If you wake up each day with anxious feelings, it may be a sign of an anxiety disorder. There are many things you can do to take control of your morning mental health, including lifestyle changes, therapy, and talking to a medical provider. Some people benefit from medication for anxiety, while others respond to lifestyle changes alone. The factors that influence how you respond to anxiety interventions depend on many different things.
If you start each day overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety, you do not have to cope on your own. In this article, we’ll explore possible causes of morning anxiety and ways to find relief, as well as when to see a medical provider.
Why Do I Wake Up With Anxiety?
While morning anxiety is not a medical diagnosis, it can be a common experience for people who have mental health conditions like generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Anxiety can be a normal experience, but if uncontrollable worriesbecome a regular part of your thought processes, it is likely related to an anxiety condition or underlying health issue.
Symptoms of morning anxiety
Signs of morning anxiety may be similar to those that occur with generalized anxiety disorder:
- Tense muscles
- High heart rate
- Problems relaxing or feeling calm
- Feeling edgy or tense
- Increased irritability
- Poor concentration or focus
- Tightness in chest and feeling like you can’t take a deep breath
Causes of Morning Anxiety
Morning anxiety can be caused by many different things. It can be an isolated response to increased stress, although it can be associated with anxiety disorders.
The adrenal glands, which help regulate the body’s stress response, release a hormone called cortisol. It is called the “stress hormone” because it can be released in higher amounts under periods of stress or crisis. Cortisol levels tend to be highest first thing in the morning when a person is experiencing stress or anxiety. Some people may be wired to have a more sensitive cortisol response, while others may experience higher levels during periods of overwhelm.
Other things can contribute to increased morning anxiety, including a high-sugar or high-caffeine breakfast, which can impact blood sugar balance. Low blood sugar can cause symptoms like shakiness, dizziness, problems focusing, and increased heart rate. Sometimes people can mistake low blood sugar for feelings of anxiety.
Any misuse of substances that can affect brain chemicals or stress hormones could lead to increases in anxiety levels at any time of the day. Such substances include alcohol, drugs, and other illegal substances.
Chronic health conditions can lead to anxiety symptoms. Stress is a natural response to long-term or unpredictable health challenges like diabetes, cancer, heart disease, asthma, and hypertension. If anxiety is a result of challenges with coping with a medical condition, that does not mean it’s not real. It just means that treating it may not be the same as addressing a primary anxiety condition.
Mental health conditions
People who have a diagnosis of a mental health condition like depression, bipolar disorder, or obsessive compulsive disorder may also experience overlapping symptoms of anxiety. This can be a symptom of their existing condition, or it could mean that they also have generalized anxiety disorder.
Worrying over finances can feel like constant stress for many adults, but in some cases, it can lead to the development of an anxiety disorder. Financial challenges and other aspects of life that make it hard to feel secure can affect well-being. Chronic stress over finances can impact mental health in many ways, including an increase in feelings of anxiety.
Life may have periods where it feels more demanding than others. This is true when changing jobs, relocating, experiencing a change to a relationship, becoming a new parent, or grieving the loss of a loved one. Stress relating to overwhelming life changes can lead to morning or all-day anxiety. For some people, this may resolve after a period of adjustment. For others, it may develop into a chronic anxiety disorder. Anxiety can form around things that others would not consider stressful, but what matters is how your brain and body respond to the challenge, not how others or even you think you should be able to handle it.
How to Avoid Waking Up With Anxiety
While people are not always able to control or lower their anxiety, there are ways to offer support to the stress response and nervous system that may help decrease feelings of anxiety. These may also help support better rest, which may help you feel less anxious when you first wake up.
Eat a healthy diet
Nutrition can have a significant impact on mood and mental health. While diet alone is not a “cure” for anxiety disorders, sometimes low levels of certain nutrients can impact short-term mental health, including symptoms of anxiety. A healthy diet should include plenty of fruits and vegetables, which contain fiber. In the gut, this fiber supports the microbiome in making some neurotransmitters—brain chemicals like serotonin that help to regulate mood.
Low levels of magnesium and other nutrients can also make it harder to cope with stress. A diet that is rich in foods like nuts, seeds, low-fat dairy products, leafy greens, poultry, seafood, and herbs and spices can provide a wide array of nutrients that support overall health, including a balanced stress response.
It is also important to eat regular meals, since some people who experience feelings of anxiety may forget to eat. A medical provider can refer you to a dietitian or offer resources to help take the stress out of knowing what foods can provide a healthy nutritional balance.
Limit television before bed
If you watch TV before bed, you may experience increased anxiety for a few reasons. Most news programs are driven by cycles of stress, alarm, and shock, which can make it hard to wind down. Instead of filling your mind with stories and images that could trigger a stress response, utilize more calming bedtime routines, such as listening to soothing music, reading a book, listening to an audio book, or practicing deep breathing or meditation.
Regular physical activity may not be a short-term fix for feelings of anxiety, although some people report that it can be an instant mood-lifter. Regular exercise helps support a healthy blood sugar response and helps your body make mood-balancing neurotransmitters.
Exercise does not have to be intense to provide benefits. Aim for 30-45 minutes of physical activity that you enjoy at least five days a week.
Spend time outside
Between breathing in fresh air, having a change of scenery, and getting some natural sunlight, time outside can have many mental health benefits. Even 10-20 minutes can improve mood.
If you wake up each morning overwhelmed by thoughts, spend the last few minutes before bed writing in a journal. Getting thoughts and feelings out of your head may help your brain relax and get better rest. This could translate to less anxiety in the morning.
Have a morning routine
If part of your morning anxiety is feeling disorganized or stressed, consider establishing a morning routine. This can help establish a sense of control and consistency, which could help to lessen feelings of overwhelm or worry. You can also add things to a list when you feel stressed about them. Sometimes the fear that you will forget to do something important worsens anxiety, but if it’s written down, your mind can relax more.
Talk to someone
Whether you talk to a loved one or consult a licensed therapist, getting your feelings out into the open can help lessen the burden of dealing with them all on your own. Talk therapy, or psychotherapy, can help many people resolve or manage feelings of anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one approach that helps to refocus how you think about aspects of your life. For some, this can have a dramatic effect on reducing signs of anxiety.
Limiting alcohol and caffeine
Alcohol and caffeine may help give you feelings of control over anxiety in the short-term, but over time, they can worsen mood or anxiety. Focus instead on drinking plenty of water. Limit caffeine intake in the afternoon and evening, and consume alcohol in moderation.
Get enough sleep
Sometimes anxiety makes it hard to sleep, while other times the dread of experiencing anxiety in the morning can make people put off going to sleep or experience insomnia. Improved rest and getting enough sleep can make important differences in mood and mental health. The recommended amount of sleep for adults is 7-9 hours.
When to See a Medical Provider
If anxiety prevents you from functioning as you typically would in your everyday life, speak to a medical provider. Even if you feel like it is due to a certain situation or that it’s not bad enough to warrant medical attention, healthcare providers are there to assist you.
A medical provider may ask you questions about your health history and habits, and may also run lab work or perform basic tests to rule out underlying causes of anxiety.
How K Health Can Help
Want mental health support? Get connected to care in minutes. K Therapy offers free smart chats, which are dynamic, pre-written conversations designed by experts that cover a number of common mental health topics such as depression, anxiety, stress, relationships, and more. Access them for free by downloading the K Therapy app.
K Health also offers anxiety medication for the right candidates.
Online therapists are also available in select states for individualized care. Connect with a licensed mental health therapist for unlimited asynchronous text-based therapy. Therapists respond Monday through Friday between 9am-5pm, within 24-hours.
Frequently Asked Questions
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
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The Neurobiological Mechanisms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Chronic Stress. (2017).
Daily Life Stress and the Cortisol Awakening Response: Testing the Anticipation Hypothesis. (2017).
Substance Use Disorders and Anxiety: A Treatment Challenge for Social Workers. (2013).
Regulation of Neurotransmitters by the Gut Microbiota and Effects on Cognition in Neurological Disorders. (2021).
Magnesium Status and Stress: The Vicious Circle Concept Revisited. (2020).