How do you wake up in the morning? Refreshed, or frazzled? The way you feel first thing in the morning is the mindset you’ll carry throughout your day. So it’s important to nail it.
Thing is, sometimes anxiety is a hard thing to tame. It’s a wild beast. But having a morning routine that you practise every day can help you start off with a calmer mind and clearer focus.
As Jodi Picoult has said — “Anxiety’s like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you very far.”
It’s time to turn the rocking chair into a rocket.
Why your morning matters
Medium marvel Benjamin Hardy makes a great case for making the most of the morning:
“Your brain is the most attuned first thing in the morning, and so are your energy levels. Consequently, the best time to do your best work is during the first three hours of your day.”
So if we spend the first few hours of the day flustered and fretting, we aren’t going to get very far. In fact, we’ll probably stay stuck. Worried about all the things we have to do, and not doing a single thing.
This is the beast that is anxiety.
So we must find the best techniques, the most beneficial practices that lift us out of our washing machine mind. You must discover what works for you.
The list that follows is a collection of tried-and-tested morning activities that have helped me and many others cultivate a calm mind. The idea is to give them a go, and narrow your list down to just a few steps you can do each morning.
Find your 3
Start with just 3. That’s easy enough, right? Just 3 little steps to practise each morning.
How long you spend doing them is totally up to you. What matters most is that you do them — and that they help you start your day with less anxiety.
Once you’re in the habit of doing those 3 things, you can fold in a few others. Maybe shake up your morning routine every few months, too. Just don’t push yourself to take on too much, too soon.
The point here is simplicity and calm — not more anxiety!
1 Morning pages
In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron teaches us to start every day with what she calls ‘morning pages.’
Before starting work (or anything) write three pages of longhand writing. Stream-of-consciousness. Crap on paper.
You basically dump all the icky, gritty thoughts and feelings from your mind and onto the page. You can rant and curse and criticise and complain. It doesn’t matter, because noone will ever read them.
“All that angry, whiny, petty stuff that you write down in the morning stands between you and your creativity. Worrying about the job, the laundry, the funny knock in the car, the weird look in your lover’s eye — this stuff eddies through our subconscious and muddies our days. Get it on the page.”
Give it a crack. It might just be the best thing you do to cultivate calm in the morning.
2 Talk to your anxiety
This sounds kooky. But too often, we let anxiety take charge. So every morning, remind your anxiety that you’ll be running the show from now on. For example:
“Hi, anxiety. Thanks for your concern. But if you could just simmer down, I can crack on with my day. Muchas gracias.”
3 Set your action plan
Some people plan their day the night before, but the morning is fine too. The idea is to get clear on 3 things you’ll conquer today.
Keep it simple to start with — especially if you have severe anxiety. Start with the most important item and keep going until you tick off all 3. Then embrace the whoosh of awesomeness that comes from getting stuff done! It’s a great feeling — and one that may just spur you on to do even more.
4 Move your body, clear your mind
When is the best time to exercise? When it works best for you.
Some people swear by working out at night before bed — but for others, this gets them too amped up. Me, I like to roll out of bed and into my trainers — ready to walk, run, or do a quick weights routine.
Benjamin Hardy says he switched to afternoon exercise because “I’ve found that exercising first thing in the morning actually sucks my energy, leaving me with less than I started.”
On the flip-side, Richard Branson, Anna Wintour, Apple CEO Tim Cook, and Barack Obama all wake up between *shudder* 4 and 5am to break a sweat before the break of day.
Others prefer the evening.
When you do your main workout is completely up to you.
But when you’re anxious, you may find some quick movements in the morning help clear your head. It doesn’t have to mean running 10 miles, or smashing a legs routine. The idea is simply to get the blood pumping, the feel-good hormones rushing, and the mind sharp.
10 push-ups. 20 star-jumps. 2 minutes of skipping. A sun salutation yoga practice.
Your main workout can come later in the day. The idea in the morning is just to wake up the mind and body, and shake out some angst.
Tim Ferriss agrees. He told CNBC:
“The 5 to 10 reps here are not a workout. They are intended to ‘state prime’ and wake me up. Getting into my body, even for 30 seconds, has a dramatic effect on my mood and quiets mental chatter.”
What’s the one habit successful people with anxiety do in the morning? Meditate. It’s the golden ticket to a calmer, clearer mind.
Studies show it’s true. Every week, new research claims meditation changes the brain to reduce psychological stress like anxiety.
Daily meditation teaches us to observe our thoughts — and not to get too invested in them. They simply come and go, like waves in the ocean or clouds in the sky.
It also has a remarkable way of stretching time. We think we’re too busy to meditate, and we worry there’s far too much to get done. But when we take time out in silence and stillness, we realise the push and rush comes from within — from our anxious mind. The outside world is actually pretty chill.
Want more anxiety-busting ideas and inspiration? Sign up to my email list and you’ll get a free set of anxiety affirmations, plus the ‘8 Ways to Worry Less’ checklist.
This post originally appeared on Medium, where it’s had hundreds of reads and recommends — and counting! Yay!