“Mornings are almost clean slates. I say almost because the residue of yesterday is sometimes stuck on them.” — Medeia Sharif
The alarm goes off, your eyes open, and a new day begins. A day filled with possibility and the unknown. If you stop to think about the billion different scenarios that could possibly play out on an average day, the feeling is both exhilarating and slightly scary.
Anything can happen during the day. Anything! This could be the day your life changes forever! And how will you start the day? Probably thinking about the day before.
Oh, hello, morning anxiety! I didn’t realize you spent the night!
There are hundreds of reasons people start off the morning in the mindset of doom, gloom, and dread. Our cortisol levels – better known as the stress hormone – are highest in the morning.
I’ve dubbed the morning the most dangerous time of the day because waking up and allowing the negative thoughts to soak longer than the pan in the kitchen sink you forgot to wash after dinner is a bad idea. Also, that headline is just plain clicky.
I’ve found four ways to stave off negative feelings when my eyes open to a new day. I suggest giving them a try if morning anxiety rings louder than any alarm clock in your ears.
Don’t You DARE Touch That Damn Phone
If you’re unaware, picking up your phone first thing in the morning is an awful idea. It’s the worst way to start your day. Even if the phone holds AMAZING news with every notification, checking your phone immediately after waking up is a bad habit.
Why? The phone pulls your attention away from your own mental health and well-being and forces your attention on other people’s needs, world issues, and life issues. The list is endless.
If you don’t believe me, check out this article on Forbes about checking your phone when your eyes open. If you’re too lazy to read the article, just read this section:
“When you first wake up in the morning, your brain switches from delta waves, which occur in a deep sleep state, to theta waves, which occur during a sort of daydreamy state. The brain then moves to produce alpha waves when you are awake but are relaxed and not processing much information.
Now, by grabbing your phone first thing and immediately diving into the online world, you force your body to skip the critical theta and alpha stages and go straight from the delta stage to being wide awake and alert (also known as the beta state).
Scientific American reports that “the ideation that can take place during the theta state is often free flow and occurs without censorship or guilt.” This makes theta state an ideal time to tap into your subconscious mind to visualize what you want and help your brain drive your actions forward toward achieving your vision.”
In other words, you’re forcing your brain straight into a state of distraction and stress. Those two feelings are NOT WELCOME in your bedroom. You know that feeling when you’re napping, and the fire alarm goes off, or a loud ass truck outside jolts you out of sleep? Well, imagine you’re doing that to your brain every damn morning. It’s no wonder you’re in a crap mood all day.
The quickest ways to break the early morning phone checking habit are as follows:
Step 1: Don’t use your phone as an alarm. Go to Amazon, buy yourself a cheap alarm, use the alarm as an alarm and the phone as a phone.
Step 2: Don’t bring your phone into the bedroom at night. Leave the phone in the kitchen. Lock it in a desk drawer. Put it under your kid’s mattress. Put it anywhere so that you won’t be tempted to grab it until later in the morning.
It’s easy to take our blessings for granted. Many people are blessed with a life that others would kill to live, but humans often get hung up on what they DON’T have and not the abundance in their life. Think of any situation and realize things could always be worse.
For example, the weather is getting warmer, and for the first time since early fall, I had to put on the A/C in my car. The air isn’t blowing cold. More an inconvenience than an issue, it probably hopefully has an easy fix. Now, I could have gotten pissed, cursed the car, the carmakers, and my crap luck, but I stopped myself and thought about how the situation could be way worse. You know where I’m going with that scenario.
If you’re constantly waking up and thinking about all the stuff you don’t have in life, focus on all the blessings and positives you’re probably taking for granted. First off, YOU WOKE UP! Do you know how many people die in their sleep? About one in eight people. You are already ahead of the game by just waking up! When you opened your eyes this morning, it didn’t take your brain much time to realize you were in bed, in your house. Guess how many people don’t have a house at all? An estimated 580,466 people in America are homeless. So, you’re not dead or homeless. This day is starting off pretty amazing!
Practicing gratitude first thing in the morning is a fantastic way to get into a good mood. There are two simples ways to practice every morning.
Option 1: First thing in the morning, think of at least 5-6 things you’re thankful for in your life, both big and small. If you want to write them down, go for it. If you want to say them aloud, that might be even better. Put a smile on your face while you’re running through the mental list. If smiling and thinking about all the great things in your life don’t put you in a good, I don’t know what the hell will.
Option 2: This option is a smart idea for people who can’t think that clearly early in the morning or think the same 3-4 negative thoughts every day and then draw a blank. Write down all of your blessings, everything and everything that comes to mind, and read the list every morning when you wake up. Leave the list on your nightstand. Tape the list to the alarm clock. Staple the list to your forehead. Put the list someplace unavoidable. Try to add to the list whenever you’re grateful. Cover both sides of the paper! Do whatever is necessary to remind yourself to not wake up and immediately think of all the stuff that can, will, and has gone wrong in life.
Either one of these options will work and will get your mind thinking of happier thoughts instead of recalling everything you’ve done wrong in your life so far this year and even yesterday. Speaking of yesterday…
Don’t Focus On Yesterday…
I’ll guesstimate that about 99% of the population opens their eyes to an empty ceiling every morning. Every ceiling is slightly different. Some are sloped, some have mirrors (kinky!) or include fans or skylights or that weird popcorn board that people thought looked stylish but looks incredibly ridiculous. Usually, every ceiling is typically a blank slate.
Why the hell am I talking about ceilings? Did this morph into a home decor website? Is this a sponsored post for the popcorn ceiling makers of America or Barry’s House of Ceiling Mirrors? Not exactly. I’m bringing up ceilings because it’s the first thing people see when they wake up in the morning (unless they’re a side sleeper, then they’re staring at a wall or a partner who looks dead while in REM). While staring at this blank slate, a few thoughts typically come to mind, but all have the same general theme – let’s recall all the different ways I fucked up yesterday.
The human brain is like a 2-year-old who figured out how to climb out of his crib in the middle of the night – it’s in your face and ready to fuck up your ENTIRE MORNING! The brain is ready to toss everything but the kitchen sink at you – mistakes, problems, ailments, issues, turmoil, and dread. The onslaught of depressing and distressing thoughts is enough to make anyone want to hide under the covers until bedtime. Bad news. Your thousand thread count sheets aren’t a forcefield off which all issues will bounce. My cat vomits in the middle of the night at least once a week. His hacking and upchucking will wake me up every time. If I stay in bed long enough, does the vomit magically go away or clean itself up. Nope. The pile of undigested cat food sprinkled with hairballs demands my attention the second I walk out of my bedroom.
Now that you’ve got that visual, back to the ceiling. The ceiling – much like your day – is a blank slate. The minute your eyes open in the morning, look up at the ceiling and say, “This new day is as empty as the ceiling,” or some variation. Why the hell do I want you to talk about the ceiling first thing in the morning? It’s a way to focus the mind on the present moment and not replay all of yesterday’s events.
If you’re focused on the right here and right now, the second your eyes open, then your mind won’t get a chance to say, “Hey, remember yesterday when you called that lady sir” or “everyone from your elementary school is still laughing about that time you hula hooped to Nsync for the yearly talent show.” (Does your mom still have that sequenced jumpsuit because that shit was magnificent!)
…And Don’t Overfocus On Today
It’s natural to contemplate the day ahead while stumbling around the house in the morning. Here’s where most people screw up. Even if your schedule is JAM PACKED with amazing things to do, your mind still has this dumb habit of focusing on the one or two negative parts of the day, no matter how damn small and insignificant.
This of vacation. Have you ever gone on a vacation? “Well, that’s a dumb question, Chris. OF COURSE, I’ve been on vacation!” Perfect, then everyone will understand the situation I’m about to explain. You’re going on vacation. The trip will be amazing. The destination is a location that you’ve dreamed about visiting for years. A few minutes after the trip is booked, slight panic and dread will set in.
“Do I have the right clothes? Ugh, the airport is going to be a nightmare. I hate flying. I hope this hotel has decent showers. How much cash will I need? Am I going to get sunburned again? That ruined the last trip. I better buy a full bodysuit to protect myself. Where can I buy a full bodysuit this time of year?”
Sound familiar, right down the bodysuit issue? It’s the same mental somersaults that happen on an average morning. From worrying about running late, to actually running late, to dreading a work meeting or the lunch yoga class that’s always overbooked to wondering how many errands you can fit into the hour between dropping off one kid at soccer and picking up the other kid from dance rehearsal.
Hey. HEY! Stop for a second. Breathe. Jesus, you’re sweating. Take off the bodysuit. The vacation isn’t for a month. Also, stop worrying about every minute and every hour of the day when you open your eyes. Those moments might be a part of your day, but now’s not the time to focus on those moments.
Focus on THIS moment.
Focus on waking up.
Focus on stretching, breathing, your morning routine, and all the critical tasks IN THE MOMENT.
Not in an hour, not at lunch, and not twelve hours from that moment. Allowing the mind to focus on all of the responsibilities is the quickest way for the brain to shut down and say, “Ugh, I don’t feel like doing shit today.” Walking around with that attitude so early in the AM will guarantee a day where – wait for it – nothing gets done. (SHOCKED EMOJI FACE)
These are just four ways to combat morning anxiety. If you’ve got ways to deal with the doom and gloom of a new day, I’d love to hear about them. Either leave the suggestions in the comments or hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you want even more help managing your day, check out my coaching services.