No More Waking Up with Anxiety

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10, 2020

No More Waking Up with Anxiety

Starting your day off with anxiety is never easy. It essentially sets you up for a struggle, because anxiety tends to beget more anxiety. When you wake up with anxiety, you often find that your stressors are all you can focus on, and every negative thing that occurs during the day after that adds to your stress.

It seems strange that a person would wake up anxious, because often, a good night’s rest makes it a bit easier to cope with anxiety in general. For many people, their anxiety only starts to surface later during the day. Yet many people still deal with morning anxiety, and we'll discuss some of the possible causes and solutions in this article.

Anxiety and Sleep

One thing that also affects anxiety is sleep quality. Those that aren't getting enough good quality sleep may be more prone to anxiety symptoms, and those that have anxiety may have problems getting enough sleep. This could affect your anxiety levels when you wake up, especially if your anxiety from the day before made it hard for you to get a good night’s rest.

Causes of Waking Up With Anxiety

It can be a nasty surprise to wake up with anxiety. It is generally believed that anxiety is triggered by problematic thoughts and emotions that happen throughout the day. It's not uncommon to feel anxiety during the day when you experience a lot of stressful events, but why would a person feel anxious before anything stressful has happened?

Association With Anxiety Stimuli

If you’ve got a highly stressful job, or if you otherwise face a demanding challenge each and every day, you’re likely to develop anxiety during the morning before you have to face-up to that challenge. Furthermore, your brain often creates associations: if you've ever had a panic attack in the morning, fought with your partner or lost your keys as you try to rush out the door, your brain and body may have started linking morning time with a sense of anxiety. In such cases, when you wake up you start to feel anxious automatically.

First Thought of the Day

Those that deal with intense anxiety often accidentally trigger their own anxiety symptoms. That's because as soon as they wake up, they notice that they don't have anxiety and start worrying they'll experience it before long. This thought has the power to trigger a chain reaction that creates other symptoms of anxiety which then lead to even more anxious thoughts - and before you know it, you’re stuck in a vicious cycle.

Fear of Being Late

If you’ve ever been late for work, you will understand just how anxiety provoking this can be. If you’re prone to oversleeping, have a long commute or generally have a long list of things to organize in the morning, you may find yourself waking up with a rush of "I'm going to be late!" anxiety that jolts you into consciousness with a rapid heartbeat and racing thoughts.

Usually, you'll be aware if this feeling is causing your anxiety because lateness will generally be your first concern. But some people may still experience this type of anxiety without any idea why it occurs.

Dreams Causing Anxiety

Anxiety is also associated with nightmares and stressful dreams. Often when you are woken up in the middle of these dreams, you feel exactly as you did in the dream - stressed and anxious. Not everyone remembers their dreams after they wake up, so you may not always realize that your anxiety may be associated with the dreams or nightmares that you were having.

Cortisol Higher in the Morning

We mentioned earlier that not all morning anxiety has a clear medical basis. But studies have shown that cortisol levels are higher in the morning upon waking. Cortisol is the most well-known stress hormone. One theory to explain morning anxiety is that the higher cortisol levels are triggering anxiety in those prone to it, because a person is waking with higher levels of the hormone that’s linked to stress.

Coffee and Sugary Morning Foods

Coffee has developed an unfair reputation in the anxiety world. While coffee can increase your risk of anxiety symptoms and panic attacks, many people are able to drink coffee without too many problems; and some even find the clarity that coffee brings to be calming.

But coffee can still contribute to feelings of morning anxiety. Studies have shown that coffee increases cortisol levels, which may trigger a physiological anxiety response. This might also involve an elevated heart rate, and for those that are sensitive to how their heart feels, that increased heart rate may trigger further anxiousness.

But coffee is not the only culprit. Many people eat foods high in sugars, from donuts to cereal to juice, and high sugar foods can also contribute to nervousness and jitters. All of these scenarios may indicate that your diet could be affecting morning anxiety.

Other Causes of Anxiety in the Morning

All of these are potential causes of waking up with anxiety, and this is not an exhaustive list. It's possible to wake up with anxiety simply because you’ve had fights with a significant other in the morning in the past. Some people experience morning-time hypoglycemia (or low blood sugar), which has been linked to the development of anxiety symptoms. Some people also get panic attacks in their sleep which causes a person to wake up significantly distressed. There are several issues related to anxiety disorders that may cause you to wake up anxious, many of which we have discussed today.

How to Stop Waking Up With Anxiety

Stopping morning anxiety can be a complex task, because ideally you need to address the cause of your anxiety and learn how it affects you. A big part of that is trying your best to figure out why you have anxiety. If you're waking up anxious because you fear anxiety, for example, then you need to be aware of this and find ways of coping adaptively. If you fear anxiety because you dislike your job, then you need to find ways to make your job less stressful; or find effective ways of minimizing the effects of stress. Here are several strategies you can implement:

  • Morning Jog Jogging is an incredibly powerful yet underrated anxiety reduction tool. If you wake up with anxiety, go for a morning jog. It'll take your mind off of whatever is causing you that anxiety, lower your morning cortisol levels, tire your muscles so that your anxiety symptoms feel less severe, and release endorphins to help you be more relaxed.
  • Journal Writing and Positivity Writing* This is an exercise that many find helpful. Keep two journals. One in which you write out any thoughts and fears you have in the morning, so that you take them out of your head and put them on paper. In another journal you write only positive things - good things you expect to happen or that happened the previous day. These exercises may help you focus less on fearing the anxiety and more on what you'll enjoy all day.
  • Make Work Fun There are strategies to make work less stressful. You can try to invent games to make work more fun, decorate your desk, listen to music, and more. If you make your work a less stressful place, then any anxieties you may have from going to work should decrease.
  • Full Meal Anxiety symptoms may not be controlled by food, but the severity often is. Since you usually wake up hungry, make sure that you have a filling meal with a decent amount of hydration. This will decrease the severity of your anxiety symptoms and help you stay focused and energized through the day. Be sure that this meal is low in sugar and caffeine to reduce your risk of a physiological response.

A very important part of dealing with this anxiety is simply recognizing it and understanding why it occurs. By reminding yourself that your anxiety doesn't need to control your life - and by practicing some of the coping strategies we have discussed today - you may find that your ability to cope with it improves.

Questions? Comments?

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Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient


You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

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