Waking up anxious in the morning, or waking up at night with anxiety is common for many people. Nearly everyone experiences feelings of anxiety and stress periodically. However, if your anxiety is affecting you daily when you wake up or causing incessant sleeping problems, it might become overwhelming to the point that you can’t perform routine activities like work and interacting with your family.
Here, we’ll look at some of the common symptoms of morning and sleep anxiety. We’ll explore some of the causes that can be contributing to you waking up early with a sense of dread about your day. We’ll also offer various calming techniques that you can use, beginning tomorrow morning, to decrease the frequency and intensity of waking up with anxiety every morning.
Why Do I Wake Up With Anxiety?
Waking up with anxiety can put a real strain on your day. Right from the jump, you’re stuck feeling that heavy weight of stress and dread. Some common symptoms of morning anxiety are:
- Feeling like your day is doomed right from the beginning
- Feeling fatigued, even though you just woke up
- Feeling like you just can’t get out of bed
- Difficulty focusing and concentrating
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Rapid heartbeat
So what causes the morning anxiety?
The natural response
The most common theory about waking up with anxiety has to do with a stress hormone called cortisol. As a defense mechanism designed to protect us, our brain and body will naturally react to stress. Although we no longer face the types of threats our ancestors once did, stress results in our bodies and brains reacting as if we’re under attack.
Thus, when we’re stressed, we release more stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline causes the heart rate to increase, boosts blood pressure, and spikes energy supply. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone in the body. It acts to release more glucose into the blood and enhances the brain’s usage of those sugars to enhance alertness and prepare us to defend ourselves.
Research has shown that cortisol levels already surge in the morning for the first 30 – 45 minutes after waking. This is known as Cortisol Awakening Response (CAR) and may increase morning anxiety.
The common demands of life, like taking care of your family, accomplishing a huge workload, paying the bills, and preparing for the future, are all stressors. The limbic system of your brain perceives stressors as threats, and that can make you feel anxious from the moment you wake up each morning.
Some studies show that the energy in a relationship may affect how well you sleep at night and how rested and calm you wake up in the morning.
Physical health problems
If you’re dealing with a chronic health condition, it’s natural to be stressed. Anxiety is common for those who have heart disease, diabetes, cancer, asthma, hypertension, and other serious health-related issues. Waking up with anxiety in the middle of the night or in the morning can be common when you have a serious medical condition.
Worrying about money is a normal stress for many adults. Especially if you’re financially insecure, waking up with anxiety about how or when you’ll be able to pay rent, buy groceries, or cover bills is not unreasonable.
Mental health conditions
Like our physical health, mental health conditions can weigh heavily on our psyches. Living with bipolar disorder, depression, or another mental health disorder can result in heightened anxiety at all times of the day, even in the mornings.
“If you find yourself waking up feeling anxious, ask yourself what happened the night before? What were you thinking about before you went to bed? These questions can help you identify the cause of your anxiety.”
Fortunately, there are various techniques you can employ, beginning right now, that are known to alleviate morning anxiety symptoms. You can practice these daily upon waking and decrease the frequency and intensity of morning stress.
6 Calming Techniques to Avoid Waking Up with Anxiety
Wondering how to stop waking up with anxiety? You’re not alone. Let’s review some techniques that have been found to help many people wake up more confidently, calm, and energetic, ready to face their day.
Though you might not be able to totally prevent the feeling of anxiety you experience when you first wake up, you can help lessen the symptoms and severity with natural remedies for anxiety. Try using any or all of these methods right away.
“There are many ways to help calm your anxiety. You can do a guided meditation, do yoga or a workout, engage in a deep breathing exercise, have a healthy breakfast, listen to relaxing music, take a walk, or write a journal.”
Change your diet
The foods and beverages we choose to consume have an effect on our mood and functioning. Neurotransmitters, hormones, and other biological chemicals are all synthesized in our bodies based on the nutrients (or lack thereof) we get through our diet.
Studies show certain foods are associated with anti-anxiety effects. These include:
- Brazil nuts
- Pumpkin seeds
- Dark chocolate
- Fatty fish like mackerel and salmon
Consider adding more of these foods in your daily diet to help your mood.
Also, you might want to watch your intake of caffeine and other stimulating substances. If you’re already prone to anxiety, caffeine might exacerbate those symptoms. A glass of warm lemon water or decaf tea with honey in it may not be as exciting as that strong cup of coffee, but it can definitely be more calming.
Meditation & deep breathing (pranayama)
Mindfulness meditation offers many benefits to improve emotional and mental health. You can do it anywhere, without any equipment or memberships. Most communities have group meditation courses and support available. There are several different meditation styles, each having benefits for anxiety. Even just five minutes of meditation or deep breathing daily can have measurable benefits.
Leave the television off & opt for music
Repetitive exposure to negative stories like what we see and hear in the mainstream media these days has been linked to increased anxiety. If you don’t like the silence in the morning, try putting on some calming music to create a more relaxing environment. Remember, “calming” doesn’t have to be the same for everyone. You might prefer classical music, jazz, acoustic…try whatever is soothing to you.
There are several various ways that daily exercise helps to alleviate anxiety, including:
- Diverting your attention from what’s making you anxious
- Activating executive functions in the brain
- Decreasing muscle tension
- Altering brain chemistry
Regular exercise builds up resources in the body that help increase resilience to erratic emotions. Exercise actually changes your brain chemistry by increasing the availability of neurochemicals that work against anxiety, including gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), serotonin, various endocannabinoids, and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
Taking a few minutes each morning or at night just before bed to jot down your thoughts can help to calm your mind and focus your thoughts. If you’re journaling in the morning, try tracking your dreams from the night before.
Solidifying your relationship with yourself is an excellent way to decrease anxiety. Doing so can help you stay in touch with your goals and aspirations and spot negative emotions creeping up on you as they occur.
Create a morning routine
Develop a realistic routine for your mornings, and then stick to it. Having a schedule helps you stay focused on your goals and avoid distracting thoughts and actions. It can also let you feel more steady, which can reduce anxious feelings that might stem from a feeling of being out of control. Additionally, knowing you have a routine to wake up to in the morning might help you stop waking up with anxiety in the middle of the night.
Learning How to Manage Anxiety Day-to-Day
If you’re waking up with anxiety every morning, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, and other types of therapy for anxiety and techniques can help. Working with a therapist, you’ll learn new coping skills for how to treat anxiety that can work to decrease your morning stress.
You might also consider taking prescription medication for anxiety like benzodiazepines, anti-anxiety drugs, beta-blockers, or antidepressants, but note that these are often associated with adverse side effects and do little to solve the core problem causing your anxiety. If you and your doctor do decide to try medication for generalized anxiety disorder, it likely will be a short term solution that’s coupled with effective, proactive strategies like those we’ve discussed here today.
Focusing on holistic approaches like mindfulness meditation, taking a relaxing bath, setting and being committed to goals, and showing gratitude are all simple, effective ways to combat waking up with anxiety every morning.
Each of them can help to reduce morning anxiety symptoms so you can have calmer, happier days. If you’re ready to start your journey and take steps to learn how to stop waking up with anxiety, Talkspace can help. Our approach to online therapy makes the process as easy as possible.
1. Powell D, Schlotz W. Daily Life Stress and the Cortisol Awakening Response: Testing the Anticipation Hypothesis. PLoS One. 2012;7(12):e52067. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0052067. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3527370/. Accessed February 13, 2022.
2. Hasler B, Troxel W. Couples’ Nighttime Sleep Efficiency and Concordance: Evidence for Bidirectional Associations With Daytime Relationship Functioning. Psychosom Med. 2010;72(8):794-801. doi:10.1097/psy.0b013e3181ecd08a. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2950886/. Accessed February 13, 2022.
3. Liu C, Liu Y. Media Exposure and Anxiety during COVID-19: The Mediation Effect of Media Vicarious Traumatization. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(13):4720. doi:10.3390/ijerph17134720. https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/17/13/4720. Accessed February 13, 2022.
4. Audiffren M, André N. The exercise–cognition relationship: A virtuous circle. J Sport Health Sci. 2019;8(4):339-347. doi:10.1016/j.jshs.2019.03.001. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2095254619300298. Accessed February 13, 2022.
5. Brellenthin A, Crombie K, Hillard C, Koltyn K. Endocannabinoid and Mood Responses to Exercise in Adults with Varying Activity Levels. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2017;49(8):1688-1696. doi:10.1249/mss.0000000000001276. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28319590. Accessed February 13, 2022.