Mental Health Blogs

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

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26 Responses to Morning Anxiety 101: Symptoms and Causes

  1. nancy brashears says:

    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. Diane Smith says:

    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. Marta Novotny says:

    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. Gina says:

    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. janet says:

    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. Judy says:

    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. Aimee White says:

    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. Heather says:

    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. Rochelle Gollin says:

    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. Aimee White says:

    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.

  11. Debbiermillard says:

    I’ve read all your posts and its interesting. I panic and have anxiety when I wake up in the morning. After a nasty divorce of 5 years ago I have been living alone and waking up in an empty house was frightening. I would stay in bed for weeks at a time. I don’t know if getting this off my chest will help or make matters worse. I am phobic about taking a shower so it doesn’t comfort me. I feel like I need a medication that will suppress the anxiety and panic. I am in really bad shape and need help desparately. Wish there was a magic wand to wave but there isn’t and I don’t know how I can stand to keep going like this. The stress is taking its toll. My beautiful hair is falling out like crazy.

  12. Kerry Prater says:

    Debbiermillard,
    I have suffered from panic attacks for over 20 years. The best drug I have found with the least side effects has been amitriptyline. This works to prevent the panic attack from occuring. I also take alprazolam for panic breakthroughs. This tactic leaves me feeling a little more in control. Yoga is also good for hormonal balance, and works best for me at around 6pm as I am a night owl. I feel able to go to bed around 3 or 4 am, and a Tigger clock the goes off with a “hoo, hoo, hoo, are you ready for some bouncin’” instead of the heart jarring ring. I still have some bad days, but they are getting fewer and farther between. If you need some one to talk to, I am available at 719-924-5557. Hope this helps.

  13. Aimee White says:

    Hey Debbie,

    Suppressing the anxiety will only make it worse. You can take medication to help with the anxiety, but you have to learn that to accept your anxiety as a part of who you are. When you stop fighting it and learn to roll with it, it will start to get better.

    Hope that helps!

    Aimee

  14. Aimee White says:

    Hi Kerry,

    Thanks for all of your tips. You are such a sweetheart to open yourself up so much to strangers. Thanks for being so supportive. You rock!

    Aimee

  15. goog55 says:

    I have anxiety. It got so bad that I would panic when my husband went to work. I had to stay with my in-laws at night. I tried to go to work but it seemed to worsen and started having more stress and anxiety. I finally was told my job was suffering; that I should go off and take care of my health. I was hesitant because insurance company gave me a hard time last time for being off. I agreed to 6 months off because work was paying for it first before it went to long term.

    I had other issues as well. I was very, very sick and nobody knew why. I am still not at work. I am much better, but still have panic issues when I think or see my work. My doctor thinks I need more time and I agreed. My depression is much better but still not my same old self.

    Yoga definitely helped me. The insurance company denied my claim for long term. They feel that since I can do yoga, go for walks, I can go to work and work on my problems. I have talked to a psychiatrist and counselors who say otherwise. I am glad I found this website so I don’t feel like I am not alone. I am on a high dosage of effexor 300mg. It made quite a difference, but I thought I would be back to normal self by now. I just learn to take it one step at a time.

  16. Cindy says:

    I have episodes that when my alarm clock goes off in the morning I reach to turn if off and immediately my whole body is trembling as if I have been startled and I’m weak and when I get out of bed I stumble and almost feel as if I’m drunk and so sleepy as if I have been given a drug and I stay sleepy and drug out all day. But the trembling usually only lasts a few minutes. Also, what is weird is it seems that if I wake up on my own (like on the weekends) without the alarm I seem to be ok. Does anyone have this or have you ever heard of this?

  17. char brooks says:

    Aimee-
    What a wonderful service you provide by creating a safe space for those with anxiety can talk freely about it. Anxiety is something that is so painful, and becomes even more painful when we push it under the rug like we do in our society and pretend it isn’t happening.

    People vary and what works for one person often doesn’t work for others. I believe in trial and error, a day (or a second as the case may be) at a time, and letting experience guide your way through this.

    When people want professional help for it. it is really helpful to go in prepared to talk clearly about your situation. you can go to http://www.the-first-step.com and download a free appointment preparation worksheet to help you articulate clearly what’s going on with you. i have developed a series of worksheets (and don’t want to sound hype-y or sales-y here) and yet want to offer my services to readers who want to make informed healthcare choices with dedicated providers. you can find out more at http://www.the-first-step.com as well.

    i have suffered with depression, anxiety and a host of other things- my worksheets are a result of many years of screwed up communications with healthcare providers where my needs weren’t being appropriately addressed – in part because i didn’t speak the same language as my healthcare providers.

    i hope in some way this may help you and your readers find more tools to improve their well being.

  18. Becky says:

    Hi. I really didn’t know there was a such thing as morning anxiety, until I googled it. I just knew how uncontrollably helpless I felt in the morning. I feel confused, dizzy, my heart pounds, my chest hurts, my hands tingle and the first thought in my mind is “I am terrified because I’m alone”. It’s not so bad if someone is home and I talk to them when I get up. But if I am home alone, my mind starts racing and I get scared. I don’t know why!?? I have trouble falling asleep at night. I usually would not go to bed until 2 am or sometimes later. I’ve just always been a night person. Well I will take all of your advice and see how it helps! Thanks…..

  19. Anita Tavares says:

    Hi. Both myself and my son suffer with anxiety and the mornings can be the hardest to get through. Sometimes it is helpful to play a relaxing CD with affirmations upon waking. Also, it is probably better to get up and find some distraction like reading, painting (not walls)!

    I think this site is so beneficial as the more people know that they are not alone suffering from Anxiety, the less frightening it becomes.

    Thank you for all advice. When it’s bad you try anything!

  20. Sam says:

    The only way to understand how miserable the morning anxiety can make you is to experiance it yourself. Most people who have never experienced it, simply don’t comprehend the gravity of it because it cannot be compared to a visible ailment like broken arm or a cut in the skin. The author of this article and the respondents have accurately described this problem here.

    In 2008 I was suffering from the same symptoms. My doctor checked my EKG report and sent me directly through the emergency doors of a nearest hospital. Within 2 days I had triple bypass heart surgery. A year later, I started having similar symptoms. My cardiologist rushed me to the same hospital for angioplasty to insert a stent in my artery.

    If you continue to feel the above symptoms, please have an EKG done just to be sure your heart and arteries are OK.

  21. angela says:

    Well, i guess i can tell my parents I wasn’t faking all these years to get out of school. I feel extreme anxiety (which hasn’t been diagnosed, i’m afraid of doctors/psychologists) constantly but it’s horrible in the morning. I never want to close my eyes in fear of what the next day will bring!! I just saw this and now i know I’m not crazy! and that what i’m feeling is real, not just all in my head. My heart pounds, i sweat, i dread getting out of bed so much that i get horrible nausea and pains – so much so that i can’t get out of bed and eventually get sick. I almost failed two classes this year. I’ve never missed so much school in my life. for me, the only way to avoid felling like this is to not sleep. It summer now, so i’ll have to try it next year!

  22. Nancy says:

    I too suffer from anxiety especially the moment I open my eyes in the morning. I am presently taking celexa and that seems to alleviate some of it. I find I’m okay as long as I have a goal for that day but I dread those days when I know I have no actual plans. I believe I suffer from anxiety because of my separation and living on my own again. I wish I knew what I could do to work with the anxiety. I’m not good at sitting back and thinking peaceful thoughts. All I can think of is “why me” and how I hate having to deal with it. Does anxiety ever go away forever, or is it something that is part of you for lifetime and is just dormant till the next crisis in your life?

  23. Steve says:

    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.

  24. Carol says:

    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.

  25. Chris says:

    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.

  26. T says:

    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.