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Morning Sickness: Why Do I Have Anxiety When I Wake Up?

Do you ever wake up feeling like you're already behind on the day? That familiar pang of unease settling in before you've had your morning coffee? You're not alone. Many people experience what's known as "morning anxiety," a phenomenon where anxiety is worse in the morning.


Waking up with anxiety might be normal if you have an exam or a big presentation at work. But if you have intense anxiety every morning, you may suffer from generalized anxiety disorder or GAD. When anxiety is impacting your life, you need to take back control.


But why is anxiety worse in the morning for some people, and what can you do about it? Let's explore.




The Phenomenon of Morning Anxiety


Forget the wrong side of bed, waking up with anxiety is a rotten start to the day. It's that feeling of dread or nervousness that greets you as soon as you open your eyes, sometimes for no apparent reason. It makes you want to pull the sheets up and hide from the world.


Morning anxiety may be linked to the body's natural cortisol levels, which are typically higher in the morning and research has found that those with social anxiety tend to have higher waking cortisol levels [1].


Cortisol, often referred to as the "stress hormone," plays a role in the body's fight-or-flight response. When cortisol levels spike upon waking, it can contribute to feelings of anxiety and tension.


Furthermore, the abrupt transition from sleep to wakefulness can also trigger anxiety. As your body shifts from a state of rest to activity, it can be unsettling for some individuals, especially if they anticipate stressors or challenges awaiting them in the day ahead.


The Role of Sleep in Mental Health


Adequate sleep is essential for overall well-being, including mental health. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults should aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. However, anxiety can disrupt sleep patterns, leading to a vicious cycle where poor sleep exacerbates anxiety, and vice versa.


Research has shown that sleep deprivation can impair cognitive function and emotional regulation, making individuals more susceptible to anxiety and stress [2]. Additionally, disruptions in the sleep cycle, such as waking up frequently during the night, can contribute to morning anxiety by preventing the body from entering restorative sleep stages.


“Hangxiety”: Alcohol, Hangovers, and Heightened Anxiety


When you’re stressed out and anxious, alcohol may seem like a way to unwind and relax. But, alcohol can have a significant impact on mental health, particularly when it comes to anxiety. While alcohol initially acts as a depressant, leading to feelings of relaxation and euphoria, it can disrupt sleep patterns and exacerbate anxiety in the long run.


Moreover, the aftermath of alcohol consumption—hangovers—can intensify morning anxiety. Dehydration, chemical imbalances, and disrupted sleep from a night of drinking can all contribute to feelings of unease and apprehension upon waking.


Individuals with anxiety disorders are more likely to develop alcohol use disorders [3], highlighting a complex relationship between alcohol consumption and anxiety. Alcohol is a coping mechanism, but an unhealthy one that causes more problems in the long run.


Coping Strategies and Treatment for Morning Anxiety


Fortunately, there are strategies and treatments available to help manage morning anxiety and promote overall mental well-being.


Prioritize Sleep Hygiene: Practice good sleep hygiene habits to improve the quality of your sleep. This includes maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, creating a relaxing sleep environment, and avoiding stimulants like caffeine and electronics before bedtime.


Establish a Morning Routine: Creating a calming morning routine can help ease the transition from sleep to wakefulness. Incorporate activities such as deep breathing exercises, gentle stretching, or mindfulness meditation to start your day on a positive note.


Reduce Caffeine Intake: You may feel like you need your morning coffee to get going, but caffeine can increase your anxiety and even induce panic attacks [4]. Reducing your caffeine intake or eliminating it entirely can ease your symptoms, particularly in the morning.


Limit Alcohol Consumption: Be mindful of your alcohol intake and its effects on your mental health. Consider moderating or abstaining from alcohol to reduce the risk of exacerbating morning anxiety.


Seek Professional Help: If morning anxiety persists and significantly impacts your daily life, consider seeking treatment. Therapy, medication, or a combination of both may be recommended to address underlying anxiety disorders and develop coping strategies. Our social anxiety and panic attacks programs combine the gold-standard cognitive behavioral therapy with a course of graded exposure therapy to help reduce the impact of your fears.


Wrapping Up


Morning anxiety is a common experience for many individuals, but it could be a symptom of a larger anxiety disorder. By understanding the factors that contribute to morning anxiety, prioritizing sleep and mental health, and implementing coping strategies, you can effectively manage and reduce morning anxiety symptoms.


If you’re struggling with social anxiety or a specific phobia, oVRcome could be right for you. Take a free online test today and find out.


References


  1. Adam EK, Vrshek-Schallhorn S, Kendall AD, Mineka S, Zinbarg RE, Craske MG. Prospective associations between the cortisol awakening response and first onsets of anxiety disorders over a six-year follow-up--2013 Curt Richter Award Winner. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2014 Jun;44:47-59. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2014.02.014. Epub 2014 Mar 12. PMID: 24767619; PMCID: PMC4108290.


  1. Babson KA, Trainor CD, Feldner MT, Blumenthal H. A test of the effects of acute sleep deprivation on general and specific self-reported anxiety and depressive symptoms: an experimental extension. J Behav Ther Exp Psychiatry. 2010 Sep;41(3):297-303. doi: 10.1016/j.jbtep.2010.02.008. Epub 2010 Feb 23. PMID: 20231014; PMCID: PMC2862829.


  1. Smith JP, Randall CL. Anxiety and alcohol use disorders: comorbidity and treatment considerations. Alcohol Res. 2012;34(4):414-31. PMID: 23584108; PMCID: PMC3860396.

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