Why does anxiety worsen in the morning?

The “stress hormone”, cortisol, is released by the adrenal glands in response to fear or stress. Researchers have found that cortisol is highest in the first hour of waking for people with a higher level of anxiety. This helps explain why you may experience increased anxiety in the morning. And it turns out there's a scientific reason why anxiety can be so common in the morning for some.

For most people, the stress hormone cortisol reaches its highest level within the first hour when we wake up, which helps us stay alert and focused in the morning, says Elena. However, going to bed with anxiety can cause cortisol levels to rise too soon, which can lead to you waking up with a racing mind. Blood sugar levels are also lower first thing in the morning, which can cause anxiety in people prone to it. What do you usually eat for breakfast? If you opt for something that has a lot of sugars or simple carbohydrates (such as a smoothie bowl or toast), the rapid increase in energy could affect your morning anxiety.

Right after a burst of insulin, blood sugar levels drop and that can worsen your anxiety, Dr. Saltz says, adding that this can lead to feeling fatigued or to the limit seemingly for no reason. Your blood sugar is also at a natural low point in the morning (since, you know, you haven't eaten since the night before), which can contribute to feeling anxious. If you experience morning anxiety several times a week, Dr.

Saltz says you're likely to have generalized anxiety disorder, which she says is extremely common. This means that you are constantly experiencing anxiety symptoms for at least a period of six months. If you have generalized anxiety disorder or are overly stressed, Dr. Saltz says it's important to take steps to manage it, which could include the help of a therapist.

Meditation, regular exercise and a healthy diet in general all contribute to minimizing overall stress, he adds. This may seem like an easier said than done situation, but Dr. Saltz says slow, deep breathing can really help calm the mind and body. If there is something that worries you in your mind that appears as you take a deep breath, accept it and let it pass; don't try to push it away, says.

In the morning moments when you feel consumed by everything you have to do that day, Dr. Saltz says it might help to write them. Some people keep a 'concern diary' for this purpose, says. Once they write it down, it's out of their mind and they can move on with their day.

It can also help, he says, to make a to-do list so you know exactly when you're going to do everything. That way, you won't spend the morning trying to figure it out in your head. Saltz says that not getting enough sleep can also cause anxiety when he wakes up. Again, it's because those pesky cortisol levels come into play; not getting enough sleep can elevate them higher.

On a daily basis, that stress or anxiety is often felt most intensely in the morning. When you wake up, the pressure to complete tasks for the day can be overwhelming, and biologically, your hormones can make stress worse. Some research indicates that people with anxiety disorders are particularly susceptible to the effects of caffeine, which is thought to worsen anxiety symptoms. When my anxiety worsened, my brain was full of “what if” even before I could leave the front door to work, and sometimes I had panic attacks.

Caffeine, especially for people who already have anxiety, can definitely worsen the symptoms of that. If you notice your anxiety getting worse in the morning, try incorporating some kind of relaxation into your morning routine to help calm your mind, Elena says. Here, three women whose anxiety was worse in the morning explain why it happened and how they learned to cope. My anxiety would get even worse in the morning if I tried too hard the night before, because of having too many social plans, having a busy day at work, or drinking too much.

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Ralph Cook
Ralph Cook

General coffee specialist. Hipster-friendly pop culture enthusiast. Freelance twitter specialist. Hipster-friendly internet evangelist. Infuriatingly humble pop culture ninja.