Crossing them off will be a fast track to feeling accomplished.

3. Try Journaling

Journaling at night can minimize stress, clarify your goals, facilitate self-awareness, and help you express your thoughts and emotions about the upcoming day, McCarthy says. “Giving yourself time to clean your head and write things down before bed can also help bring a sense of calm to your nighttime routine,” she adds. 

How you journal is up to you, but McCarthy suggests experimenting with gratitude and/or dump journaling. Here’s how to approach each:

Gratitude Journaling: Each night before bed, write down three things you’re grateful for from the day—and try not to repeat things from one day to the next, suggests McCarthy. The goal? Focus less on the daily stressors and create an expansive awareness of what you may take for granted.

Dump Journaling: Each night before bed, give yourself a topic and spend 10 minutes writing anything that comes to mind. Some topic examples may include your goals for the next day, things that make you happy or sad, or something you’re looking forward to (like a family event or trip). These dumps can help you clear out emotional junk, create structure for goals, and celebrate the good things happening in life, says McCarthy. 

4. Reevaluate Evening Food And Drink

Going to bed on an empty stomach can lead to nighttime waking, which may leave you feeling extra anxious when it’s actually time to wake up in the morning, according to McCarthy. To support better sleep and a greater sense of balance in the A.M., finish off your day with a high-protein meal, which will help you feel satisfied all night long. Opt for high-protein foods like fish, chicken, tofu, or beans. Or, whip up a shake with your favorite protein powder after dinner.

Another good idea: Skip any alcohol in the evening. Alcohol can keep you awake at night and ultimately increase anxiety the following morning, says McCarthy. 

5. Do A Self-Check-In

Do your best to reflect and understand what might be causing your morning anxiety, says licensed marriage and family therapist and anxiety specialist Rachel Goldberg, M.S., L.M.F.T. Identifying the source can reduce its intensity by making it less abstract and allow you to focus on potential ways to problem-solve the root cause, she explains.

On the flip side, Goldberg also suggests closing the night by highlighting one or two things you’re looking forward to the next day. “It’s easy to ruminate and get stuck thinking about all the tasks you’re not looking forward to that day, so make sure to also acknowledge what might feel positive.” 

6. Take Sleepytime Supplements

If you want to stack the cards in your favor for having a knockout quality sleep, adding a few specific supplements to your evening routine can help your body manage stress and wind down. Here are a few The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Brittany Michels, R.D.N, L.D.N., C.P.T., recommends:

  • Magnesium: Magnesium supports nerve function, blood pressure, blood sugar management, immune support, cardiovascular health, and bone health—and it also calms your muscles and mind, says Michels. Studies have even found that magnesium supplementation can improve sleep time, sleep efficiency, and melatonin production.
  • Melatonin: Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle, and supplementation can help with trouble sleeping, explains Michels. Just note that you should start with a small dose around 0.5 to one gram at least 30 minutes before bed and gradually increase from there (if needed). If you wake up groggy in the morning, you’ve jumped your dose too high.
  • Lemon Balm: Lemon balm is an adaptogen, which means it helps halt the rise of cortisol (the stress hormone)—and elevated cortisol levels negatively impact your sleep, metabolism, hormonal balance, and mood, Michels notes. The herb can also promote calmness, relaxation, and restful sleep.

Upon Waking Up

Now that you’ve set yourself up for a more restful night, you’re in prime position to get your morning moving without the usual stress. These A.M. action items will keep you feeling grounded.

1. Honor Your Alarm

One surefire way to increase morning anxiety is to be up against the clock. An easy way to avoid the morning rush? Avoid the temptation to hit snooze. If you have to, position your alarm on the other side of the room so you’re forced to get out of bed to shut it off.

2. Avoid Checking Your Phone

Diving into notifications and emails first thing in the morning can overwhelm your brain and increase stress, so resist the urge to scroll your phone the second you open your eyes, says Goldberg. Instead, try spending your first 30 to 60 minutes offline so you can ease into a calmer, more stress-free day. Fill that time with stretching, yoga, deep breathing, and/or meditation to settle any nerves.

3. Sweat Away Stress

Research proves that exercise helps alleviate mental anxiety and ease physical tension, which is why both McCarthy and Goldberg recommend incorporating some movement into your mornings.  Whether it’s going for a walk, practicing yoga, or crushing a HIIT class, starting your day with exercise is a great way to feel less stressed out later on.

Read More: ‘How HIIT Classes Rebuilt My Self-Confidence’

4. Drink Water

Before you pour a cup of coffee, Michels says to drink at least eight to 16 ounces of water. Not only can the caffeine from coffee increase morning anxiety and tension due to its influence on stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, but adequate hydration is essential for energy levels, mood, and a well-functioning body. 

5. Take Supplements That Encourage Balance

Just as certain supplements can support sleep and relaxation when taken in the evening, others can promote calmness and ease feelings of anxiety when incorporated into your morning routine, suggests Michels. Three she loves: 

  • L-theanine: L-theanine is an amino acid that helps promote calm and focus, says Michels. It’s also non-drowsy, so if you find yourself stressed and worried in the morning, it can offer support without making you want to nap.
  • Ashwagandha: Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb that helps counteract the negative effects of stress on your hormones, Michels shares. It also supports balance and improves memory and cognitive functioning. 
  • Vitamin D: Vitamin D is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies linked to anxiety, depression, and fatigue—and low levels may skew hormone levels, which can indirectly impact mental health, explains Michels. The ideal source of vitamin D is sunshine, but if you don’t get outside daily, consider supplementing.

Final Reminder

While these tactics can help you feel more balanced in the morning (even when life gets really busy), if you frequently wake up with anxious thoughts and your state of stress begins to interfere with your daily functioning and/or quality of life, it’s worth checking in with a mental health professional, says McCarthy. They can help identify the root cause and provide additional support.

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