Waking up anxious

by | Jun 30, 2017 | General Anxiety

Waking up anxious

Something that can be all too common in our lives, is waking up anxious. This can happen at any hour of the morning, half an hour before the alarm, or at 4am. It can lead to broken sleep, often leaving us feeling tired all day, and low in energy.

Anxiety in the morning is often just a continuation of the anxiety we are dealing with throughout the day. We are anxious about something (or many things), we have trouble getting to sleep at night with thoughts racing, and predictably enough, we wake up in the same frame of mind. However, sometimes everything is going fine, yet we still wake early. So, why are we waking up anxious?


The daily anxiety routine

Our mind is always telling a story

So, this is what the daily anxiety routine can look like in this instance. We go to bed relaxed, and fall asleep for a few hours. All of a sudden, we are awake, and engulfed in anxiety. In our already tired, half-waking state, we are not at our best to deal with our thoughts. Worrying may come easy to us anyway, so we slip into the groove.

We worry about work. The things we have to do. The bits that are not going well, or could go wrong. What people think of us, or what they will think of us when we inevitably mess up. We worry about being found out. The fight with our thoughts is in full swing.

When we get to work, tired and groggy, the things we worried about generally do not materialise. If they do, we tend to cope fine. We begin to gain confidence as we chat with colleagues, and get things done. By the time we are finished for the day, the worry of the morning is gone and we feel fine. We go to bed in good form.

Regardless of the fact we are asleep, our mind never shuts down. Whether in a dream, or our thoughts being still “on”, our mind is always telling a story. It’s like it can see we are vulnerable, and takes its opportunity to strike. Our guard is down, our thoughts have free rein, and our intolerance of uncertainty takes over…and it all starts again.


How to deal with waking up anxious


1. Get to bed at a reasonable time

If we have a pattern of waking up early in the morning, it is really important to be getting to bed at a reasonable hour. This way we are at least getting solid sleeping time in before we wake, regardless of what time that is.

Often, we stay up late in the evening, as it’s our free time. The sooner we go to bed, the quicker the next day comes, and we’re back in work. It’s hard to talk ourselves out of that belief. The payoff of earlier to bed is that we will at least be in better shape the next day. Anxiety is much harder to address when we are tired.


2. Limit screen time before bed

Going hand-in-hand with earlier to bed, is limiting screen time in the evening. If we can reduce it to one hour a night, that would be a great start. One episode of something on Netflix, not four. Put a curfew on Social Media, YouTube, etc…no aimless browsing after 8pm, say. Work emails for no longer than 30 mins, you can get to them in the morning…In Work!!


3. Write for 10-15 minutes a night

Writing can be very beneficial. Whether it’s just taking a pen out and seeing what comes up, or writing with a purpose. Keep a short diary of the day…daily achievements, times we know we were valued at work, what went well, what we need to address tomorrow. Personal aims and goals. It doesn’t have to be long, just a few points.

There are always a few things in every day that we have done well. Our achievements can be lost if we don’t record them. This can be good exercise regardless, but it can also help to give us perspective in the morning when our mind is telling us otherwise.


4. Plan for when anxiety hits

We cannot win a fight with ourselves

Anxious thoughts are just words. If we begin to fight back, they will just escalate. We cannot win a fight with ourselves. When anxiety does hit, even in your sleepy state, we need a plan. A good idea would be to acknowledge the thoughts and let them run their course without engagement.

This is a key feature of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). It may sound counter-intuitive, but it is far better to try and step back from our thoughts than to engage. If we let them run their course, it still won’t feel great, but it is the engagement that prolongs the pain.

ACT suggests labelling the thoughts, and when they pop into our head to acknowledge them… “ah, ‘Morning Anxiety’”, or ‘uncertainty’, or whatever makes sense. It won’t be easy, but with practice, it will be much more productive than struggling, arguing and trying to push the thoughts away.


5. Learn to tolerate uncertainty

Intolerance of uncertainty is a major player in morning anxiety

The ultimate, and unfortunately, much harder goal is to learn to become more tolerant of uncertainty. Intolerance of uncertainty is a major player in morning anxiety. It is one of the main reasons why we can feel fine during the day, but anxious in the morning.

This is particularly true for those who suffer with General Anxiety Disorder or Social Anxiety. We can experience ourselves doing fine during the day, and we regulate our emotions accordingly. When we wake, the evidence is not close at hand, and we can doubt it easily.

Check out these 7 ways to live with uncertainty and keep worry at bay, for further help.


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