- Waking up with anxiety is common and often caused by a spike in cortisol levels.
- To calm morning anxiety, eat a healthy breakfast high in magnesium-rich foods like oatmeal.
- You should also avoid caffeine, get active, and establish a morning routine to mitigate anxiety.
- Visit Insider's Health Reference library for more advice.
Nearly everyone will experience some feelings of stress or anxiety at some point in their lives.
On a daily basis, that stress or anxiety is often felt most heavily in the morning. When you wake up, the pressure of completing the day's tasks may feel overwhelming, and biologically, your hormones can make that stress feel worse.
Here's what you need to know about morning anxiety and how to manage stress when you wake up.
Why do I wake up with anxiety?
Feeling anxious in the morning is common for people with and without anxiety disorders, says Mayra Mendez, PhD, a licensed psychotherapist.
Although there's not a lot of research specific to morning anxiety, many mental health practitioners see it in their practice. Oftentimes, putting a name to the condition is helpful.
"Many people are comforted to know there is a syndrome, and that what they are experiencing is not unique to them," says Moe Gelbart, PhD, the director of Behavioral Health at Torrance Memorial Medical Center.
What causes morning anxiety?
Thinking about everything you have to accomplish during the day, from work to exercise and even socializing, can contribute to the anxiety that you feel in the morning, Mendez says.
While thinking about the day ahead might be stressful on its own, there's a biological process at play too: the Cortisol Awakening Response (CAR).
Cortisol is known as the stress hormone because it is involved in the body's response to stress. During the first 30 to 45 minutes that you are awake each day, cortisol levels spike, a phenomenon known as CAR, which can make you feel more stressed in the morning.
While anyone can experience morning anxiety, people with anxiety disorders are particularly susceptible.
"If you're already prone to anxiety, there can be a high level of anxiousness during the morning," Mendez says.
And while anxiety might be useful to get healthy individuals thinking about how to manage their day, it's likely to be more paralyzing for people with underlying anxiety disorders.
"The effect of higher cortisol further exacerbates physiological symptoms of anxiety such as increased adrenaline flow, increased heart rate, and increased blood pressure," Mendez says. "For someone with anxiety, when cortisol levels are higher in the morning, the anxiety is greater and interferes with the person's ability to think calmly and plan for the day ahead."
How to calm anxiety in the morning
To manage your stress or anxiety in the morning, you can try these strategies:
1. Acknowledge the anxiety
Acknowledging your morning anxiety allows you to take steps to address it, rather than accepting it as an unavoidable part of your life.
"Recognizing a problem and its source is the first step in giving it proper attention and toward improving," Gelbart says.
Knowing that there's a biological contribution can also make it easier to face, Mendez says.
2. Eat breakfast
Low blood sugar in the morning, which is common after not eating all night, can cause symptoms like sweating and negative feelings that may mimic anxiety.
Tasha Holland-Kornegay, PhD, a counselor, recommends incorporating foods with magnesium, which have been shown to help reduce anxiety.
"It would be wise to include, daily, some of the food choices that are high in this mineral," she says.
You can find
in plenty of breakfast-friendly foods, including:
- Nuts like almonds, cashews and hazelnuts
- Bran cereals and other whole grains, like those in whole grain toast and oatmeal
- Fish, including smoked salmon
Gelbart says that eating a nutritious breakfast soon after waking can also help you take control of anxiety and ease symptoms.
"In general, good and healthy eating habits is one of the tools to cope with anxiety," he says. "It is important because anxiety is a sense of losing control, and having things we can control help ease the fear."
3. Be cautious of caffeine
Some research indicates that people with anxiety disorders are particularly susceptible to the effects of caffeine, which is believed to worsen the symptoms of anxiety.
"Caffeine promotes and increases anxiety," Gelbart says. You may want to limit your morning coffee intake or avoid it altogether. Gelbart recommends switching to decaf coffee or black tea, or sipping a glass of lemon water in the morning instead.
4. Try exercise
Regular exercise helps to regulate your central nervous system, and can help reduce your anxiety.
Exercising in the morning can be particularly beneficial. However, you don't have to exercise bright and early if you're not a morning person — engaging in regular exercise at any time is associated with a lower risk for anxiety.
One 2020 study found that exercises that incorporate
can be particularly helpful for managing anxiety. If you're experiencing morning anxiety, you should try:
- Yoga. "Think about the breathing," Mendez says. "That puts an interruption to the negative thoughts for the moment. It can help reduce anxiety and calm your thoughts, and then the body can relax."
- Tai Chi. This martial art incorporates breathing and movement, and can be beneficial for the same reasons as yoga.
- Walking. Just 10 minutes of brisk walking can improve mood, a 2018 study found.
5. Practice relaxation techniques
If you want a calmer morning, it's important to incorporate these mindfulness and relaxation techniques:
6. Follow a morning routine
Morning anxiety can make it difficult to get up and out. Having a solid routine for the first two hours of the day allows you to get your day started and interrupt the negative thoughts swirling in your head, Mendez says.
A routine may also help you feel more in control, which can reduce feelings of anxiety. In addition, "repetition is soothing," says Holland-Kornegay.
Your routine should incorporate the steps that can reduce morning anxiety. For example:
- Wake up and make breakfast. Ease into your morning with a calming, nutritious start. Try oatmeal with fruit and nuts, which contains plenty of magnesium.
- Exercise or practice mindfulness. Go for a 10-minute walk, or meditate for 5 minutes. You can even practice walking meditation to do both at once.
- Shower. Take a relaxing, steamy cleanse after your exercise or meditation. You can also listen to classical music or your favorite calming tune.
- Get ready. Prepare to work from home or commute with plenty of time to spare, so you're not in a rush or stressed about time constraints.
7. Get better sleep
Avoiding morning anxiety can also start with getting better sleep the night before. This is particularly common for people who have anxiety disorders — about 50% to 80% of people with mental health troubles have issues sleeping.
"Many people with anxiety have difficulty falling asleep thinking about issues, wake up very early and continue to ruminate," Gelbart says. "The lack of proper and good sleep raises their anxiety level as well."
Everyone should aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. That can be difficult for people with anxiety, since stress, anxiety, and insomnia are closely linked.
Establishing good sleep hygiene can help. This includes:
- Going to sleep and getting up at the same time every day
- Avoiding screens in the leadup to bedtime
- Doing relaxing activities before bed, like taking a warm bath or reading a book
8. Seek treatment
Finally, if you believe you have an underlying anxiety disorder, or if your morning anxiety begins to interfere with your ability to function, you should also seek treatment from a mental health professional.
Therapy, behavioral changes, and medication can all help manage morning anxiety, but cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is particularly useful. Speaking with any licensed mental health professional — including a psychiatrist, psychologist, or professional counselor — can help, Gelbart says.
"Make sure they are experienced in the treatment of anxiety, and most helpful if they have expertise in cognitive behavioral therapy," Gelbart says.
Morning anxiety is a common experience. However, you don't have to live with it. Lifestyle changes like eating a healthy breakfast, exercising regularly, getting better sleep, and practicing mindfulness can all help calm feelings of anxiety in the morning.
Overall, Gelbart recommends what he calls "STEM" to patients with morning anxiety. That stands for sleep, thinking, eating, and movement.
"All are important in general well-being, and in reducing levels of stress, which reduce anxiety. On a physical level, they help put the body in optimal equilibrium, and they also increase the sense of empowerment and control, which is important in dealing with anxiety," Gelbart says.