Let's face it, not all of us are 'morning people'. Which is why anxiety first thing in the morning is easy to sweep under the carpet. But experiencing it on a regular basis can be debilitating, and once we're in an anxious state, it's difficult to stop feeling that way.
"We generally feel anxious about things we fear, which is why many of us become anxious first thing in the morning," explains psychotherapist Hilda Burke. "But very often, these are 'what-if' scenarios that haven't even happened yet. Being told off by our boss when we get to work, for example, or experiencing a stressful journey on the underground. 'Acting out' a particular scenario then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy - we're primed for attack as soon as we leave the house, responding to fear instead of reality." But how do we stop the cycle, and start feeling calmer instead? Here, Hilda shares her advice…
1. Asses your anxiety
The first thing Hilda recommends is working out whether you're experiencing genuine anxiety, or whether other social factors could be to blame. "Sunday Night Dread is a real thing in our culture - everybody gets on the bandwagon on social media, or at the office," she explains. "It can be quite persuasive to get swept up in that way of thinking and jump on the bandwagon too. But feeling The Fear every single Sunday night/Monday morning is a very different story – in which case, it's time to take a step back and ask why you're feeling that way. It's natural to feel sad the weekend is over, but that's very different to feeling never-ending knots in your stomach and constantly dreading the week ahead."
2. Stop comparing
Ever found yourself thinking 'Well, everybody is hating work right now, so I shouldn't complain…'? According to Hilda, it doesn't matter. "Your experience is still valid - if you're constantly feeling anxious and worried about the day or week ahead, then it's unhealthy to ignore it because others are struggling too. Of course, it's normal to have feelings of, 'Urgh, work today…' but if it's a regular pattern happening every week, it's important to be honest with yourself and tackle it."
3. Identify the cause
If you're feeling overwhelmed or anxious, it's useful to try and identify any possible causes or triggers. While anxiety disorders aren't usually caused by one single factor alone, they can often be brought on by certain things, or situations. "Sit down and think about what it is you're feeling especially anxious or nervous about," says Hilda. "Is your job too stressful? Is a relationship making you unhappy? Is it the journey to work, or maybe it's a general feeling of unease that's developed over time?" Don't panic if you can't pinpoint it immediately, but if you can, it's a useful place to start.
4. Remember, change is possible
"It's easy to forget that most of us have the luxury of choice," says Hilda. "Of course, sometimes that choice can feel overwhelming, and that in turn can add to anxiety and stress levels, but it's important to register we have more options than we sometimes realise. While it's easy to feel trapped in a situation that's making you miserable, with a bit of help it's possible to take practical steps to feel a whole lot better." But guess what? That involves opening up a little, folks…
5. Be honest
Whatever emotional state you're in, being honest and upfront with close friends is likely to improve it, says Hilda. "A lot of my clients put a huge amount of energy into pretending they're not going through periods of trauma," explains Hilda. "But acting like you're not anxious, sad or depressed requires a huge amount of energy, and you're denying yourself some potentially invaluable support from those who care about you." If the morning journey into work is causing anxiety well before you've even left the house, tell a colleague you trust at work how difficult you're finding things - you'll be surprised what a bit of support can actually do.
6. Start small
"If you've already identified what's triggering your anxiety, the next step is actually implementing change," says Hilda. "The insight gives you the opportunity, but you still need to make active choices yourself. Whether that's unfollowing people on Instagram who make you unhappy, or sending your boss a quick Monday morning update before she sends you a stressed email asking where XYZ is at." Don't worry that they're only tiny changes – they all add up, and collectively, can go a long way to helping you feel calm and in control.
7. Talk it out
If you haven't identified the cause of your anxiety, or you're having difficulty taking steps to ease it, consider speaking to your GP about talking therapy. "Talking therapy – like counselling or CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) – should really be the first port of call," says Hilda. "Medication for anxiety is necessary in some cases, but talking therapy is a great place to start if you feel able – it can be brilliantly effective." You can look up your local psychological therapies service here.
8. Try the M's
That's mindfulness and meditation, FYI. "They're popular for a reason," says Hilda. "Anxiety is often triggered by our thoughts rushing ahead, so having a mindful practise each morning and focusing on your breath can slow down and intercept those thoughts before they spiral out of control." If neither is for you (and don't knock it 'till you've tried it…) try something else to unclutter your mind – whether it's walking to work, or getting off the tube 20 minutes earlier. Try it for a week, you might be surprised.
9. Switch up your schedule
The worst thing about morning anxiety is wasting those precious few hours before the working day even begins by dreading what's to come. "That's two hours you could be enjoying not being at work, so instead of dreading it, do something fun!" says Hilda. "Instead of ending your day with something relaxing, begin it that way. Whether it's a swim, a tasty breakfast or even walking to work with a friend – try making positive associations during those few hours you'd normally spend feeling anxious. It doesn't have to take up much time either – even just flicking through a magazine you love, or calling a loved-one can serve as a great distraction technique."
10. Get sweating
If there's one thing experts worldwide unanimously agree on, it's that exercise is a winner when it comes to our mental health. "Establishing healthy habits – through exercise, diet and self-care – is really important," explains Hilda. "But when we're anxious, we fall into 'panic-mode' and are less likely to give much thought or attention to those habits (just when we need it most)." Focus on establishing a regular exercise routine – whether it's yoga, swimming or cardio, whatever you enjoy – and there's a good chance you'll notice your mood improving too.
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