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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,too,am not a morning person.Lately I do not want to get out of bed,let alone start a new day…my heart flutters and pounds,I do not have motivation.I feel isolated from the rest of the world.Let’s talk about cortisol and sugar levels.Is there medication to maintain healthy balance….

  2. I can relate to this anxiety. I have also quit making appointments in the morning. I seldom ( every 5 or 6 mos.) go out in the evening. When I was really bad, I was afraid to be alone ever. I spent months at the neighbors house everyday . My husband would drop me off and pick me up on his way home. Thank goodness they were like parents to me. I could not go in my kid’s room if the light wasn’t already on. There seemed to be no end in sight. Finally I told my husband we had to move. I was suicidal and seriously tried to kill myself. We moved. It’s been 3 years. A few times in the last month or so I have had that anxiety again. I’m truly scared that I may be starting to fear everything again.

  3. I have anxiety also but I did not know about the pounding heart. I would get out of bed & my heart rate would be 105 I am not a morning person either but after being up a couple hours it goes away.

  4. I woke up groaning. It’s weird to wake up hearing yourself. I never make morning appts. Feel better at night. I am well known for cancellations or being late. I find if I have appts; I space them out. Like 1 appt. one day; next 2 or 3 days later another appt.

  5. i too suffer with anxiety i take valium. every time i go out in the morning i have to take someone out with me or i just cant function. i never do more than 1 appointment a week and my therapeist comes to my house to see me.

  6. I’ve been suffering from anxiety for a couple of years now with not much success in treating it. Mornings are really awful for me. I would love to know of ANYTHING that can help with this.

  7. Wow I appreciate all of the comments on this topic. Its a great one to discuss.

    Nancy,
    I take 100 mg of Zoloft every morning with my breakfast. I would be interested to hear what everyone else is taking. It seems to work well for me, but overall techniques such as positive affirmations or distractions work better for me.

    Diane,
    I encourage you to read the follow up post to this one. It talks about how if you worry about the anxiety it will only make it worse. You should instead think of what actions you will take if it does come, so you can feel better prepared for it. Also, you need to learn how much power you have. You can handle the anxiety. Its not bigger than you. You just have to believe in yourself.

    Thanks to everyone else for your comments! I hope these articles will help you.

  8. This seems to be a common problem .I too have trouble in the morning and shy away from going anywhere before noon ,my dentist wont see me anymore beacause of missed appointments ( time for a new dentist),But I have found a medication that works well for me,CIPRALEX. Before this my anxiety was all consuming and unbearable it takes a while to kick in but it has improved my daily life,hope this helps someone.

  9. Dear Aimee,
    You are so right about being up late. I am writing this at 3:36 A.M. I used to wake up every morning in a panic, then it became waking up w depression. Sometimes it got so bad I didn’t want to go to bed at night for fear of how I’d wake up in the morning. I discovered 2 things; keep an orange at my bedside so I had something to grab for to up my blood sugar; get in the shower no matter what. Somehow the warm water is very calming. However, I must admit that if I’m in a bad depression, getting myself into the shower can take a couple of hours. I am basically a night personl. My best thinking seems to start at 11 p.m., sometimes I think that part of the problem is being forced to live in a society that does not synch w my circadian rhythms. Also, once in the while I can calm myself down by asking myself “O.K., how much worse can this get?” Somehow that seems to ground me. The absolute best thing for me , however, is if I can get someone to call me about the time I wake up. Good Luck!

  10. Thanks Heather for the tip about Cipralex. I have never heard of that one.

    Also thanks Rochelle for sharing what works for you to relieve your morning anxiety. Showers are the best. I always take really long ones. I like to just “be” when I am in the shower. Having someone call you is a great distraction. I’ll have to remember that one.

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