My eyes snap open. The room is still dark, but my heart is pounding.
I hit snooze. Then I hit it again. And again. I sink back into sleep; I just can’t face my swirling To Do List today.
I hear birds singing, the sound of my husband’s shower running; then, before I can even open my eyes, I hear my own mind, “Why did you say that yesterday?” “Who do you think you are to post about that?” “Everyone is laughing at you behind your back.”
Do any of these scenarios sound familiar? Those of us who live with an Anxiety Disorder know that our brains work differently. All the medication and therapy in the world can’t seem to completely up-root our anxious thinking. So, how do we live productive, engaged, fulfilling lives despite our anxiety disorder?
In my case, it starts first thing in the morning. When my anxiety disorder is flaring up, I can get caught by it before my day has even started. Anxiety paralyzes me, and then Depression swoops in to convince me it will always be this way. The antidote isn’t different thoughts, but just a nudge of action. Some way to trick my body into moving into my day despite my brain’s protests. Here are a few strategies I use to circumvent my Anxiety Disorder at the beginning of my day.
- I’ve never seen this day before!
This advice came from a spiritual teacher that I have been studying with for some time. I told her that I woke up some mornings already feeling overwhelmed, head-spinning, lead in my veins, and totally unable to start my day. She suggested I write this simple phrase on a card and post it on my bedside table. It’s a reminder that all the deep-down dread about what could go wrong today, or how I might fail today, is in my mind. In reality, I have no idea what this day holds.
- Favorite tea or breakfast food
It wouldn’t be Sweatpants and Coffee advice if I didn’t acknowledge the power of comfort. That first sip of a warm drink, or bite of delicious food is great motivation for getting out of bed. Plus, I think better when my blood sugar isn’t dipping from lack of food. So, buy yourself a fancy brand of tea or coffee, put the ingredients for your morning smoothie in freezer bags ready to go, or take five minutes to make eggs and toast. You’ll feel the boost from taking care of your body and the satisfaction of an achievement at the start of your day.
- Lay out your clothes
Nothing is more anxiety-provoking for me than concerning myself with the opinions of others. Inevitably, if my anxiety disorder is spiking, it takes me a lot longer to get dressed. I can get mired in what impression this or that outfit will make on the people I will come in contact with that day. It leaves me exhausted before I’ve gotten to the more important decisions of my day. So, I do that work the day before: check the weather and my schedule, then pull out clothes (2 choices if you don’t want to hem yourself in), and lay them on your ironing board. They’re ready for you to slide into before you start to second-guess yourself the next day! (Important: I try on the outfits I plan. I need to know that they are comfortable above all!)
- No phone zone
This is a biggie. Blue light from screens at bedtime revs up the nervous system. And, checking social media first thing in the morning has you immediately comparing your insides to everyone else’s outsides and consequently feeling down about yourself. I have a rule at home: my phone never comes upstairs. (Upstairs is my bedroom and my writing study.) Get an old fashioned alarm clock, and give yourself the chance to check in with you before you check in with anyone else in the morning.
- Accountability Buddy
This is a great option if you are just struggling to crawl out of bed in the morning, and feeling shame about it. My husband leaves early for work. I work from home. It would be easy for me to hit snooze and roll over for another couple of hours of (unneeded) sleep. Instead, I make myself get up and go downstairs. Then I shoot him a text. “Good morning! I hope you have a great day— I love you.” Then he knows I’m up and I spent my first energy of the day wishing someone else well. This works great if you have another friend who lives with mental illness. Just admitting to someone else that the start of the day can be hard for you removes a lot of the shame around it!
*Bonus* Forgive Yourself
On those days that you don’t get up to your alarm, or you do but you waste the first two (or ten) hours of your day watching old SNL clips, try this simple exercise to clear that energy before you move on with your day. Make a list of five things you’re grateful for (they can be silly, like “my hair”) and five people you forgive (include yourself on this list! My most powerful forgivenesses often read: “I forgive myself for not getting up on time…”). Then read them out loud, forgivenesses first, followed by gratitudes, and wish yourself a great day. Even if you’re not feeling any of the statements in the moment, your mind will still be shifting into new thought patterns, giving you the space to make another path through your day!
If you live with an Anxiety Disorder, your brain works differently. Know that you are not alone in struggling from time to time with even the most basic tasks. I hope these suggestions help you take that first step into your day. How do you cope with Anxiety in the morning? Leave a comment below to share your strategies!
Whitney Roberts Hill is an MFA candidate at Queens University of Charlotte where she is working on an autofiction novel entitled Leda. Her work has appeared in Streetlight Magazine, Life in 10 Minutes, Nanny Magazine, The Mighty, Jars of Wine, The Woman Inc. and more. She is a reviewer for the American Book Review, and an editorial assistant at Qu Literary Magazine. Whitney is co-editor of the anthology Unspoken: Writers on Infertility, Miscarriage, and Stillbirth, forthcoming from L10 Press. For more information visit: www.whitneyrobertshill.com or follow her on instagram @whit_writes.