Mornings can be filled with panic and dread — but creating mindful habits can help ease your morning anxiety.

Ah, mornings. For some, it’s associated with coffee, singing birds, and quiet meditation. For others, there’s a different reality that’s experienced: anxiety.

You lie awake in bed thinking of all the things you have to do that day. Running through a long and ever-growing to-do list that might look like this: make breakfast, get the kids to school, pack lunch, make it to that early morning meeting, get to groceries, and scratch a workout somewhere on that list.

Waking up with anxiety is natural. But when you have an anxiety disorder, morning anxiety can be even worse.

But there are things you can do to make your mornings less stressful and wake up with ease.

While morning anxiety isn’t a formal medical term, it refers to feelings of stress about the day ahead.

Perhaps you wake up on edge with little motivation to get out of bed. Or, the sound of your alarm sets your brain into panic mode.

Anxiety is experienced in many different ways and certainly is not a one-size-fits-all situation.

While some may find their anxiety levels are higher in the morning, this may not be the case for everyone with an anxiety disorder.

For those who do experience morning anxiety, they know that it can put a damper on the day. Symptoms of anxiety can feel more intense in the morning.

These can include:

  • racing thoughts and heightened worry about the day’s tasks and responsibilities
  • rapid heart rate or feeling like your heart is pounding
  • muscle tension
  • trouble concentrating

When you feel zapped of energy or have trouble managing your thoughts, it’s taxing on all levels — physically, mentally, and emotionally.

It’s important to remember that you’re not alone. It’s normal to feel “off” when you first wake up — in fact, there are several explanations for why this happens.

There are several proposed explanations that point to why anxiety levels are higher in the morning.

The stress hormone cortisol is at its peak for the first 30–45 minutes you’re awake. This is known as the cortisol awakening response (CAR), where the adrenal glands release cortisol in response to fear or stress.

Higher levels of cortisol can increase adrenaline, blood flow, and heart rate, which keeps your body on high alert and contributes to excessive worry.

Another possible culprit? Your sleep patterns.

Sleep is essential for recharging your body for the next day, yet many of us have trouble with it. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a third of U.S. adults report that they get less than the recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night.

Lack of sleep can also lead to elevated levels of cortisol, which can affect mood and performance. This can lead to brain fog, lower energy, irritability, and poor concentration — all of which provoke anxiety.

Research suggests that anxiety levels are significantly higher in people with insomnia.

Because anxiety starts in the amygdala (the part of your brain that governs emotions), any perceived threat — whether real or imaginary — can activate the fight, flight, or freeze response and jumpstart your anxiety.

Try not to get discouraged when you wake up with anxiety. There are a few self-care strategies you can use to ease your symptoms in the morning.

Examine your habits and stressors

Becoming aware of your morning anxiety helps you confront it rather than sweeping it under the rug.

You might try taking note of what prompts or exacerbates, or worsens, your anxious feelings.

Do you hit the snooze button on your alarm every morning? Do you pick up your phone to check your email, the news, or social media while half asleep to avoid getting out of bed?

These seemingly small habits can contribute to anxiety on a bigger scale than you might realize.

Try to replace habits that increase your anxiety in the morning with ones that may help ease your feelings. For example, if checking your phone first thing in the morning increases your anxiety, try meditation or deep breathing exercises instead.

Also try to avoid hitting the snooze button on your alarm when you wake up. While it may provide temporary relief, it can prolong the challenge of getting out of bed.

Get enough sleep

Sleep improves your:

  • mood
  • concentration
  • stress levels

But what if anxiety prevents you from falling asleep at night?

There are several ways you can wind down at night. Things like avoiding blue light before bed, sticking to a sleep schedule, and lowering the thermostat can set you up for quality shut-eye.

If difficulty sleeping happens frequently, consider reaching out to a healthcare professional to discuss your concern.

Tend to your body

How you treat your body first thing when you wake up can have a powerful effect on how you feel the rest of your day.

Consider starting your day with exercise. Research shows that physical activity can help lower anxiety when done regularly.

You do not have to roll out of bed and do burpees or any other high-intensity workout. Rather, evidence finds that exercise involving mindfulness — such as yoga or meditative walking — can promote relaxation.

Also consider your diet.

While it’s tempting to have a cup of coffee or grab a delicious pastry when you’re on the go, some evidence shows a link between anxiety, diet, and caffeine.

You might try swapping coffee for tea or lemon water, and bread or breakfast cereals for a balanced breakfast of fruits or veggies like a smoothie or yogurt and fruit parfait.

Build a mindful morning routine

Your morning routine doesn’t need to involve waking up at 5 a.m. and reciting empowering mantras (but if it does, that’s OK, too).

A good morning routine is about making space for yourself to get ready for the day.

It’s important to build a mindful morning routine that works for you. Some suggestions you can try include:

  • Journaling. Writing down your thoughts and feelings in a journal can be an effective way to cope with worry, self-doubt, and negativity. It offers a way to examine sources of stress, as well as express deeper thoughts. Try setting a timer for 10–15 minutes and allow yourself to see what flows to the page.
  • Deep breathing. Slowing down your breathing brings the body into a state of relaxation. The 4-7-8 breathing technique is a popular method to soothe your nerves. It involves inhaling for 4 seconds, holding your breath for 7 seconds, and exhaling for 8 seconds. Try a few cycles of this before getting out of bed or whenever you notice your anxiety is at its highest.
  • Visualization. Visualization is a technique using mental imagery to achieve a relaxed state of mind. For instance, you can try to picture a calm morning on the beach with the waves washing over your toes to start your day in a relaxed place.

Practice letting go

If you wake up thinking of every single “what if” or worst-case scenario, you might be experiencing anticipatory anxiety. Essentially, it’s when the uncertainty about a possible future event gets in the way of your functioning.

For example, if you have a presentation at work, you might worry you’ll forget your talking points or that the file will somehow get deleted, leading to excessive worrying.

These anxious thought loops stem from a desire to feel in control over what may or may not happen. But the more you try to manage the outcomes, the more anxious you’ll feel.

Letting feelings of anxiety go isn’t easy, but there are a few things you can do to detach from the “what ifs”:

  • Challenge negative thoughts. When you find yourself thinking about a worst-case outcome, counter the thought with a positive or best-case outcome to neutralize your thinking.
  • Focus on what you can control rather than what you cannot. Identifying which of your stressors you have power over (like quitting a job you hate) versus what you cannot control (like the way someone else feels) can help streamline your attention in the right places.
  • Be kind to yourself. Recognize that it’s OK to make mistakes. Rather than focusing on what’s missing or what you don’t have, practice gratitude for all that is and all that you do have.

If your morning anxiety feels overwhelming and regularly impacts the rest of your day, consider reaching out to your family doctor, if you have one. They may be able to refer you to a mental health professional who can help with diagnosis and treatment, if needed.

If you do not have a family doctor, consider online therapy.

There’s no shame in seeking help or treatment. In fact, recognizing your need for support is the ultimate form of self-love and care.