How do you feel when you wake up in the morning? Refreshed and keen for a new day ahead? I’m guessing not… In fact, I’d be willing to bet that you go from grumpily turning off the alarm clock to diving straight into a list of frenzied to-dos stretching out ahead of you. This immediately triggers your stress response, and as you hurry to get moving with your day, you may find that torrent of anxiety just keeps on going.
There is a better way to start the day, and a good reason to do so. It’s been said that the way you conduct your morning sets the tone for the rest of the day. So what if you could take control and not allow anxiety to take over?
Try spending a few minutes on one or more of the following proven activities to banish anxiety in the morning, start yourself off on the right foot and feel better all day long.
1. Breath exercises
Yogic breathing has been well studied as a method for balancing the nervous system, and has been shown to enhance well-being, mood and stress tolerance. Ideally, you would practice for 30 minutes a day, but even a short session is better than nothing!
Try Alternate Nostril Breathing: sit comfortably and block one nostril with your thumb. Take a long inhale through the open nostril. Switch your hand to block the other nostril with your index finger or pinky finger, then let the breath out through the nostril that is now open. Breathe in through that nostril, then switch fingers again and let the breath out through the other nostril. Continue this cycle, always switching nostrils when at the top of the breath when your lungs are full of air.
Another method you can try is Pursed Lips Breathing: breathe in through your nose for a count of two, then purse your lips and blow the breath out to a slow count of four.
Although these are some simple techniques to get started, there are many other types of yogic breathing which you can learn from a certified instructor if you’re interested in going further.
Scientists reviewing research on yogic breathing found that the rhythmic breathing may quiet the prefrontal cortex and stimulate the vagus nerve, which has effects on the organs and glands in the body, resulting in a feeling of calmness and relaxation.
2. Essential oils
Essential oils are easy to integrate into your morning routine. You can even apply them before completing breathing exercises so that you are inhaling the comforting aroma while you breathe.
3. Meditation and visualization
Try listening to some peaceful guided imagery with soothing music. This study showed that a group of people dealing with chronic stress and anxiety experienced a significant reduction in their perceived symptoms after ten sessions of this practice.
Find a track you enjoy by searching on YouTube, or use an app such as Insight Timer.
4. Mindful movement
A 2010 study demonstrated the power of some simple mind-body interventions to significantly reduce psychological distress, anxiety and perceived stress in a group of 128 students. The experimental group of students were taught the relaxation response and cognitive behavioral skills to encourage their inbuilt anxiety-fighting abilities and change their patterns of thinking.
The relaxation response is simply the opposite of the “fight or flight” response, and can be activated with gentle movement practices such as Qi Gong or Tai Chi.
Two basic exercises to start with are as follows:
Holding the ball: Stand in a relaxed upright posture, balanced over your feet and breathing into your belly. Bend your knees slightly and raise your arms as if you are holding a large ball. Hold this position as you feel the heat and energy generating in your body and focus on your breath.
The pendulum: Stand as above with your arms hanging at your sides and palms facing your body. Swing your arms together forward and backward in an effortless arc, with elbows straight but not locked. Feel the momentum and keep your attention in your hands. The intention is for any blocked energy from your head, neck and shoulders to exit through the hands. After a few minutes when you feel complete, bring the hands to the abdomen and breathe deeply feeling the energy you’ve generated.
You can also incorporate anxiety-reducing cognitive behavioral therapy into a gentle movement practice with a ten-minute mindful walking exercise. Begin walking and pay attention to the sensations in your feet, legs and body. After a few minutes, shift your attention to noticing the sounds around you. Then, as you continue walking, spend a few minutes noticing what you can smell. Next, focus on what you see in your surroundings. And finally come back to the physical sensations in your body as you complete your short walk. Each time your mind wanders, simply bring it back to your senses.
5. Gratitude journaling
This study showed that a group of students felt less stressed, more engaged and a stronger sense of meaningfulness in their lives after practicing regular gratitude journaling for the period of one semester.
Take a few minutes to write down what or whom you are grateful for in your life. Researchers have found that making a conscious decision to become happier and going into more detail on specific things or experiences makes the practice most effective.
6. Cold showers
Although it may be the last thing you feel like doing in the morning, taking a cold shower has been shown to improve mood, reduce stress and increase energy. Try reducing the temperature of the water and lengthening the duration of the shower gradually. This trick not only initiates rejuvenating processes in the body but also gets you out of your overactive mind. Try it, you might just be surprised at how great you feel!
7. And one thing not to do…
I know you might hate me for saying this… but if you suffer from anxiety, you really need to drop the caffeine!
I recommend a gradual weaning approach where you reduce the amount of tea or coffee you drink by 1/2 cup per day. So, if you normally drink two cups of coffee, you would drink 1 to 1 1/2 on the first day, then 1 cup, then 1/2, then none. You can stretch the weaning out a little longer too if you like, drinking each amount for two days instead of just one.
This is much more achievable than going cold-turkey, which could leave you with a headache and other uncomfortable symptoms that will likely cause you to give up your best intentions and give in to your old habits again.
Choose one or two of these ideas to get started with today and you’ll be on your way to having an anxiety-free morning, every morning.