Morning Anxiety? It Might Be Cortisol Awakening Response

Share This Post

In this post, we’re going to talk about how cortisol is different in the morning and what you can do about it to better decrease your morning anxiety

If you go to bed worrying about your day, your body’s like, “Hey let me help you out. I’m going to give you a dump truckload of cortisol the minute you wake up.”

Doesn’t that sound great? This is called the cortisol awakening response. It’s connected to your circadian rhythm and depending on how you look at it, it’s a blessing or a curse.

If you wake up to anxiety first thing in the morning, you know how uncomfortable it can be.

What is Cortisol?

Cortisol is a stress hormone that your adrenal glands pump out in response to fear or stress.

It helps your body prepare for action and it makes your heart beat faster and it can make you feel a little bit jittery or anxious.

Even for people without high levels of stress, cortisol levels are generally highest within the first hour of waking up.

Some people wake up with a jolt of anxiety so powerful that it makes the whole day seem overwhelming.

Some people feel frozen in their beds. Some people get activated, irritable, and jittery about their day or they engage in frenetic activity or that jolt of cortisol makes some people wake up to panic attacks or feel like they’re about to have one.  

This is not the way you want to wake up.

How Cortisol Functions

So, why would your body do that?  Cortisol’s function is to help you get alert and perform.

If you’re playing soccer, cortisol helps you get pumped up and play hard.  

Cortisol can help you be motivated to finish a report for work or jump out of the way of a speeding car.

But if you go to bed worrying about everything you have to do tomorrow, the brain makes a secret plan. I’m gonna help my human get activated right when he wakes up.

So, it plans a little surprise party for you.  

Your alarm goes off. Surprise!  Dump truckload of cortisol.

Now, anxiety is an emotion. Emotions aren’t just bad things that happen to you.  

Emotions serve a function. When it’s functional, anxiety helps you take appropriate action to stay safe and get things done.

But when we have too much anxiety that we don’t know what to do with, anxiety can trap you in a cycle of worrying about things without taking action and that can make it really hard to complete tasks.

Managing Morning Anxiety

So, what do we do about it?

Managing anxiety has two parts. Taking action at the moment to decrease your anxiety and then decreasing your overall stress levels.

So, let’s start with the moment. Start your day grounded. Try a morning routine that includes prayer a breathing exercise or meditation.

If you can’t get moving, try something very soothing first. Just take one really small step like just getting out of bed and into a chair.

Give yourself some positive affirmations. Say something like, I can do this and I can do hard things.

Then train your mind to worry in a helpful way.

Journal first thing in the morning. If you feel overwhelmed it can be scary to write things down but it always helps me get clarity when I do it.

It’s like you take this big nasty cloud of worries and tasks and you transfer them to something solid a piece of paper where you can organize them.

Another great way to convert stress into energy is exercise. So, consider adding exercise to your morning routine.

Also, skip the caffeine and sugar in the morning. Sugar and cortisol don’t interact well with each other and it can make you more anxious.

But don’t skip breakfast either. Low blood sugar can also make you anxious. So, try something like eggs whole grains, or nuts to start your day off.  

Decreasing your overall stress levels is much more about life management.  So, first, look at the cause of your stress.  

Do you have good work-life boundaries?

Are you taking on too many projects or activities? Do you need better organization?

Prepare as much as possible the night before so you don’t have to wake up to dread.

Break your tasks down into small steps.  Journal. Get your crap together.  

Sort through your life at dinnertime the night before.

Do your worrying on your own time frame?

Don’t let your brain throw this worry surprise party, right?  

So, this might look like writing out the next day’s tasks the day before and that sends a message to your brain that says, I know. I’ve got it. You don’t have to keep nagging me to remember, can help turn off worry.

Sleep deprivation can really contribute to anxiety and depression. So, if you’re struggling with morning anxiety make sleep a priority and then just cut out alcohol and caffeine.  

Caffeine can impact sleep and anxiety levels for up to 72 hours.

So when it comes to morning anxiety you’ve got two choices. Let it take over your life or choose to be proactive.

Actively work to reduce your overall stress and then tell yourself, “I can do this. I can convert this stress into energy.” 

Of course, working with a therapist is a great way to figure out some new ways to manage those stress levels.

In case you’re wondering, I do all my best writing between 5 and 7 am while my legs are jiggling.

Then I go for a run or exercise. This is how I turn my morning dump truckload of cortisol into something productive.

If you want to start journaling to manage your morning anxiety, check out the course below.

More To Explore

Business Inquiry