With 2021 in full swing, you might have made it a goal to improve your feelings of anxiety. In addition to seeking professional help and implementing a mindfulness practice, one of the best ways to reduce anxiety is by creating a simple but effective morning routine. This is important because it sets the tone and mood for your day and will help you deal with challenges as they arise.
First, I want you to understand that you might be experiencing more anxiety than normal because of all the uncertainty that exists in everyday life regarding the pandemic, political instability, our economy, equality, and many other factors. As human beings, we crave control and certainty. When things feel out-of-control and uncertain our brains naturally experience higher levels of stress, anxiety, overwhelm, and even panic attacks. This is a normal human reaction to a very unusual time.
Second, I want you to familiarize yourself with a concept known as your locus of control. This psychological concept refers to how strongly an individual believes the outcomes of their actions are based on what they do (internal control orientation) or on events outside of their personal control (external control orientation). In college, a locus of control could refer to how a student perceives the causes of their academic success or failure.
Someone with a high internal locus of control is more likely to take responsibility for their actions, feel confident in the face of challenges, report being happier, and tend to be less influenced by the opinions of other people.
Developing an internal locus of control mindset (feeling like your actions contribute to outcomes) will be very important as you execute your morning routine. Believing that it is within your control to manage and reduce your anxiety will give you motivation to take action.
Let’s build out your morning routine with five simple but effective steps to help reduce stress and anxiety.
- Create your schedule for the next day the night before. This is important because it infuses certainty into your day and reduces the panicked thought of, “What do I need to do today?” the moment you wake up. Instead, you can deliberately schedule time in your morning to awaken slowly and calmly. It’s also helpful because you create certainty throughout the rest of your day.
Whether it’s virtual classes, leadership roles, household chores, homework, or group projects, if it’s scheduled for the day, you know what’s coming. You can use a digital calendar (like iCalendar, Google Calendar, Microsoft, or any other platform you feel comfortable with) to receive important event and deadline reminders. I personally use Google’s calendar, which I reference periodically throughout the day.
Pro tip: Schedule fifteen- or thirty-minute breaks between times you’ve been sitting for an hour or longer. Allow yourself to feel completely comfortable scheduling time for a power nap if your energy tends to wane throughout the day.
- Clearly define your biggest task for the next day. Your brain has a lot coming at it between responding to emails, texting your friends back, sorting through homework assignments, preparing for upcoming quizzes, and pursuing areas of personal interest. It can feel like a whirlwind that leads you to believe you’ve accomplished nothing at the end of the day, even if you did a lot.
This is why it is important to pick one major task the night before that you will feel productive by accomplishing the next day. Put it down on your calendar and schedule ample time to work on it. By understanding your “why” for the day, you can achieve a sense of peace at night, knowing you got done what you needed to.
Pro tip: Always plan for something to take longer than you think it will. If you budget an hour in your mind, double that to two. It will help you remain calm even when you go over the allotted time.
- Deliberately set an attainable wake-up time. From personal experience, there is nothing more anxiety-inducing in the morning than setting an alarm I know is too early. After doing this time after time, I decided to analyze why this gave me so much anxiety. What I discovered is that setting my alarm too early always resulted in two outcomes.
First, I would wake up immediately stressed because I felt tired, which meant I wouldn’t be as sharp throughout the day. Second, because of reason number one, I would often decide to go back to bed and wake up an hour later. This always resulted in feeling behind. The “gotcha” was that I couldn’t win either way: waking up and feeling anxious because I was tired or sleeping in and waking up anxious because I was behind.
Pro tip: Schedule a time that is realistic for you. Is 7:00 a.m. your desired wake-up time, but you tend to hit the snooze button for an hour? Maybe it’s more realistic to push it back between 8:00 and 8:30 a.m. Sure, maybe you won’t be the first one to the gym or responding to emails, but what you’ll gain in peace of mind will give you sustained energy throughout the day.
- Meditate every morning for ten minutes like your life depends on it. This might sound a little dramatic, but once you’ve started meditating in the morning, you’ll crave it. Simply put, meditation is exercise for your brain that helps alter your brain waves into a state of calm.
The best part is that you don’t have to be a guru, sit cross-legged, or even guide yourself. Instead, you can sit on your couch (like I do) and utilize a meditation app like Headspace or Calm. The app will do all of the work for you. All you have to do is sit there and breathe.
Pro tip: Try meditating again in the afternoon for ten minutes to help recenter yourself after a productive morning.
- Step outside. Humans’ natural state came from being in the natural world, a.k.a. nature. Our brains crave lush, green, and serene environments. The challenge is that humans officially became an urban species sometime around 2008.
The United Nations reported that for the first time in history more humans live in urban environments than rural ones. This means we spend way more time inside than ever before. Give yourself the gift of getting outside for a walk each morning. The combination of blue light and movement gives your brain what it craves and will help cultivate serenity and focus.
Pro tip: Why only get outside in the morning? If you can swing it, walk outside two or three times a day, preferably in green areas like parks.
A morning routine won’t cure you of anxiety and make all of your problems disappear, but it will help improve the likelihood that you have a calmer start to your hectic days. Try these different tactics mixed with anything that works well for you. Remember, you are not alone.