Time management Monday: Ways to reduce morning anxiety

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Feeling anxious in the morning is very common. Levels of cortisol (the fight-or-flight stress hormone) are normally higher in the morning than at other times of the day. Combine this with facing a busy day with lots to do, and it’s no wonder that for many people the morning is the most anxious time of the day.

The tips below can help you combat anxiety that strikes any time of the day, and are especially helpful in dealing with morning anxiety.

Recognize it. Feeling anxious increases anxiety. When you are anxious, your heart rate and blood pressure rise, your breathing may be faster and/ or shallower. These physical symptoms of anxiety can in themselves make you feel more anxious. Nip the anxiety cycle in the bud by acknowledging to yourself that you are feeling anxious. When you recognize the symptoms, reassure yourself. You don’t even need to itemize the reasons why you are feeling anxious. Just take a second to say to yourself, “I notice I’m feeling anxious.” That recognition will help you focus, so you can move on to what will actually help you feel better: action.

Next actions. The day/ evening before, make a prioritized list of next actions/ tasks, categorized by location or context. What you don’t want to do: spend your morning flitting between emails, phone calls, and physical tasks. That will only make you feel scattered and dissatisfied. Have a plan that will allow you to focus on one thing at a time so you can sit down and bang out your emails, or batch your phone calls, or take care of admin/ errands. Knowing what you need to do next will help you focus.

Feel accomplished. Do something in the morning that will make you feel that you accomplished something of value today. As early in the day as possible, do the most important thing(s) of the day. Even if you don’t manage to make progress on anything else later in the day, the most important stuff will be taken care of.

Schedule worry time. This might sound silly, but schedule some time with yourself to work through what’s worrying you. It’s hard to be productive when you’re fretting. When you know you have a designated time to tackle your worries, you can push them off until you have time to do something about them. When it’s Worry Time, sit down with some big pieces of paper and a pen. Mind map or list what you are worried about. When you get it out in front of you, you might discover there isn’t as much to worry about as it seemed when it was all rattling around in your head. Come up with a plan of action and write your next tasks so you can stop worrying and start taking care of it.

Consult the experts. Do a little research if you want, but don’t look around the internet too much! Keep in mind most of what you will find will be worst-case scenarios. You will be better off talking to a professional about your specific situation. Make an appointment to see your doctor/ financial consultant/ therapist/ advisor so you can get to the bottom of the problem and get it taken care of.

Some tips to help you physically, which will directly improve how you feel mentally:

Reduce caffeine. Being over-caffeinated will increase your heart rate and blood pressure, making you feel anxious and putting you in the anxiety loop (as described above). Experiment to find the least amount of caffeine you need to function. (And also, try getting more sleep if you can.) Maybe half a cup can get you to work, and another half cup later on will get you through the day comfortably.

Morning cardio. Do some sort of cardio exercise in the morning, for at least 30 minutes: go for a run or a brisk walk, bike, get on the treadmill or elliptical, whatever gets your heart rate up. Exercise decreases your blood pressure and releases endorphins. Do this in the morning, and you’ll feel better for the rest of the day. Block out your exercise time in your schedule so you don’t stress out about trying to fit it in.

Some things to be aware of:

Anxiety begets anxiety. If you are anxious about one aspect of your life, anxious feelings can carry over into other parts of your life. For example if you are worried about money, that can affect your work/ school/ social/ relationships etc. When you are anxious about something, be aware that can make you feel anxious about other things too.

Your anxiety calendar. Also be aware of anxiety happening at specific times. For example those last few days before payday might be times of heightened anxiety. Holidays are notorious for inducing anxiety due to financial concerns, family issues, pressure to create a wonderful experience, crappy weather, difficult travel, etc. Anxiety can increase at certain times of the menstrual cycle. Make note of times when you are feeling especially anxious, and see if there are any patterns so you can be prepared the next time they come around.

Stress triggers. During stressful times, anxiety can rear its ugly head. Feeling anxious out of the blue is often down to stress. If you are going through a stressful time, are especially busy or under time constraints, recognize that this could trigger anxious feelings and be prepared with your coping mechanisms.

More than anything else, be kind to yourself. Imagine you are someone else who you love. What would you say to that person to help them feel better? Say those nice and helpful words to yourself! Take a deep breath, come up with a plan, and take action to kick anxiety’s ass.

You can do this! Hang in there. You’re doing great!

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