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Morning Anxiety 101: Symptoms and Causes

I am not a morning person. If you are reading this, chances are, you aren’t one either. Sometimes, I have been woken up in the early hours to instant panic. There isn’t a reason for the fear but as soon as my eyelids open I am absolutely terrified. Its a horrible feeling. When my day begins this way one of two things are bound to happen.

My anxiety is always worse in the mornings. Learn how cortisol, low blood sugar, and your environment can cause mornings to be filled with anxiety.
Morning anxiety is a horrible way to start off your day.

Either I accept the anxiety and try to ignore it, or I feel sorry for myself, pout, and sometimes cry, and it consumes and ruins my entire day.

My anxiety is always worse in the mornings. Always. Sometimes I find myself dreading to go to sleep at night for fear of what the morning will bring. I have learned not to plan important events or parties until the afternoon or evenings because I know I will be in a better mood at that time.

Symptoms of Morning Anxiety

Most people experience several of the following symptoms when feeling anxious:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Feeling weak, faint, or dizzy
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands and fingers
  • Nervousness, sense of terror, of impending doom or death
  • Feeling sweaty or having chills
  • Chest pains
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Feeling a loss of control
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Trembling
  • Mental confusion

Causes for Morning Anxiety

Cortisol- the Stress Hormone

When we are feeling stressed, our bodies produce a hormone called Cortisol. Cortisol levels are naturally at their highest in the morning and lowest at night.  Our bodies will also produce Cortisol when we are feeling anxious to help with the “fight or flight” response.

It becomes a vicious cycle. We wake up feeling intense because of the stored up Cortisol levels throughout the night, which makes us feel anxious, so our bodies continue to pump out Cortisol, which creates more anxiety, which produces more cortisol, which causes us to feel more anxious, etc.

Low Blood Sugar

Deanne Repich, founder of the National Institute of Anxiety and Stress, Inc. says,

“Another reason why symptoms can be worse in the morning is because your blood sugar is low when you first wake up. You have gone all night without food. It’s important to maintain a constant blood sugar level because the brain uses sugar, also known as glucose, as its fuel. If blood sugar levels are too low or drop too fast, then the brain starts running out of fuel.”

Running out of fuel causes the brain to trigger the “fight or flight” response which we just learned will send cortisol through our bodies to help fight or flee the perceived threat which in this case is low fuel.

Environmental Aggravations

Although these may not be the root of your morning anxiety, your bedroom surroundings can aggravate an already bad situation. Imagine sleeping in a dark room, in an uncomfortable bed and then suddenly a noisy, loud alarm clock scares you into reality. Soon harsh bright lights and the chill of getting out of bed welcome you to your worst day ever. There are simple things we can do to help eliminate morning anxiety.

This is the first post in a two part series. You may also be interested in Morning Anxiety 101: 5 Useful Tips

26 thoughts on “Morning Anxiety 101: Symptoms and Causes”

  1. I still suffer from a touch of morning anxiety. It’s 7am, so here I am lol. Fortunately, it seems to be the last symptom from an anxiety-filled life. I used to be a virtual shut-in. I was the Queen of canceling appointments. I even canceled my own birthday party.

    Then I did something that changed my life. I got my nutritional deficiencies tested. I’d been told by people for 10 plus years to look into it, but I kept thinking *I have genuine anxiety- genuine problems. Not just some silly nutritional deficiency*. I would get really defensive. But eventually, I felt that I couldn’t handle the suffering anymore, so I looked into it. I was willing to try ANYTHING.

    I was low in everything. Vitamin C. B12. If you could name it, I didn’t have it. So I started a regime of vitamins and minerals. I take 15 plus vitamins everyday with the guidance of my GP. Within five days, I knew I had found my cure. I used to be on lorezapam, seroquel, and adderrall (diagnosed with ADHD, insomnia, anxiety). There were days when I would be eying the clock… waiting for my next tranquilizer.

    It’s seven months later, and now I take half of my 5mg of adderall (down from 25mg), and only on weekdays. Again, with the guidance of my GP, I slowly came off everything else. I sleep at night. I don’t use an alarm clock. Many days, I will look up and realize- oh my goodness- it’s 7pm and I’ve left work to go to the pub with friends. I didn’t even think about going- I just went. If you have anxiety, you know how thrilling that realization is.

    I cried in my doctor’s office the day she apologized to me. The day she told me that the last 27 years of hell were seemingly caused by *nothing more* than malabsorption of vitamins.

    This may not be the answer for you. But I feel like a ‘born again’ lol. And I have become utterly obnoxious in my desire to tell other people about my story. The beautiful part about suffering with anxiety for SO long, is that you truly appreciate each and everyday that you are able (With ease), to participate in the world.

  2. My morning anxiety symptoms are intense stomach knots/cramps, as well as anxious thoughts, which start when I’m in still in that half-awake/half-asleep stage.

    I was on Paxil for a few years, and while that helped a little, it did not address the underlying anxiety, and in fact, I decided to come off of it a few months ago, because for the first time in my life I developed clinical depression along with the anxiety. That’s when I knew meds alone weren’t the answer.

    I started seeing a therapist more regularly and going to DBT groups (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) which are helping *tremendously*. I only wished I had known about DBT years ago. But better late than never…

    I am hoping to not have to go back on any more meds, as the 2-3 kinds I was put on over the years had side-effects that were not worth it for me, and coming off the drugs was a process too. I know for many people, medication is absolutely necessary and a life-saver even, but I’m not sure my own bouts of anxiety and depression are severe and/or uncommon enough for serious brain-altering drugs with a long list of side-effects. I wished it were as simple as that, but after a few years of trying to find the answer in a pill, I’ve realized it’s not– at least not in my case.

    I will still take the ocassional tranquilizer in special situations, but need to stay away from the SSRI’s & other regular meds for now and learn to instead rely on DBT skills, breathing techniques, meditation, and healthy habits and supplements like Omega-3 fatty acids (which is great for dealing with stress, anxiety & depression.)

    Thank you all for posting here. This is a great topic…

    Chris T.

  3. I am a morning person and never have an problems like that. However, for at least the last 20 years, periodically, if I have been having a nap during the day, perhaps because I am ill (cold, stomach upset) or just plain tired, I have woken up in an absolute state of panic – rapid heart beats. I can’t imagine how you go through this everyday, but at least I am not going mad. Thank you for sharing this.

  4. I know how you feel. My anxiety started with a vengeance out of nowhere about six months ago and I have been on medication ever since. I am unable to sleep without Zopiclone and the worst feeling is waking up in an empty house. The loneliness is terrble.

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