Waking Up Anxious: Why You Have Anxiety in the Morning

Are you one of the many people who wake up with morning anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, fearful, and on edge right from the moment you open your eyes? Morning anxiety is a common experience for many individuals, and it can be triggered by a variety of factors. 

In this blog, we’ll explore what morning anxiety is, its symptoms, and what causes it, as well as who is more likely to have it. We’ll also discuss how the body’s stress response system could be a primary contributor to early morning anxiety and how we can tackle it permanently.

What Is Morning Anxiety?

Have you ever woken up with a heavy feeling of dread, like a storm cloud hanging over your head? That’s morning anxiety. It’s the feeling of being overwhelmed, fearful, and on edge right when you open your eyes. 

For some people, morning anxiety is a regular occurrence that disrupts their daily routines and hinders their quality of life. It can be triggered by a variety of factors, including stress, hormonal imbalances, lifestyle changes, and sleep disruptions.

What Are the Symptoms of Morning Anxiety?

Morning anxiety shares similarities with generalized anxiety disorder in terms of its symptoms. If you find yourself grappling with anxiety upon waking, you may encounter manifestations such as restlessness, edginess, or feeling wound up. Irritability and fatigue may also arise as accompanying symptoms. 

Physical manifestations such as a tight chest, tense muscles, an elevated heart rate, or difficulty breathing may mimic signs of a panic attack. Additionally, morning anxiety can affect cognitive function, leading to difficulty concentrating and experiencing mental blankness. Managing the worry or nervousness associated with morning anxiety may also prove challenging. 

Why Is My Anxiety Worse in the Morning? What Causes It?

Morning anxiety is a common experience for many people. The main cause of this is a hyperactive, or dysregulated, nervous system. When the body’s stress response system is activated, it can lead to feelings of anxiety, and in the morning, this system can be particularly sensitive. Hormonal imbalances, lack of sleep, and high levels of stress can all contribute to this dysregulation. 

Here are a few other potential reasons:

Cortisol levels

Cortisol, a stress hormone, typically peaks in the morning as part of the body’s natural rhythm. According to studies, cortisol levels are highest in the first 30 minutes after waking up, which may contribute to increased anxiety symptoms in the morning.

Sleep disruptions

Poor sleep quality or interrupted sleep can exacerbate anxiety symptoms in the morning. Research indicates that sleep disturbances, such as insomnia, are prevalent in individuals with anxiety disorders, and inadequate sleep can negatively impact mood and stress resilience.

Anticipation of the day

The morning may be a time when worries and negative & anxious thoughts about the day ahead come to the forefront. Research says that more than 50% of adults with anxiety reported that their anxiety is often triggered by anticipating future events. This anticipation and uncertainty about the day can contribute to increased anxiety in the morning.

Empty stomach

Low blood sugar levels in the morning due to an empty stomach can contribute to anxiety symptoms. Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, can trigger anxiety symptoms worse such as irritability, shakiness, and increased heart rate, which can intensify anxiety.

Habitual thought patterns

For some individuals, experiencing anxiety in the morning may be a learned behavioral response or a habitual thought pattern. If you have experienced morning anxiety in the past, your brain may be wired to automatically anticipate anxiety upon waking, leading to a cycle of anxious thoughts and feelings.

Who Is Likely to Have Anxiety in the Morning?

Research has shown that morning anxiety can affect people of all genders and ages, but certain groups may be more susceptible.

Studies have suggested that women are more likely to experience generalized anxiety disorder than men, and this gender difference may also apply to morning anxiety. In a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, researchers found that women with anxiety disorders had higher cortisol levels in the morning than men with anxiety disorders. Another study published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders found that women were more likely to report early morning anxiety symptoms than men.

Age is another factor that may contribute to morning anxiety. Older adults may be more likely to experience early morning waking with anxiety due to changes in sleep patterns and increased stress levels. In a study published in the Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry and Neurology, researchers found that older adults with insomnia had higher cortisol levels in the morning than younger adults with insomnia.

Overall, while morning anxiety can affect anyone, women and older adults may be more susceptible to underlying anxiety disorders. However, further research is needed to fully understand the relationship between gender, age, and morning anxiety.

Why Do I Wake Up at 3 or 4 AM with Anxiety?

Your alarm is set at 6 AM but you wake up at 3 AM for no reason. As soon as you open your eyes, you feel a wave of panic washes over you. It’s the same every morning. You wake up at the crack of dawn, feeling like you’re under attack from your own body. Your heart races, your palms sweat, and you can’t catch your breath. You feel trapped in a nightmare that never ends.

You can’t understand why this is happening to you. Are you broken? Is it all in your head? The more you think about it, the worse it gets. It’s like your own body is conspiring against you.

But if you do some research, you’ll discover that waking up with anxiety in the early hours of the morning is a common experience for many individuals. Scientists have found that an imbalance in the body’s stress response system could be a primary contributor to early morning anxiety.

The stress response system is a complex network of physiological processes that help the body to respond to a threat or danger. It includes the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which regulates the production and release of hormones like cortisol.

Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal glands in response to stress. It helps the body to mobilize energy reserves and cope with the perceived threat. Cortisol levels naturally increase in the morning to help us wake up and feel alert. However, if the stress response system is dysregulated, it can cause an excessive release of cortisol, leading to early morning waking with anxiety or panic attacks.

Studies have shown that people with anxiety disorders have an overactive stress response system, which causes them to produce more cortisol than necessary. This overproduction of cortisol can disrupt the sleep-wake cycle, leading to early morning waking with anxiety.

Some Self-Care Strategies to Help Reduce Your Morning Anxiety

If you’re struggling with morning anxiety, know that there are many self-care strategies you can try to help reduce your symptoms. Incorporating physical activity into your daily routine, getting enough sleep, and limiting your intake of alcohol and caffeine can all help manage anxiety. Eating a nutritious diet that is low in processed foods and sugar can also help support a healthy body and mind. 

Additionally, getting some sunlight first thing in the morning can help regulate your circadian rhythm and improve your mood. Also, don’t underestimate the power of deep breathing exercises to help calm your mind and reduce anxiety. Remember, self-care is important, and taking small steps can make a big difference in your physical health and managing morning anxiety.

How to Get Rid of Morning Anxiety for Good

If you’re tired of waking up every morning feeling like you’re under attack from your own body, it’s time to take control of your anxiety once and for all. While the short-term solutions we discussed before can offer some relief, they won’t get to the root of the problem. That’s where we can help!

Here at Heal Your Nervous System, we recognize that the key to long-term relief from morning anxiety is healing the nervous system, which brings the body’s overactive stress response back into balance. Our world-class program The Nervous System Solution focuses on regulating the nervous system, reducing cortisol spikes, and alleviating physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety. We don’t just offer temporary fixes or band-aid solutions. Our goal is to help you regain control over your sleep and your life.

In our program, you’ll work with trained professionals who will guide you through the process of healing your nervous system to manage morning anxiety. Our program includes personalized assessments, group coaching, and a range of evidence-based techniques to regulate your nervous system and heal your anxiety from the root. 

By building a flexible, thriving nervous system that is more resilient to life’s stressors, you can say goodbye to morning anxiety and hello to a life where peace and tranquility don’t feel so out of reach! Click here to learn more and feel free to join our waitlist so you’ll be the first to know when enrollment opens again.

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Dr. Linnea Passaler

Dr. Linnea Passaler

Dr. Linnea Passaler has dedicated 20+ years to serving patients, first to a small number of individuals as a successful surgeon and then to thousands of people worldwide as the CEO of a digital health startup. After overcoming her own struggles with a dysregulated nervous system, she created Heal Your Nervous System (HYNS) to empower others in their healing journey. Her combination of neuroscience and somatic work helps those struggling with overwhelm, trauma, burnout, and anxiety to heal their dysregulated nervous systems and thrive.