In this guide, we will discuss Morning anxiety and Cortisol, a few things to consider, and tips on how you could go about treating anxiety.
Morning anxiety and Cortisol
Morning anxiety and Cortisol levels have been usually associated with having the highest levels during the first hour of waking, especially for those who experience high levels of stress in their lives.
Subsequently, it makes sense why you could experience morning anxiety.
Have you ever found yourself experiencing racing thoughts before you had to wake up or even had the chance to turn off your alarm?
Well, let us tell you this is more common than you might expect, and even more so when some anxiety is actually considered normal and part of life.
However, when it becomes overwhelming and starts affecting your life significantly it is when we can consider an anxiety disorder.
Even though morning anxiety is not considered a medical term or official diagnosis, it refers to waking up in the morning feeling stressed and over-worried.
However, the symptoms may be confused with those related to Generalized Anxiety Disorder or GAD and some of them include:
- Feelings of restlessness
- Feeling drained or fatigued
- Frequent Panic attacks
- Difficulties concentrating
- Feeling nervous and having difficulties controlling it
When talking about cortisol we must understand how “Cortisol is an important part of overall, robust health, because it gives you the energy and focus to conquer challenges. It’s a good thing—provided it’s temporary. But too much cortisol in your bloodstream on an ongoing basis causes and/or exacerbates anxiety, and can also wreak havoc on your health in many other ways. As a result, it is imperative to practice good stress management and to assuage the symptoms of anxiety by finding ways to lower your overall cortisol levels”, as indicated by Andrew Walen from thebodyimagecenter.com.
Subsequently, cortisol should not be considered as bad or negative. On the contrary, it has played a special role for a very long time ensuring our survival.
However, it becomes problematic and damaging when its effect is prolonged, even getting to suppress the immune response putting us at a higher risk of infections and developing diseases.
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What causes morning anxiety?
There are many reasons why you may be experiencing morning anxiety and one of them being under constant stress or stressful situations.
Subsequently, cortisol also known as the stress hormone is released by the adrenal glands which seem to be at its highest concentration in the first hour after waking up, especially if you are under constant stress.
Moreover, the elevated cortisol is naturally higher in the morning so there is nothing we can actually do to stop it from raising slightly.
However, there are some things you can actually do to prevent it from reaching a peak.
According to Sara Lindberg from Healthline, “What you eat and drink first thing in the morning can also contribute to higher levels of anxiety in the early hours of the day. Caffeine and sugar can increase anxiety symptoms. But low blood sugar due to a lack of food can make anxiety symptoms worse.”
In addition, it is believed sugar could have a major role when there is an insulin burst, blood sugar levels drop worsening your anxiety symptoms.there are some health conditions associated with triggering anxiety such as heart disease, hypertension, or diabetes.
In contrast, there are other related problems that are not necessarily linked to physiological activities such as having troubles at work, school, home, financial difficulties, or your personal relationships.
On the other hand, consider how your morning anxiety may be giving you a sign as probably having a Generalized Anxiety Disorder that has been undetected or not diagnosed.
If you suspect you might have GAD, seek help from a mental health professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.
In addition, even if there is no clear link between substance abuse, alcohol consumption, and anxiety, it is believed to worsen symptoms of anxiety, affecting someone’s sleeping pattern and quality or how they feel when they wake up.
Can morning anxiety be treated?
There are several options to treat anxiety in general which can be applied to morning anxiety.
We know how overwhelming and discouraging it can be to have anxiety take control over your life and just expect for it to go away on its own one day.
If treated, you can learn to cope with the symptoms and improve your quality of life considerably.
Psychotherapy, like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), has proven to be very effective in numerous studies and clinical trials.
Through CBT the therapist can guide you to find the connection between what you are thinking, how it makes you feel, and how we respond to such thoughts.
By identifying the vicious and never-ending cycle that anxiety may cause, it can be very helpful to find a way to break the pattern.
Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications are the ones prescribed to treat or relieve the symptoms associated with anxiety.
Moreover, the prescribed medication, particularly SSRIs and some SNRIs, has been shown to be highly effective in treating the symptoms.
Some of the anti-anxiety medications include benzodiazepines such as alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam or lorazepam (Ativan).
However, these types of drugs can create addiction or tolerance and can have certain side effects such as drowsiness, nausea, irritability, headaches, difficulties concentrating, among others.
Subsequently, it should only be prescribed and used under the supervision of your doctor.
Changing your habits/lifestyle
Making changes to your habits and/or lifestyle can also help to reduce morning anxiety. Some of those changes include incorporating mindfulness meditation to your day or exercising regularly.
Moreover, you could also try to modify your diet to remove and include healthy foods, such as cutting sugar and adding more fruits/vegetables to it.
Also, you may consider reducing the caffeine intake to its lowest or removing it entirely from your life.
Caffeine is known to be a stimulant, able to fire your ‘fight or flight’ response and making anxiety symptoms even worse.
Don’t forget to breathe
It doesn’t mean we do actually forget how to breathe since it is done automatically but with anxiety, breathing can become shallow and we could feel shortness of breath.
This is why it is important to remember to take deep breaths, slowly through your nose and letting the air out through your mouth.
This will help get more oxygen throughout your body, which will help you feel more relaxed and calm.
Keep a (worry) journal
As we have discussed, anxiety can be overwhelming, especially with the constant stress and worries about the future.
Keeping a journal can be extremely helpful when you get overflowed with all the worrying thoughts.
Writing them down can help you analyze them in a different light and perspective, challenging those thoughts.
In parallel, write down what you are grateful for and try to do this every day.
Getting enough and quality sleep
When we don’t get enough sleep, it can also contribute to waking up to anxiety. Here we have cortisol to blame since not getting a good night’s sleep can increase cortisol levels throughout the morning.
Remember to avoid drinking any caffeine or smoking before going to bed since it can interfere with your sleep.
Moreover, make sure to have all screens away before going to sleep, checking the temperature of the room, avoid exercising before going to bed (at least do it 2 hours before), limit your daytime naps to 30’ mins during the day and steer clear from food that can disrupt your sleep.
Why is this blog about Morning anxiety and Cortisol important?
As we have discussed, cortisol should not be considered harmful or damaging on its own. On the contrary, it plays an important role to help us guarantee our survival.
However, when we are exposed to prolonged high levels of cortisol it can actually get to suppress the natural and normal response of our immune system putting us at risk of infections and diseases.
However, there are ways to control anxiety and stress which can be effective in naturally lowering cortisol levels.
As we have discussed, it seems as during the first hour after waking up, cortisol levels seem to be at their peak.
This will explain why many people suffer from morning anxiety, however, it is a matter of finding ways to cope with anxiety symptoms such as getting better sleep, having a healthy diet, exercising or even going to therapy.
Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts about the content of this article!
Side Note: I have tried and tested various products and services to help with my anxiety and depression. See my top recommendations here, as well as a full list of all products and services our team has tested for various mental health conditions and general wellness.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Morning anxiety and Cortisol
How can I stop waking up with anxiety?
If you would like to stop waking up with anxiety, try getting more sleep brushing up on your sleep hygiene, establish an enjoyable morning routine and try not to set up more then 1 alarm where you have the opportunity to use the snooze button. In addition, you could try mindfulness, use positive affirmations, keep a journal to write all of your thoughts, exercise regularly, or even practice yoga.
Can anxiety be worse in the morning?
For some people, anxiety can be worse in the morning.
This can happen if you go to bed feeling anxious, which can cause cortisol levels to spike early in the morning, waking up with a racing mind.
In addition, if your blood sugar levels are lower in the morning, it can trigger anxiety if you are already predisposed or prone to it.
Is anxiety caused by cortisol?
Higher levels of cortisol on an ongoing basis can cause anxiety to get worse and can even carry some additional health issues.
Does caffeine increase cortisol?
It is believed caffeine increases cortisol levels, similar to the levels experienced during acute stress.
Coffee can create similar conditions and reactions experienced when you go under stress.
How do you naturally reduce cortisol?
There are many natural ways to reduce cortisol, one of them is lowering your stress when implementing stress management techniques.
In addition, having a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, using relaxation techniques, exercising, mindfulness, or even doing yoga can help reduce cortisol levels.
What we recommend for curbing Anxiety
Below are some of the services and products we recommend for anxiety
- Anxiety Weighted Blankets are by far the number 1 thing every person who suffers from anxiety should at least try. Anxiety Blankets may improve your sleep, allow you to fall asleep faster and you can even carry them around when chilling at home.
- Online therapy is another thing we should all try. We highly recommend Online therapy with a provider who not only provides therapy but a complete mental health toolbox to help your wellness.
- With over 50,000 participants, this anxiety course may be just what you need to regain control of your life.
- Amber light therapy from Amber lights could increase the melatonin production in your body and help you sleep better at night. An Amber light lamp helps reduce the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep and increases overall sleep quality.
Lindberg, S. (2018, Mar.) Why Do I Have Anxiety in the Morning?. Retrieved from Healthline.com.
Laurence, E. (2019, Feb.) How to Prevent Morning Anxiety From Totally Ruining Your Day. Retrieved from wellandgood.com.
Fletcher, J. (2019, Jul.) What to know about waking up with anxiety. Retrieved from Medicalnewstoday.com.
Walen, A. (n.d.) Lower Your Cortisol Levels, Reduce Your Anxiety. Retrieved from thebodyimagecenter.com.