Cortisol, our stress hormone, levels naturally being higher in the morning can explain why people experience waking up with anxiety. There are 5 simple swaps for your morning routine to reduce the amount cortisol rises by and provide anxiety & stress relief.
Disclaimer: This post is intended for informational purposes only. I’m not a qualified practitioner and I’m not encouraging anyone else to these things. Please consult a qualified practitioner if you have any concerns regarding your health and before making any changes to your current diet or treatment plan. This post contains affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to your I will earn commission if you click on a link and make a purchase. See my full disclaimer here. First published 23 July 2021. Last updated 22 May 2022.
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- Why is anxiety worse in the morning?
- Symptoms of morning anxiety
- How to stop morning anxiety – 5 simple swaps for your morning routine
- Other mental health posts
- Other health & wellness posts
Why is anxiety worse in the morning?
Levels of cortisol, our stress hormone, is naturally highest in the morning, and continues to rise for the first hour after waking up before beginning to decrease and stabilise (1). This explains why people can wake up feeling anxious and experience a greater amount of anxiety and stress early in the day (2). For those with chronic illness, higher cortisol levels means physical symptoms are often worse too, which can further heighten anxiety (3).
Symptoms of Morning Anxiety
The rise in cortisol can worsen morning anxiety symptoms. It can affect both physical and mental health and produce symptoms that affect the whole body, such as (4):-
- Increase in heart and breathing rates,
- Chest pain,
- Muscle tension,
- Trembling and tingling,
- Difficulty concentrating and remembering things.
How To Stop Morning Anxiety
While we can’t prevent cortisol being highest in the morning, we can take steps to lower the amount it raises by. A previous post, 15 Things To Do In Bed To Ease Anxiety & Stress, detailed how our 5 senses have an incredibly powerful effect on how we feel.
Diet isn’t just what we eat, diet is also:-
- What we read,
- What we listen to and,
- What we think.
Often the first thing we do after waking up is look at our phone and scroll through social media or switch on the tv and listen to the news. This often heightens anxiety, causes us to compare ourselves to others online and feel inferior.
One of the daily habits to improve mental health we can implement is engaging our 5 senses in a positive way after waking up. We can achieve this by making 5 simple swaps to our morning routine so the first thing we:-
- Taste and
…are things that are positive, make us feel good and ease anxiety in the morning. Making these switches and engaging our senses and thoughts in this way helps us start the day in a more positive mindset and means we’re better equipped to handle whatever happens for the rest of the day. Performing the new activity at the same time you would normally perform the old habit makes it easy to implement and stick to these new habits and routines.
5 Simple Morning Routine Swaps To Reduce Anxiety & Stress
1). Taste – Switch Coffee For Chicory Medicinal Mushroom “Coffee” or Green Juice
Caffeine is a stimulant which raises cortisol levels and also a diuretic, which increases dehydration (5,6). The increase in cortisol and dehydration have both been shown to increase anxiety, stress and fatigue (5,6).
Option 1 – Chicory Medicinal Mushroom “Coffee”
One simple healthy food and drink swap is to switch the morning coffee, for a chicory medicinal mushroom “coffee”, made from:-
Chicory has a similar taste to coffee, while medicinal mushrooms have been shown to increase energy and alertness (7). Neither contain caffeine or stimulants. Therefore, combining chicory and medicinal mushrooms allows you to enjoy a drink with a similar taste to coffee and receive the same energy boost without the negative effects of caffeine. It’s one effective nervous system reset dietary change, which helps calm the whole body and mind to ease anxiety and stress and increase calmness and relaxation.
Option 2 – Green Juice
- Increases energy.
- Flood the body with a concentrated source of vitamins and minerals that are easily absorbed when consumed first thing in the morning on an empty stomach.
- Packed full of electrolytes which help keep us hydrated.
2). Sight – Switch Looking At Your Phone & TV For Reading A Book Or Bible Passage
To avoid scrolling through social media, checking emails and watching the news, which can all increase anxiety and stress, don’t look at your phone or switch the TV on until later in the morning. Instead, put your favourite bible verse and encouraging quote on your bedside table so it’s the first thing you see when you wake up. Then, read a bible passage or chapter of a book.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”Joshua 1:9, NIV
3). Touch – Switch A Hot Shower For A Cold Shower
Cold showers are one of 12 vagus nerve exercises which calms the whole body by reducing our sympathetic stress response and increasing our parasympathetic rest and relaxation state (10). In response to the cold temperature, we breathe deeper which increases blood flow and oxygen delivered round the body and the levels of our happiness hormones noradrenaline and dopamine in the brain (11). This all has the benefit of:-
- Reducing heart rates,
- Decreasing breathing rates,
- Lowering blood pressure,
- Easing fatigue,
- Increasing energy,
- Easing anxiety, stress and depression,
- Boosting our mood,
- Optimising digestion and sleep (12).
Other Vagus Nerve Exercises To Help Ease Anxiety
High vagus nerve tone is associated with long term lower levels of anxiety and stress and improved mood (12). My other post – Vagus Nerve Exercises To Improve Physical & Mental Health – has 11 other ways to activate the vagus nerve and improve mental wellbeing.
4). Thoughts – Switch Mulling Over Negative Thoughts & To Do Lists For a Gratitude Practice
It’s common in the morning to mull over negative thoughts and worry about everything we have to do during the day. To prevent us doing this, put the Five Minute Gratitude Journal (UK Link/US Link) by your bed and when you wake up write down 3 things you’re grateful for and 3 things you’re looking forward to that day or 3 things that will make today great, no matter how small or trivial they may seem. An alternative exercise is a brain dump journal, where you list every single thing you’re thankful for or an A to Z Gratitude List, listing one thing for each letter of the alphabet you’re thankful for or taking one letter of the alphabet each morning and listing 3 things beginning with that letter you’re appreciative of.
Gratitude is one of 10 healthy habits that improve our physical and mental health for free. This quick gratitude practice has been shown to lower anxiety, stress and depression and cause us to have a more positive and optimistic mindset (13, 14). It also trains your brain to look for these positive things during the day, not only helping to ease morning anxiety but improve mental wellbeing throughout the day.
For tips to maximise the benefit of your gratitude practice and different gratitude exercises and prompts, you may find these Gratitude Journaling Ideas helpful.
5). Hear – Switch Listening To The News For Listening To An Upbeat Album or Inspiring Podcast
Playing an upbeat album or listen to an inspiring podcast (like Katie Piper’s Extraordinary People or Give Me Strength With Alice Liveing), causes us to start the day in a positive upbeat mindset, rather than switching on the TV or radio and listening to the news, which can increase anxiety and negative thoughts.