I suffer from morning anxiety.
When I’m going through a bad period of anxiety it manifests itself in several ways. Sometimes it’s terrible nightmares, frequent migraines, panic attacks, general anxiety + sense of doom, and sometimes it’s morning anxiety.
(For help with anxiety, check out my workbook – Breathe.)
Morning anxiety is the worst of them all.
Morning anxiety is caused (usually) by the steroid hormone, cortisol which is produced in the adrenal glands. We humans have this thing called the Cortisol Awakening Response. When we wake up, most of us have a sharp 38–75% increase of cortisol for about 30 minutes. Anxiety and stress also create cortisol. So if you’re in a constant state of high stress, you fall asleep stressed out, or you wake up and are anxious about the day – your body starts producing way more cortisol and in response, you freak out. Instead of the cortisol gently shaking your shoulder with a “Wake up Sunshine, you’ve got things to do, up and at ’em!” the cortisol runs into your bedroom screaming “WAKE UP!!! YOU NEED TO MOVE OR YOU’RE GONNA DIE.”
Morning Anxiety (for me) looks like this. You wake up and the moment your eyes open you are hit with this rush of adrenaline. Your body goes into flight or fight mode and you start uncontrollably shaking while simultaneously feeling like something very very bad is about to happen. Sometimes it’s so paralyzing that you don’t even want to get out of bed because it feels like there’s something that’s there waiting for you and the moment you step out of bed it will swallow you up.
When it reaches that point, I know that my anxiety is getting the better of me.
It brings the term not-a-morning-person a whole new meaning.
The thing is, I know way before I get to this point that my anxiety is taking over.
I ignore it.
Or maybe I don’t ignore it. Sometimes I admit that I’m anxious.
And I tell myself I’ll take care of it later. When I have time.
And maybe that day I go to sleep early or spend an hour in a hot bubble bath. I tell myself I’m trying.
But I know it’s not enough.
My relationship with anxiety is complicated. I choose not to take medication (although I believe that other people should always do what is best for them!) and for the most part, that works for me.
It just takes a lot of work and maintenance and constantly staying on top of my anxiety/stress levels and sometimes I get busy or I don’t think it’s that bad and suddenly I’m hiding under the covers shaking and dreading the entire day.
That’s why self-care is so important to me. When I don’t do it it’s the equivalent of not taking my medication. I’m fine for a little bit but then I start to feel the effects of not taking care of myself.
I’m not always on top of it like I should be but I am reminded again (and again and again) how important it is to take care of myself.
Let me tell you how I fixed it.
My morning anxiety was really bad toward the end of May and I knew that I had to do something about it.
First, I got my sleeping under control.
Seven hours of sleep minimum each night. Sticking to the same sleep schedule. Forcing myself to make sure that I was in bed 8 hours before I had to wake up, even if I spent one of those hours reading, listening to music, or playing on my phone. On the weekends, I tried to sleep until I woke up naturally.
I made my bedroom a more peaceful environment.
I moved into my house a little over a year ago and while I decorated my meditation room and my living room – my bedroom had the bare minimum as far as personality goes. Over the last week, I’ve hung prayer flags, mandala tapestries, got a lovely new bed set, spruced up my bedside altar, and put my Himalayan salt crystal lamp to good use. It feels homey and warm now and has a more rest + relaxation vibe instead of just being a place to pass out.
Re-connected with my bedtime ritual.
If I fall asleep stressed out not only does my quality of sleep suffer but I’m also going to wake up stressed out. That’s just how is it. I’ve been using the Pacifica app to do a 10-minute meditation while I burn incense and spray my pillow with lavender essential oil and get all mellow. I start winding down a few hours before I go to sleep. I try not to be online and working up until my bedtime and I also try not to be sucked into social media.
And I actually try to, you know, relax.
I’ve started taking my vitamins again.
When I get anxious my go-to vitamin is magnesium. It works for me better than anything. If it’s a little bit heavier anxiety or it’s tinged with depression, I add in St. John’s Wort, 5-HTP or Melatonin (for better sleep), SAMe, and Ashwagandha. As always, this is just what works for me personally, and you should always check with your doctor and do your own research. If you want to try using vitamins to manage your anxiety I recommend starting with magnesium and then going from there.
Made myself lessen my over-all anxiety.
My problem last month was having poor boundaries. Poor boundaries with other people and then poor boundaries when it came to my work. These things combined made me stressed out all of the time. It’s hard to make boundaries especially when you feel like you’re letting other people down. Always remember that you matter too.
Talked myself through it.
I’ve learned through the years that I need to be able to talk myself through my anxiety. I need to be the voice of reason and logic. When my mind is going a mile a minute with all of the bad things that might happen and all of the things that I should be anxious about I tell myself to stop and then I have a conversation in my head about it. I pick apart every crisis my brain is making up.
I firmly remind myself that I’m okay.
That it’s just the anxiety and that, up to this point, there hasn’t been a crisis that I can’t handle.
So here I am, 17 days into the month. 17 days of hard work. Of daily management of my anxiety, of putting myself first, of self-care, and it’s been two weeks since I woke up freaking out. Go me!
It’ll probably always be a struggle, but each time I commit to taking care of myself again and again. And it’s always worth it.
Have you ever suffered from morning anxiety? How can you better manage your stress/anxiety?
Don't forget to check me out on Patreon for Q&As, Submit Your Ideas, Exclusive Discounts, Worksheets, and Images.
So glad that you wrote about this. I also have morning anxiety exactly how you describe it. It’s do good to know I’m not alone in this!
I really appreciate what you said. I have fairly minor anxiety, it only kicks in every few months for a few days (usually when something happens and I have a panic response, then my brain doesn’t calm down for awhile). But it can be terrifying! Thankfully I’ve never had the morning anxiety. I’m sorry you have to go through it, but I’m glad you can help people like me with your experiences.
I don’t take medication either, and I’d prefer not to. I agree with you that knowing how to take care of ourselves can often at least help with a lot the symptoms. I have a degree in psychology. I understand that mental illness are more than just “controlling your thoughts” and “positive thinking.” There is something not right with the chemicals in our brains when something like anxiety and depression happen. And although I’m not good at it, I really believe that taking care of our bodies (relaxing, mindfulness, eating right, getting the right vitamins) can help realign the chemicals.
I’ve been researching magnesium a lot lately. I’m glad to hear it works for you. I’ve been trying to figure out how to get enough from food, but it would be really hard to get all that’s needed everyday, so the supplement is a good idea.
Anyway, this is getting long. But thank you for your thoughts! It’s nice to hear a success story about maintaining mental health without medication. :-)
This is such an amazing post. You are brave, strong, smart, and awesome.