The 15-Minute Morning Routine That Drastically Helped Ease My Anxiety
Life begins each morning. — Joel Olsteen
For a great portion of my life, mornings were the worst part of my day.
Wake up. Go to school.
Wake up. Go to class.
Wake up. Go to work.
Mornings were the start to a day filled mostly with stuff I didn’t want to do. When I thought things couldn’t possibly be worse, anxiety came knockin’ at my door and decided to stay for a while.
That’s when my mornings really started sucking.
I would wake up in a haze, feeling just as tired as the night before. My first thoughts were fearful — praying that the lump in my throat would be gone and that I wouldn’t have a heavy feeling in my chest. But that fear of feeling anxious usually just brought about the very symptoms I was fearing.
It was a vicious cycle.
I remember rolling over and throwing a pillow on my face, thinking this was how I would be spending the rest of my life.
Something had to be done.
At the time, I had been reading a lot of self-improvement books (shocker, I know). Books from Sam Harris, Tim Ferriss, and Tony Robbins cluttered my nightstand. They gave me the motivation to finally start making some changes.
I didn’t really need something to “own the day”. I just needed something to ease my anxiety and get me going. I wanted to wake up fucking happy, if only that were possible.
Looking at my old morning “routine” — it was a joke.
Alarm goes off.
Alarm goes off 9 minutes later.
Alarm goes off 8 minutes later.
After begrudgingly convincing myself I needed to wake up, I’d roll out of bed like a zombie, do bathroom things, shower, and sprint out the door for work.
From the moment I woke up, I was rushed, anxious, and fighting the clock.
The way I approached my mornings was erratic at best and only fed my existing stress and anxiety.
There was nothing routine about it.
The Power of a REAL Morning Routine
Contrary to popular belief, mornings don’t have to suck. Having your own morning routine can massively reduce anxiety, at least it certainly did for me. It’s like the magic pill you wish your doctor would give you, except this actually exists.
Like any curious and internet-savvy person my age, I listened to Tim Ferriss who introduced me to the Five Minute Journal. After doing that every day for a week, my mornings improved…and that was just one thing!
That got me thinking, “what else could I do that would specifically help deal with my anxiety?”
After a few months of trial and error, I landed on a formula that worked wonders for me. Instead of dreading the mornings, dare I say I actually looked forward to them.
The best part? It takes less than 15 minutes each day.
To start tackling your morning anxiety, all you need is a pen, a piece of paper, and a desire to wake up happy again.
First Step: Wake Up Earlier
Estimated amount of time: N/A
One of the major contributors to waking up anxious is the fear of being late. You’ve got things to do and places to be, and when you snooze as many times as I did, that fear becomes reality.
This leads to rushing around in the morning from the moment you step out of bed.
Instead, try waking up an hour earlier. You don’t have to set your alarm for 5 or even 6am. Just one hour earlier from your normal “oh shit, gotta go” time will do.
Use this time to focus on you. Practice actually waking up and easing into the day. Do things you usually wouldn’t have time for. Things like enjoying breakfast, reading, or going for a morning jog.
Your first attempt will probably feel weird. You won’t be used to all the extra time. But you know what? I bet it also feels amazing not rushing out the door every morning.
Then, Drink Some Water
Estimated amount of time: 10 seconds
Water is an essential part of life, yet some studies show as many as 75% of people live in a perpetual state of dehydration. When the body is dehydrated, it doesn’t function so well.
Your brain is approximately 85% water. Think it suffers when you’re water deficient? You bet.
Chances are, lack of water alone won’t cause anxiety, but it has been shown to be a contributing factor, which is crazy considering that water is FREE and readily available (at least in the developed world).
The body relies on stored water to do its thing while you sleep. In order to replenish those reserves, I started setting a big glass of water on my nightstand before I go to bed. Then, the first thing I do in the morning is reach over and chug about half of it.
I noticed I feel much more awake and less sluggish after a refreshing glass of water. You should consider doing the same. If you have some Athletic Greens to mix in, even better!
Estimated amount of time: 30 seconds to 1 minute
Gratitude works against anxiety by forcing your brain to focus on the positive. As anyone with anxiety knows, you’re consumed by negative thoughts day in and day out. Stepping out of that pattern of darkness first thing in the morning helps to get your day started on a positive note.
I started my practice with the Five Minute Journal I mentioned earlier, but now I just use a small notepad that I write in each morning before I hop out of bed.
The trick here is to add some variety into what you are grateful for. Everyone mentions their spouse, family, and friends when they first start practicing.
Instead, bring attention to the smaller things in life — the stuff you rarely think about but would miss if they didn’t exist.
A few perfect examples of things to be grateful for are:
· The warmth of a hot shower in the morning
· The sound of a bird chirping
· Air conditioning in your home (seriously, go 2 days without it in the summertime and you will never take it for granted again)
· The notes your spouse (or your mom) leaves you for lunch
Make Your Bed
Estimated amount of time: 1 to 2 minutes
Let me set the record straight. The first things I do after actually getting out of bed are head to the bathroom, splash my face with water, and brush my teeth.
After that however, I make my bed.
Navy SEAL Admiral Bill McRaven, during his famous University of Austin commencement address, lauded making your bed as a key contributor to finding success.
When you make your bed in the morning, you give yourself a small win to build momentum on throughout the rest of the day.
Small wins and mini-tasks are incredibly important to us anxious people. Our brains like order and completeness.
Think about the last time you felt anxious around the house and felt the urge to clean. The first place you tend to start (at least for me) is the dishes. They only take a few minutes to rinse and load the washer, and I immediately feel a sense of accomplishment.
I crave that feeling, then I move on to other places in the house. When I’m done cleaning, I feel this unexplainable serenity. Then, I usually feel motivated to start doing some real work.
A lot of anxiety stems from work going unfinished or not accomplishing enough during the day. By making your bed, you’re ensuring that at least one productive thing gets done that day, and you’re reminded by it when you lay down at night in your warmly made bed.
Growing up, I hated making my bed. I didn’t understand it. Now, it feels so damn good.
Estimated amount of time: 5 minutes (more when you progress)
Meditation has one of the highest positive effects on your brain and can help to dramatically reduce anxiety. Some studies show that it physically rewires the neural pathways of your mind and makes you a good bit happier.
When I first got into meditation, like many, I was skeptical. I didn’t fully understand it. And it was unbelievably hard.
I struggled sitting with my thoughts for 30 seconds. It was actually scary — how was I ever supposed to sit with them for 5 whole minutes?
Dan Harris’ book, 10% Happier, helped me to get over myself and change my perspective. He described the voice in your head as an “asshole”, one that relentlessly spewed useless thoughts and worries for you to get entangled in.
Once I began taking the practice seriously and sticking with it, I definitely noticed profound positive changes on my anxiety. I was no longer instantly reacting to the negative chatter in my mind. Instead, I was responding tactfully.
I started to change my viewpoint on myself from being an anxious person to someone who was just experiencing some anxious feelings. And they weren’t that big a deal. It made a huge difference for me.
The 10-day free trial that Headspace offers was huge for me in beginning my meditative practice. Now, I just find a quiet place to sit or lay down in the morning, set a timer for 5–10 minutes, and let myself observe my thoughts.
Don’t knock it ’til you try it.
Get the Blood Pumpin’
Estimated amount of time: 5 minutes
Exercise soothes the soul, and it’s an extremely underrated tool for helping to heal anxiety. One of the best ways to ease morning anxiety is to get out and sweat after waking up.
Go for a morning jog.
Do some yoga.
Do some body weight squats or pushups.
Whatever you have time to do and can do, just do (that’s a lot of “do’s”). You’ll find that it’s pretty impossible to think anxious thoughts while your body struggles through physical exercise. Plus, it releases feel-good endorphins to help ease any stress you may be experiencing.
What I’ve been doing recently is taking my chow, Lexi, for a walk outside. There’s an awesome hill just down the street which we’ll sprint up together. My god, it definitely takes my mind off whatever anxiety I’m having.
Attack the Day
That’s my morning routine in a nutshell. Over the past several years, I’ve learned the things that trigger my anxiety and the things that help alleviate it. While assembling my routine, I took all of those factors into account and experimented until I found what worked for me.
The 5 things I just shared with you now ease my morning anxiety and get me focused for the day.
After I complete my routine, I get started on my most important tasks. These I’ve already planned out the night before using 3x5 index cards. Some people prefer doing this in the morning as part of their routine, but I found that I operate better prioritizing the night before, then diving straight in after my routine.
Whatever works for you to get the job done is what’s going to be best.
I’ve found that not only does my morning routine ease my anxiety, but it also makes me more productive. I’m much less frantic and able to focus way better on my work.
And the same can work for you, too.
I’ll be honest with you, morning routines are incredible, and they certainly can help to reduce your anxiety. But, they are really freakin’ hard to stick to.
There are a few other things I do during the day that have made mine easier to adhere to and are just some good all-around habits to adopt.
1. Go to bed earlier. For obvious reasons. Sleep is an essential part of that life that does so much more than pass the night. Waking up earlier won’t seem so bad if you hit the sack at a decent hour.
2. Set priorities the night before. I mentioned this above, but it really does make a difference (at least for me). By setting my priorities the night before, I don’t have to waste energy making a few extra decisions in the morning. Once I finish my routine, I can dive right into my most important tasks.
3. Exercise. Physical activity changes your body and the way it operates. When I exercise, I crash hard at the end of the day and get some really awesome sleep. I often wake up feeling much more refreshed on days I exercise compared to when I don’t.
Creating Your Own
Copy and pasting this morning routine into your life might do wonders for you…or it might not. This list isn’t meant to be the only way to start your day. Instead, it’s a guide –a roadmap, if you will — to construct your own routine.
The activities I’ve laid out are what I’ve personally used to lower my anxiety, increase focus, and get the most out of my days. But that doesn’t mean it will work perfectly for you.
You should approach creating your morning routine by trying what I’m suggesting, and then tweaking it in a way that suits your individual needs.
Test, test, test.
Find out what works for you then reap the rewards of a happier morning and improved life.
Remember, it took me months before I nailed mine down. I tried things I didn’t like and others that just flat out didn’t work, despite them doing wonders for people like LeBron James.
Who knew what worked for LeBron wouldn’t work for me?
Your ideal morning isn’t something that just happens. You’ve got to deliberately craft it. Hopefully, you’re able to implement some of the changes I’ve suggested above to help reduce your anxiety and take back control of your days.