How to Prevent Morning Anxiety From Totally Ruining Your Day
Anxiety has a very unwelcome way of popping up when you least expect it. It could happen at a party, just when you were starting to have a good time. Or in the middle of the night, making it that much harder to get a blissful eight hours of sleep. And, for some, anxiety has a habit of rearing its ugly head in the early morning-just to make sure your day starts off on a really stellar note. Why does morning anxiety happen? How do you get rid of it? Gail Saltz, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine gives all the need-to-know facts.
You have higher amounts of stress hormones in the morning
"There's actually a physiological reason why some people experience anxiety in the mornings," Dr. Saltz says. "For one, it's when cortisol levels are naturally at their highest." She explains that cortisol is often called "the stress hormone" because high levels of it can lead to feeling stressed. "There's nothing you can do from stopping cortisol from raising slightly in the morning-that's biologically what happens-but there are steps you can take to lower your cortisol over all so that it doesn't peak as high," Dr. Saltz says. (Don't worry, we'll get to it!)
Coffee can lead to feeling anxious
What you eat or drink in the morning can also lead to increased feelings of anxiety, according to Dr. Saltz. "The first thing many people do in the morning is drink a cup of coffee. Caffeine, particularly for people who already have anxiety, can definitely worsen the symptoms of that." She explains that caffeine can lead to feeling jittery and having an increased heart rate. "Then our brain tries to come up with a reason to explain why we feel that way: I'm feeling jittery. I must be worried about X." Dr. Saltz says this happens so quickly that it can feel like we have the thought first and then the physiological reaction, but it's actually the other way around.
Sugar is another culprit
What are you normally eating for breakfast? If you're going for something that has lots of simple sugars or carbs (like a smoothie bowl or toast), the quick energy spike could ultimately affect your morning anxiety. "Right after you have an insulin burst, blood sugar levels drop and that can make your anxiety feel worse," Dr. Saltz says, adding that this can lead to feeling fatigued or on edge for seemingly no reason. Your blood sugar is also at a natural low point in the morning(since, you know, you haven't eaten since the night before), which can contribute to feeling anxious.
Morning anxiety could also be a sign of having general anxiety disorder
If you experience morning anxiety several times a week, Dr. Saltz says you likely have generalized anxiety disorder, which she says is extremely common. (This means that you are consistently experiencing symptoms of anxiety over at least a six-month period.) If this is the case, the key will be finding ways to quell your anxiety as a whole. If you suspect that you have generalized anxiety disorder, the next best step is to seek help from a mental health professional, who will help you develop a treatment plan that's right for you.
You're chronically stressed
"If you are overly stressed, your body will produce more cortisol," Dr. Saltz says. That means that morning peak is going to be higher than it would be otherwise. Again, the only way to get to the root cause of this is to take steps to minimize the stress in your life.
Make measures to minimize overall stress
If you have generalized anxiety disorder or are overly stressed, Dr. Saltz says it's important to take steps to manage it, which could include the help of a therapist. "Meditation, regular exercise, and having an overall healthy diet all play parts in minimizing overall stress," she adds.
Cut back on caffeine and sugar
Because these are two culprits that often cause physiological responses that mimic anxiety, cutting them out or reducing your intake could help. Look for breakfast foods rich in protein and healthy fats (the latter is especially good for brain health) that won't spike insulin levels, like eggs or a green smoothie, and consider switching your regular latte for a milder form of caffeine, like matcha or tea.
Take some deep breaths
This might seem like an "easier said than done" situation, but Dr. Saltz says taking slow, deep breaths truly can help calm the mind and body. "If there's something you're worried about on your mind that pops up while you're taking your deep breaths, acknowledge it and let it pass; don't try to push it away," she says.
Get enough good quality sleep
Dr. Saltz says not getting enough quality sleep can also lead to feeling anxious when you wake up. Again, it's because those pesky cortisol levels come into play; not getting enough sleep can raise them higher.