Needless to say, experiencing anxiety as soon as you wake up is a horrible feeling. It can be something as minor as a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, a racing heart, feelings of fear and dread, or it can be a full blown panic attack. Sometimes we have reasons for waking up with anxiety – maybe you have a job interview or have to face something unpleasant; however, more often there is no explanation for the sense of dread and discomfort you feel as soon as your eyes open. So what can you do when you wake up feeling anxiety and panic?
- Give yourself five minutes to lie in bed and use a relaxation type coping skill such as mindfulness of the breath or safe place visualization. Both skills are easy and can be done quickly – anytime, anywhere, which makes them ideal go-to skills for when you wake up with anxiety.
- Mindfulness of the breath is done by simply focusing your attention on your breath. There is no need to count or control your breathing in any way. Just notice your breath and how your body feels when you inhale and exhale. If your mind wanders during this exercise, that is ok, just continue to focus your attention back to your breath. For more info on this skill, click here: http://healthypsych.com/5-minute-mindful-breathing-exercise
- Safe place visualization is one of my favorite coping skills. The most important thing to remember when using this skill is to use all of your senses. So, the first thing to do is choose a safe place – maybe it is a favorite place you’ve been or someplace you’ve simply imagined. My safe place is a beach on Cape Cod. Once you’ve identified your safe place, close your eyes and imagine yourself there. And remember – use all of your senses to do this! What does your safe place look like? What do you hear there? Are there scents that are associated with your safe place? Do you feel anything? Don’t forget taste! Using these questions, the way I visualize myself in my safe place is seeing the sand, the waves, the sunny, blue sky. I can hear the waves crashing and the birds singing. I can feel the sun on my face and I can feel the sand between my toes. I feel the cold water when I walk up to the ocean and I can smell the sea. I see the shells and the round rocks and I feel how smooth they feel when I bend over and pick them up. I can even taste the salt from the water on my lips. Really take a few minutes to immerse yourself in your safe place and experience being there.
- Get up! Don’t allow yourself to lie in bed any longer than five minutes and don’t allow that at all if you aren’t going to engage in one of the relaxation skills mentioned above. As soon as you get up, make sure you do one of a few things – exercise, get in the shower, or brush your teeth. These things are stimulating and will help force your senses away from the anxiety feelings. While you are participating in exercise, showering or brushing your teeth do so in a mindful way. What does that mean? Well, it means being present and observing/describing to yourself what you are doing and experiencing. What does the water feel like? What is the temperature? How does the soap smell? What does the toothpaste smell like? How does your body feel while you’re exercising? Are you jogging outside? If so, what do you see, hear, and smell? Force yourself to focus on the details and the experience of whatever you are doing.
- Stay away from caffeine. It might seem like a good idea to have a cup of coffee to help wake you up, but caffeine can actually make your anxiety worse.
- So this one is something you will actually have to consider the day or night prior. Have a plan for your day. This is particularly important for people who don’t have a lot of structure built into their lives for whatever reason, because anxiety often comes from a fear of the unknown or a lack of control. So if you don’t work, work from home, go to school part time, or have some other reason for not having structure, you will need to create your own structure by having a plan. Having a plan doesn’t mean you have to have every second of your day mapped out, but you should have a good idea of how you would like to spend your time. What time you need to get up, what you will do as soon as you get up, what you’d like to accomplish during the day are some of the things you will need to consider. If you have already answered these questions the day before, you will feel less likely to wake up anxious and in a panic.
- Another proactive thing to do to reduce worry and anxiety in the morning is to start a gratitude journal and write in it before you go to sleep each night. Gratitude journals don’t have to take a lot of time and are very simple and fulfilling to maintain. Simply take a few moments each night to reflect on the things in life you are grateful for and try to come up with new things daily. It doesn’t help much if you write the same things over and over. Really push yourself to identify something that happened in each day that was positive and made you feel good. Keeping a gratitude journal helps with morning anxiety in two ways – first it puts you in a positive mindset before you go to sleep and secondly, you then have something encouraging to review when you wake up with anxiety or at any time when you’re feeling worried or sad.
- Talk to a therapist. Often the anxiety we wake up with is caused by an underlying reason. So, if waking up with anxiety becomes a regular thing for you, talking to a professional can help. You will be able to learn how to identify your anxiety, where it might be coming from, and how to learn to live with it or even eliminate it!
For more information about anxiety or to schedule an appointment, call 585-299-1010 today!