There are reasons why you may feel anxious in the morning, but “It’s normal to have morning anxiety once in a while,” said Reena B. Patel, a licensed educational psychologist, board-certified behavior analyst, and author of “Winnie & Her Worries.”
The expert said, “Presentations for work, new job interviews, tests for school, or even meeting a new date for breakfast can all lead to morning anxiety.”
However, if it is more than a “once in a while” occurrence, it may be time to investigate. Experts weigh in on why you might be on edge and what you can do about it whether you’re dealing with a general anxiety disorder or just feeling a little frazzled.
Why do you feel Anxious in the morning?
To be clear, not everyone feels anxious when they first wake up but it’s also not uncommon.
“In my experience as a practitioner, anxiety tends to be higher in the morning,” said Alex Dimitriu, a sleep medicine physician and founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine in California, while adding that “the data is mixed … with some studies showing more anxiety later in the day.”
The problem might not be far from the following:
1. Cortisol spikes in the morning.
According to Dimitriu, some of the anxiety could be attributed to cortisol, which is higher when you first wake up.
“Serum cortisol levels are higher in the morning; this is part of the brain ‘booting up,’ like a computer, after a night of sleep,” he explained, adding that the purpose of the boot-up is to “jolt us awake from sleep.”
And, while it is “completely normal,” it may be difficult if you are already experiencing general anxiety or stress. “If someone is anxious or stressed, the baseline level of cortisol can already be higher, and it can peak even higher in the mornings,” he explained.
2. Your sleeping habits may also play a role.
It is critical to keep track of your sleeping patterns, make sure you do that.
“The circadian system can play a significant role in anxiety and panic symptoms,” Dimitriu explained. “Some studies have found that people have more panic symptoms in the mornings and afternoons.
“Part of the rise in anxiety and the worsening of anxiety panic symptoms in the mornings and afternoons may be due to circadian-driven increases in cortisol and possibly other alerting hormones.”
Dimitriu added that the “fight or flight” stress response rests at night while you sleep, but it may not rest as much in people who are anxious. “This could indicate that there is a stress inertia that extends into the night.”
The ongoing stress (without respite) is what can cause that panicky feeling when your alarm clock goes off at the start of the week. “Mornings, particularly Monday mornings, are thought to be a particularly high likelihood time to experience a heart attack for the same reason,” Dimitriu explained.
He claims that the combination of business, arriving at work, and potential jet lag from “an altered sleep pattern on the weekend” leads to a “higher likelihood of adverse cardiovascular events, [which] has been detected and found to be increased in mornings.”
Indeed, according to a 2018 study, “the occurrence of stroke, myocardial infarction, and sudden cardiac death all have daily patterns, striking most frequently in the morning.”
How to Deal with Morning Anxiety
If you wake up with anxiety, a pit in your stomach, or even a panic attack, it’s time to see a mental health professional (or your general practitioner). This phenomenon can have serious consequences for your well-being and your “ability to think calmly and have a realistic plan for the day,” according to Patel.
Aguiar recommends starting with a journal to record your experiences. “Track your successes, challenges, and interpersonal interactions throughout the day to see if there is a pattern that emerges right before days with high anxiety in the morning,” he said. This can also help your doctor gain a better understanding of your condition.
He also recommends diaphragmatic breathing as a quick fix for anxiety at the moment. Practice by “inhaling for four seconds through the nose, holding for four seconds, and exhaling through the mouth with a small opening for six seconds.”
Patel and Aguiar also emphasized the significance of incorporating calming lifestyle activities to reduce morning anxiety. Aguiar believes that practices such as guided imagery, yoga, using affirmations, and experimenting with progressive muscle relaxation can all help to reduce stress. They also both recommend getting some exercise, whether it’s outside or indoors, to improve your mood.
Patel advised having a morning and evening routine. “Structure helps alleviate the fear of the unknown,” she explained. She recommends the following at bedtime to maximize the potential for more restful and de-stressing sleep:
- Go to bed at the same time every day
- Get off your screen 30 minutes before bed
- Do a “negative brain release” of negative thoughts in your journal
- Use a weighted blanket to sleep