We’re all familiar with the term “morning sickness”, yet few people discuss another common malady that affects many people: morning anxiety. My clients and ecourse members who are struggling with anxiety often describe waking up in the morning with knots in their stomach, unable to eat, dreading another day of facing their anxious mind. And the common question is: why? Why does anxiety seem to hit hardest first thing in the morning?
Mornings are the liminal hour, the vulnerable time between night and day when we’re in-between two states of consciousness: the unconscious, where dreams occur, and the conscious state of our daytime hours. A hallmark of the liminal zone is feeling vulnerable, out of control, disoriented, and uncertain. It’s when the bedrocks of our familiar lives fall away and we’re left floating around in the middle of the ocean without a compass or rudder.
Mornings are yin time, feminine consciousness where our normal defenses fall away and we’re offered a portal into the soul. Mornings are soft, fluid, and round. In a healthier mental state, this softness gives rise to creative and spiritual openings and is often when lines of poetry or a new idea bubble up from the dark, sacred world of psyche. The veils are lifted and we see things as they are.
When you’re in an anxious state, this means that you’re offered a window to see the anxiety without the normal distractions of your busy day. The message of anxiety which may bang on the doors of your mind during your loud, busy day now, in the quiet of morning, only has to tap lightly for you to listen. Since the habitual response to anxiety is to withdraw and run from it, the mainstream advice for morning anxiety is to get up and get moving. This is, of course, the same message that most people receive about all of their uncomfortable, “negative” feelings: get over it. Get up. Get moving. Exercise. Take a shower. Get going with your day.
I hold a different perspective on morning anxiety: Recognize that there’s a message to decode, find the courage to walk through the murky portal and explore the anxiety with curiosity. It can be scary, I know. You don’t know what you’ll find. You’re scared that the anxiety is here to confirm your deepest fears. But that’s never the case. Anxiety carries a message and it’s here to teach you something important about yourself. If you try to ignore it, it will only follow you throughout your day in the form of intrusive thoughts and the corresponding physical symptoms. Since you can’t escape it, you may as well embrace it.
That said, some people do find it helpful to get up, go for a run, take a shower, and then come back to explore the anxiety. With a clear body, they’re able to enter the anxious cave with some light and strength. One woman on the ecourse forum who struggled intensely with morning anxiety shared her routine, which started back in August 2012:
So my routine is this: I’m going to jump out of bed, into the shower… journal and then go for a 20-minute walk before work. Another girl who had severe anxiety on a separate issue did say that she found exercise first thing in the morning extremely helpful. Given it’s finally getting warm here in Australia I’m hoping some nature will help me.
I’m starting to get anxious now that this will become 10 times worse when I’m actually married and living with my husband but I’m not going to ‘not marry him’ because I have to deal with anxious thoughts. Again, they’re just thoughts. They mean nothing.
I’ll let you know how the new routine goes…
She got married in January 2013 and recently posted this update in response to a new member struggling with morning anxiety:
I can say as consolation that mornings are not at all like that for me. I don’t have those thoughts or feelings or balls of anxiety in the morning anymore. Instead, I wake up next to my husband and think, ‘I don’t want to go to work’. But that’s my next challenge.
Back in my pre-marriage, pre-children days, I would wake up every morning and write down my dreams. For as far back as I can remember, in fact, a journal has sat on my bedside table, and before the dream could take flight and become lost in the sea of my day, I would write. Sometimes the dreams disturbed me, and when I was enduring the seven year dark night of the soul in my twenties, the dreams were not dreams but nightmares. Still, I wrote. I wanted to know. I needed to understand. As scary as it was to re-live those nighttime terror, my curiosity and fascination with the inner world superseded the fear. My willingness to walk into that territory birthed my work in the world and helped shape the woman I am today. What will your exploration of the anxiety that manifests so strongly in the mornings birth for you?
Forum quote printed with grateful permission to the forum member.