Tips for Coping with Morning Anxiety

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Given the stress of living through a pandemic, moderate anxiety is common. Waking up in a panic every morning is more troubling, as it sets in before coping mechanisms can be deployed. Morning anxiety has a biological cause: Cortisol, often called the “stress hormone,” is higher during the first hour after waking for people experiencing stress. Sometimes people feel a measure of control when they worry, so they have trouble stopping the cycle.

To learn more, check out the infographic below created by Wake Forest University’s Master of Arts in Counseling program.

How to recognize and reduce the onslaught of morning anxiety.

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Symptoms of and Myths About Anxiety

Many people conflate stress and anxiety, but they’re different. Webster’s defines anxiety as “being uneasy, apprehensive or worried about what may happen,” whereas stress is “mental or emotional tension or strain characterized by feelings of anxiety, fear, etc.” Stress can also be defined as not having the resources to complete a task, while anxiety is usually tied to a perceived threat, real or imagined. Stress may be alleviated by accomplishing the task, but anxiety sticks around, producing a host of physical and psychological symptoms.

Symptoms of Anxiety

Some of the symptoms commonly associated with anxiety are internally physical in nature, which can range from nausea and headache to rapid heart rate and tight chest. Other symptoms are outwardly physical, such as sweating, shaking or having difficulty breathing. There are also symptoms tied to behavioral or emotional tendencies, such as a sense of panic, difficulty concentrating, restlessness and diminished sex drives. Other potential symptoms are fatigue or problems sleeping.

Common Misconceptions About Anxiety

Unfortunately, there are several myths regarding anxiety and how it’s handled. Some prominent misconceptions include worrying is genetic and incurable, anxiety medication is addictive, using distractions or avoiding stressful situations can help minimize the threat of anxiety, and being around supportive people can cure anxiety.

Prevalence of Anxiety

Anxiety has been on the rise the last few years, as 32% of Americans say they’re more anxious than they were the year before. In 2019, two-thirds of Americans were worried about the safety of themselves and their families as well as their finances. Nearly two-thirds had anxiety about their health, and around half were worried about the effects of politics and had anxiety over various interpersonal relationships.

Ongoing anxiety can cause a variety of physical ailments, such as hypertension (high blood pressure), kidney and heart damage and arrhythmia. It can also exacerbate other conditions, such as depression, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, heart disease, stroke and chronic pain.

General Anxiety Disorder

While occasional worry is a part of life, frequent excessive anxiety about tasks or situations that most people don’t find threatening could be an indication of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Nearly 7 million adult Americans experience GAD annually, per the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Studies also indicate GAD affects women about twice as often as it affects men. Additionally, people with serious or painful medical conditions or substance misuse problems are more likely to have anxiety disorders.

Everyday Anxiety vs. GAD

An individual experiencing everyday anxiety will spend time worrying about a specific event, assignment, or task. They’ll also have trouble sleeping or concentrating during stressful times, and they’ll experience physical aches and pains from specific situations.

An individual with GAD will experience ongoing general worry about vague, often imagined threats that interfere with daily life. They’ll also experience frequent trouble sleeping or concentrating and experience physical aches and pains for more than six months without a specific cause.

Tips for Reducing Morning Anxiety

If a racing heart or upset stomach greets you first thing in the morning, you can do a few things to help ease your everyday anxiety. For instance, you can engage in exercise, which increases endorphins, improves mental focus, and elevates mood. You can also practice meditation or mindfulness, which can improve ability to calm the mind and stop the cycle of anxious thoughts.

Another tip involves limiting stressors, such as waiting to check news or social media, using an alarm clock instead of a smartphone, or taking the time to self-care. Additionally, you can use tactics designed to exert a sense of control, such as daily planning or writing down and “fact-checking” nagging fears. Finally, resources like meditation apps or podcasts focused on decreasing feelings of isolation can be valuable.

Reaching Out Can Help

If anxiety is impacting your sleep, work, relationships or ability to focus, seek professional help. The National Alliance on Mental Illness connects people with professionals in their area. Call 800-950-NAMI or text “NAMI” to 741741. If anxiety is causing suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).