Do you ever wake up anxious in the morning? Here’s what it feels like when I do…

Within seconds of opening my eyes the calmness that comes with sleeps begins to slip away like water flowing down a drain.

At the same time the worry begins to surround me like a pair of ice cold hands running over my neck and shoulders. I become paralyzed and close my eyes in fruitless attempt to fall back asleep. I start to weigh the options of staying in bed.

If I stay, there’s a chance I might fall back asleep and enjoy those precious anxious free seconds upon waking. If I get up I’ll relieve myself from the guilt of avoiding my responsibilities and prevent future problems.

To put my needlessly worried mind at rest I’ve picked up a few strategies to help me get my feet on the floor in the morning.

Old school wake up call

How to do it

I’ve come to notice that there is a pretty strong correlation with my phone and my anxiety. I start checking emails pretty much as soon as my eyes are open. I tried putting my phone in the drawer or out of reach but the motivation to get connected was just too strong.

I justified keeping it on my bedside table as my alarm clock even after I realized it was causing anxiousness… So I ditched it. And you can to0. I now charge my phone in the living room and replaced digital with analog

Analog Alarm Clock

Here is my secret sauce… I set the station to classical radio. It’s helps to stimulate brainwaves and gives my brain something to focus on as I wake up.

Why it works

The correlation between classical music and positive neural activity is well documented. If you’re interested in learning more checkout the Mozart Effect. 1 There have been Studies since 1988 that have repeadtly proven this theory and found that classical music can improve memory and increase your mood by activiting your seretonin producing neurotransmitters.

Observe the room (AKA – Grounding)

How to do it

This one might seem a little too easy. But it works. I simply start to look around the room. I pick out little details; the grain in the floor, the colours and patterns in the duvet cover. I focus on textures and touch different surfaces to generate a tactile response. Sometimes I’ll place my feet on the floor and feel how cold it is. (we have laminate) I try to take in everything. I breath a little slower and try feel the temperature of the air on my skin. If you’ve ever done grounding, mindfulness exercises or meditation this may sound familiar to you.

Why it works

What I’m doing through these observations is staying present. I’m trying to prevent my mind from going into a spiral of worry by hacking my brain into being curious. I’ve found that curiosity is the antithesis of worry and fear. I urge you to try being curious and afraid or anxious at the same time. It’s impossible.

The neurons our brains use to processes a fear response is completely different than the neurons it uses to learn and be mindful. Check out the images below…

Source: http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v16/n2/fig_tab/nn.3296_F4.html

Source: http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01489/full

Source: http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01489/full

The Image to the left shows regions of the brain that are activated by fear.2 The test was designed to study the differences in neural activity from a “normal” brain to that of a person who suffers from PTSD. In this case i’m using it to demonstrate where fear related neural activity occurs in the brain.

The Image to the right displays the areas of the brain that are activated from mindfulness meditations.3 Now, I’m not a neuroscientist but the areas of the brain that are used to maintain a mindfulness state are very different than those used for a fear response and from what i’ve learned those areas don’t often light up in tandem.

Keep a Log or Journal

How to do it

For some people this one might not be so effortless for others it will be as natural as breathing. Before I go to bed at night I create a log of all the things I accomplished during the day. They don’t have to be big things. Even the little stuff counts. (On bad days sometimes taking a shower is an accomplishment) I also write down any positive anecdotes. Eg. The colleague who paid for my coffee, a compliment I received. As I go through the day and focus on the positive moments my mood starts to lift even though my energy levels are low. This helps me fall asleep in a positive mind frame.

After I’m doing writing down my accomplishments, I then flip the page and write out what I’d like to complete the next day. I write the hours of the day down the left hand side and schedule in my activities.

Journal / Log Book to help with anxiety in the morning

Why it works

Entrepreneurs are not alone when it comes to thinking that we don’t get enough accomplished during the day. As we compare ourselves to others we’re often left feeling inadequate.

I’ve found myself thinking “why did you spend so long at lunch? you could have done x,y,z.” or “if you’d just get up earlier you’d get more done in the day”. These thoughts often lead me to feeling like I’m not good enough or that I’m not progressing towards my goals quickly enough. Which leads to me thinking I’m going to fail. Which leads to me thinking I already have. Which leads to me thinking I’ll never succeed.

Keeping a log of my activities is the feedback loop that helps me see I actually am making progress towards my goals. It helps me see that I am productive during the day and that there really isn’t a lot of room to squeeze more in. And It helps to prevent me setting myself up to fail by trying to take on more than I can actually fit into a day.

Do you have any morning routines that help you keep your anxiety at bay? Leave a comment below.

Footnotes

  1. The Mozart Effect – http://lrs.ed.uiuc.edu/students/lerch1/edpsy/mozart_effect.html#Scientific Explanations for the
  2. http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v16/n2/fig_tab/nn.3296_F4.html
  3. http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01489/full

Hi, I’m Brian.

Entrepreneur and Creator of undepressed.me

I’m helping to eliminate the stigma against mental health issues and to connect other entrepreneurs to the information, support and treatments needed to overcome depression.

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