By Jon Spayde
Call it morning panic: The alarm clock rings, your eyes pop open, and you’re immediately off to the races, filled with anticipatory dread about the day’s myriad tasks. It’s super stressful and a missed opportunity, too, says Judith Orloff, MD, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA and author of Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life (Harmony Books, 2009). In her book, Orloff identifies stress barriers and obstacles to overcome. “The biggest barrier to serenity in the morning is in your own head: It’s how you frame the day,” Orloff says. But if you can do some simple reframing as soon as you wake up, the morning can be a great time to carve out some calm space and time for yourself, and set yourself up for a more peaceful and productive day.
Stress Source: Early-morning panic.
The anxiety that takes over the minute you wake up, as thoughts of tasks, schedule demands and potential problems crowd your brain and set your heart pounding.
The packed to-do list. Having too much to do, from job to kids to relationships and being overly conscious of it first thing in the morning is one of the most common causes of wake-up anxiety.
Morning fatigue. Millions of Americans are “under-slept,” says Orloff. And feeling tired in the morning can significantly contribute to anxiety.
Anticipatory fears. “You might be worried about some encounter that’s going to take place during the day, or have ongoing health fears or any number of other concerns that hit you upon awakening,” Orloff notes.
A sense of choicelessness. Orloff thinks that the major contributor to morning anxiety is the sense that we have no choice but to feel stressed: “We feel like we’re on autopilot in the morning, that we’re stuck in reactive mode.”
HOW TO COPE
List your anxieties. “At some time not in the morning! put your five major anxieties down on paper,” says Orloff. “Then you won’t be ambushed by them when you wake up.” Next, use the calming techniques below.
Meditate. Orloff recommends a three-minute meditation: “You simply breathe, center, and focus on something positive and wonderful. Do it for only three minutes right when you wake up because limiting it teaches you to find emotional calm quickly.” Placing your hand over your heart during the meditation can add an additional element of warmth and self-soothing.
Establish a morning ritual. This can include a longer meditation period, simple yoga stretches for relaxation or prayer. “Make the ritual very pleasant,” says Orloff, “so you don’t think of it as just another obligation.” (For more suggestions about rituals, see “Stress Solver,” on the next page.)
Keep bedtime peaceful. While it’s smart to tackle anxiety-producing tasks early before they are due or overdue Orloff cautions against spoiling bedtime with them. “Jamming in tasks just before you go to bed creates a really restless sleep, and you will not necessarily feel better in the morning.”
Anticipate something good. “What in your day are you looking forward to?” asks Orloff. “Home in on that as a special treat.”
Protect what’s essential. You may not have control over everything that happens in your life, but the tone you set first thing in the morning and last thing at night can influence everything that comes between. (For more on this, see “Bookends” in the May/June 2003 archives .)
Next: How to Create a Morning Ritual