Morning Anxiety and Mindfulness

                                                                                                             Perhaps you wake up and feel a sinking feeling in your stomach, a dark, fearful or sad overtone that makes the thought of getting up so scary and painful that you just want to throw the covers back over your head, and disappear into unconsciousness.

Many people experience anxiety and depression that is worse in the morning than at any other time of the day, and there are a few reasons why morning anxiety may occur. Your Cortisol levels are at their highest level when you wake up, and your blood sugar is at its lowest (since you haven't eaten for hours). Cortisol is a "fight or flight" hormone, so when you wake up, and this chemical is at its highest level, your mind will respond to the sensations this chemical produces with fearful, open-ended thoughts that magnify negativity. Often times, it's difficult to discern the exact cause of the fea
r. We often feel an overwhelming sensation of discomfort, a desire to stay in bed all day, and a feeling tone of trepidation and depression that makes thoughts of facing the day almost impossible to bear. It seems as though the future holds nothing but perilous experiences that we simply will not be able to cope with, so we cover our heads with our pillows and try, unsuccessfully, to avoid the future. These kinds of thoughts, obviously, are fantasy based. The things we are fearing aren't happening to us at the moment. We're afraid of the things we imagine will happen in the future. Whether or not any of our fears come true, they have no baring on the present moment. There's no amount of feeling terrified or uncomfortable or sad that will change the outcomes of our future situations, but even if we understand these facts, it doesn't make it any easier to pull ourselves out of the brutal sensations. Meditating in the morning is a great way to ease into your day, and get the Cortisol/Adrenaline plagued body back to a calm, normal state, but before you do, you have to ease your mind and body enough to get out of bed first. Otherwise, as you turn your focus inward, you may only be able to focus on the pain these chemicals cause in your body.

The way to combat morning anxiety is by replacing fantasy-based negative thoughts with reality-based positive ones. Easier said that done, but here's the trick, make it personal! The following are a list of steps to include into your own multi-pronged strategy to retraining your mind. Consider them, but personalize them, mix and match them, alter them. If the goal is to stop negative, fantastical thinking with realistic positive thinking, get creative! What ways can you come up with to do this? Here are some examples to ease down these feelings and help you get on with your day in a positive way:

- Accept your fear

One of the worst (or I guess, best) ways to exasperate anxiety and depression, is to fear your fear or to lament your sadness. Being afraid of being afraid often makes what you already feel, worse, and being sad that you simply can't wake up without sadness will dig you deeper into depression. Feeling like you may not be able to handle how your body or mind will react to fear can be the trigger that starts an episode. So first, think to yourself, "Has my fear ever been so bad that I couldn't handle it?"… not "Was my fear so uncomfortable that I ended up having a panic attack?"...but, so bad that you couldn't "handle it?" That you imploded. That you died of fright. Not likely. Accept that you will be scared or sad. Expect it. Odds are, you know exactly the hand your fear is playing. You know all the symptoms, you know its whole M.O. Accepting that you will be afraid is playing a part in healing your anxiety. Say to yourself, "I will be afraid in the morning, so I'm going to come up with game plan, and follow it through."

- Before you go to sleep, think of something you do very well. Think about how this talent makes you feel, and decide that, first thing in the morning, this will be your very first thought.

It may sound silly, but something as simple as "I'm a wonderful dancer" or "I make really good fried chicken" is activating a very specific part of the brain that releases the "happy chemicals," like  Dopamine. If your brain throws a bucket of Cortisol at you, you want to toss back a Dopamine water balloon. Think of something that you are proud of, not necessarily something that only makes other people proud. Sure, they can be things that people enjoy, but be sure not to use a thought like "I'm a great asset to my boss." It simply won't have as good an impact as "I finally learned to juggle!" If you want to make this more effective, find a photograph, or picture on your phone of you doing this special thing, and the moment you wake up, reach for it straight away, and think clearly to yourself "I'm so awesome at limbo!"

- "Here is the church, here is the steeple" 

This may sound a little silly, but when you combine this fun little finger trick with specific positive thoughts, it can help to ground your mind in reality, and snap you out of anxiety. The trick is to perform the finger folding game, saying out-loud "Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors, and here's all the people." As soon as you've "opened the doors" imagine someone you love sitting in that little imaginary place full of people, and do it again, thinking of someone else, and so on. If your mind begins to drift to anxious thoughts, or you’re distracted by the discomfort you feel in your body, just keep going. Concentrate on your fingers carefully while you do it. Repeat this about 15 times-20 times, and see how you feel.

- Make a quick, but detailed list

As soon as you open your eyes, make a quick but detailed list of what you're about to do, and describe the sensations those things will bring without using any negative descriptors. For example, "I'm going to pull off my clean sheets, put my feet on the soft carpet, put on my comfy robe, walk into the bright bathroom, pick up my shiny toothbrush..." etc. Fight every urge to describe anything negatively. Your fearful mind will probably take the opportunity to chime in with descriptions like "the cold floor" or "the dirty bathroom," but you're going to fight it with positive, true, thoughts! Be sure not to embellish or be dishonest about your positive words. Don't be sarcastic with yourself. If in your list of tasks you can truly think of nothing positive about a certain step, simply skip the positive description, and just use a fact to describe it like, "pick up my blue toothbrush," "take a 15 minute shower." Don't go any farther than a list of 10 things... as soon as you've hit number 10, hop out of bed, and concentrate your attention on the descriptors you just gave to those steps. Feel how soft the carpet is, feel how comfy the robe is, see how bright the bathroom is. The goal is to distract fantasy with reality, and then activate it in your senses.

- Keep a piece of fruit or granola bar next to the bed

If you're morning anxiety is exacerbated (or even caused by) low blood sugar, immediately bite into an apple, a banana, or any fruit you like as soon as your wake up. Keep some right next to your bed. You can also grab for a health bar, or one of those great organic fruit roll-ups, and scarf it down as soon as you come to.

- Make sure your alarm clock is nice to you

If you're the kind of person who is afraid you won't wake up unless your alarm clock yells at you, or if you just use a clock radio turned to a boisterous talk radio station, try something less intense. You can try an app like "sleep cycle" for the iPhone which uses the accelerometer of the phone to wake you at your lightest sleep state in the span of a half hour. If you don't have a smart phone, find an alarm clock that allows you to play a song that you choose. Choose a sweet song that's gentle on your body. Make your reality more peaceful with peaceful music.

Again, the one and only goal is replacing negative fantasies with positive realities, and only you know what makes you feel best. Putting a personal twist on controlling you anxiety is far more effective than following a list of steps. Also keep in mind, when you put these kinds of steps into practice, you are indeed training the brain to stop this cycle of morning anxiety, especially when you couple these kinds of steps with your meditation practice. The goal is eventually to train the brain so well that you don't need to do these steps... but you're starting at the beginning, so go slowly, and steady, set your mind to locking itself to a positive reality, rather than fearing an imaginary fantasy.

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