waking up stressed.
March 7, 2010 9:25 AM   Subscribe

how can i wake up in the morning without all of life's worries immediately entering my brain?

upon waking, i often feel very stressed. this is most evident when i have a scary situation that day (for example, giving a speech in a class or being observed during a student teaching session). however, i also wake up stressed on weekend days when i have many things to accomplish: housework, lots of homework, exercise, and so on. it's hard to relax when i'm worrying about completing my obligations. it seems that i am fairly obsessed with time and worrying about having enough time to get everything done, so on those weekend days, i fret about getting up and out of bed so i can start working.

this has also been a problem when there is a more serious issue going on in my life. for example, a few years ago my boyfriend and were experiencing a problem in our relationship and every morning during that time, i would wake up and feel like i had been hit by a ton of bricks. maybe this is a normal reaction but it felt very debilitating. i would just stay in bed for long periods and cry or mope. it's that waking up to a new day and suddenly remembering your crappy situation.

i think that i would benefit from therapy for many other reasons, so that is something i am looking into. otherwise, does anyone have any methods for waking up without stress? any morning (or evening, for that matter) meditations? anything that has worked for you?
posted by sucre to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Exercise is one answer: you'll go to bed knackered. You're more likely to sleep better. It'll give you more energy, and help you feel more positive generally. It'll also give you something to do in the morning to clear your mind before you start your working day.

It may not be a replacement for therapy per se, but it is a form of therapy.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:39 AM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Every morning I wake up, and I have pretty much the same thoughts about how much I hate my job. It's gotten to the point now where I know that they're coming, so I just run through them and let them go. I sort of fast-forward through them because I know what they're going to be. Paying attention to them and feeding them is always a disaster. Perhaps you could track what they are, so you could try this?

Try making a list of everything you have to do on the weekend. List what housework you have to do, and approximate times, and then remind yourself it's on the list when you start to think about it. I find this helpful when I can't sleep because of whirling thoughts. I figure that my brain is trying to tell me something, so once I've written it down, it realises that I'm aware of it. It's not very scientific, but it works for me.

Trying to meditate in that state was always pointless for me. There was too much "mental adrenaline" to calm down. I had to exercise (exorcise?) it away before I could meditate. Once I got the thoughts onto paper, though, I never found I needed to meditate.
posted by Solomon at 9:40 AM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

The question to ask yourself here is

What has worked for you in the past?

Has it been having the work done?

Are there too many projects that you are having a hard time to keep track of? Or setting weekly schedules? Are you doing any of that?

It seems that part of you seems to worry about stuff because you don't have a place to park it for the rest of the time.
Are you scheduled for working on things for a certain period of time?

On the other hand, this could very well be over worrying which is best treatable by some relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation and talking about these in therapy.

An other way would be to wake up with some music playing that you like (relaxation music may just put you back to sleep). Some rock or hip-hop songs.

Black eyed peas did it for me for a while.
posted by iNfo.Pump at 9:42 AM on March 7, 2010

Best answer: I am terribly prone to falling into a hamster wheel of negative rumination during times when my mind is idle, including when waking up and going to bed. For me, it's an extremely difficult rut to break out of, but the starting point is learning to catch it when it is happening. Then, you need to steer that mental train-of-thought down a different, more productive track that replaces the cycle of negative rumination.

A couple of things that have helped me somewhat are to (1) make lists and plan actions; and (2) replace negative thoughts with positive ones.

On (1): Write things down. Make lists. Plan out a realistic [!!] schedule for the day that includes fun things to look forward to. If you've got a problem that you're wrestling with (like an unhappy relationship, or the feeling like you could benefit from therapy but aren't sure where to start), write that down, identify the root causes, brainstorm action steps, and so on.
posted by drlith at 9:50 AM on March 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

This happens to me too. Not always early in the morning though -- I'll actually wake up, often at around 4am, and be wracked with anxiety about some situation in my work, life etc. Sometimes the worry is about upcoming stuff, but sometimes I just go over stuff that happened in the past (re-living a mistake, playing out what-if scenarios). Some of the things I worry about are laughably minor, like your housekeeping example. It often takes me more than an hour to get back to sleep, no matter how hard I try to convince my brain that its not really worth worrying about.

In general this happens to me most frequently when I am super stressed at work, or about some other issue in my life. Exercise does help, I definitely sleep best when I'm hitting the gym at least a few times a week.
posted by id girl at 9:52 AM on March 7, 2010

I've found getting away from it all for at least 3 days does wonders for putting some things back into perspective, so that I'm not worrying about them anymore. And by getting away, I mean back country camping, either by backpack, canoe, sea kayak. If you don't have the gear, check with a local outfitter for guided trips, or places you could go that are open this time of year, possibly with a cabin, or check with people you know that have cottages. The trips can be physically exhausting, but it works for the mind, your body can recover once back at home.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 10:25 AM on March 7, 2010

Best answer: Writing things down definitely helps me with cycles of rumination - for me, one source of worry is that I won't remember something important, or that I don't have a plan for getting something onerous done. I generally have these worries at night before going to sleep, and keeping a notepad by my bed has helped. My rule is that I can't keep worrying about something that is in the notebook, because I know it will be there for me to deal with when I get out of bed. So for you, maybe having something relaxing to do in the morning (reading a book, or exercising), plus 'banking' those worries for after you've gotten your day started might help.
posted by heyforfour at 10:26 AM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Morning pages. Dump all of your stress and mental clutter on the page and then throw it away. I think if you are doing morning pages as a way of dealing with stress, rather than as part of The Artist's Way, throwing them away is important because it keeps you from rereading what you have written and obsessing.
posted by betweenthebars at 10:29 AM on March 7, 2010 [5 favorites]

I've found both eCouch and MoodGym super helpful in dealing with the worry/paralysis cycle. They were well worth my time, especially the cognitive/behaviorial "kits." Before I did them I thought I knew a lot about why I felt the way I felt, but I learned so much, and am still using the techniques they suggest. Maybe they'll help you, too. Best of luck.
posted by sister nunchaku of love and mercy at 10:36 AM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I empathize. Those moments can be terrifying, and not a great way to start the day.

Couple of things: Don't feed the negativity, but do work through it. Reframe it. In literary context, this is sometimes called hero's insomnia. The great leader has something big to do and it is consuming him, and he can't sleep. One way to deal with it is to get up and start preparing for the day. The day (or the battle) goes much better when you have all your stuff in place and ready to go. Look at these moments as nature's way of forcing you to double check your work.

(Story example: a friend of mine seemed like an unstoppable working machine. Classic workaholic, up before dawn, far before he had to be. He was a foreman for a carpentry crew. Every day, he got up, made his lunch, left the house and gassed up the truck and the equipment and the spare gas cans. I thought this was nutty, as he could get away with doing it more like twice a week. But it saved time in the end, because he was prepared for any eventuality- he knew he would never have to stop work because something ran out of gas. Further, when he got home from work (usually early because all that planning made him more efficient), he would plow into whatever "evening project" he had planned. Again, why the hurry, I thought? Take a break for a couple of minutes. But there was wisdom in this: he got more done in less time, and had a solid 4 hours or so in the evening to veg out and be with his family. He got far more out of every facet of his life because he set himself up to be able to devote 100% of his focus to the task at hand. And I later learned that it took a sizable amount of self knowledge and self control, because it turned out that he knew he was "lazy" and had real trouble refocusing himself back into work mode if he stopped at any point. YMMV)

Feelings of dread about the presentation or being classroom observed? Do you have the material down, are you as prepared as you can be? Yeah? Then it's just butterflies. But if you're not, focus the nervous energy into fixing the problem.

Relationship troubles? This is way harder, because you are dealing with another person and you can't (even if you wanted to) just hunker down and power through the problem. But the same concept applies- separate the abstract anxiety from the concrete issues.

drlith's scheduling suggestion is great, if the anxiety is of the "oh my god, too much to do" variety. Speaking only for myself, I tend not to schedule and work stuff out when I'm most stressed- I don't want to know the depth and breadth of what is confronting me. Of course, if I can force myself to work through it, getting it all done seems far more manageable.

Also, find a way to have a system for "tabling" issues. Sometimes a well worked schedule (6-7pm- worry about SO) is enough. Seriously. Sometimes our worries take on minds of their own and won't shut up until they are acknowledged. Often all that is necessary is doing the acknowledging and you can feel comfortable in doing your other tasks, and you *may* find that whatever was worrying you wasn't all that important when the time comes to work on it. This only works if you trust your schedule and trust yourself to follow the schedule.
posted by gjc at 10:51 AM on March 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Learn how to mediate during other parts of your day--experience the anxious thoughts then slowly let them go--like a windshield wiper brushing away raindrops. Then use those meditative "letting go" techniques as you awaken. Or have a book of poems (or morning devotions if you're religious) by your bed to read as soon as you wake up.
posted by Elsie at 11:02 AM on March 7, 2010

Best answer: Wow, you could be me.

There are a lot of good techniques here, and I tried many of them for about a year (making lists, new bed, meditation), but real progress only came once I realized I was anxious and depressed, began therapy, and started to explore what was at the core of it all.

It sounds like you're putting a lot of pressure on yourself in various areas of your life. If you can discover what is at the root of this, as well as work on techniques to deal with the stresses when they do arise, you may be able to break a cycle and find yourself happier, less anxious, and more productive.

Kudos for you for having the presence of mind to notice your patterns and the strength and courage to address them.

Feel free to MeMail. Good luck!
posted by asuprenant at 11:14 AM on March 7, 2010

Best answer: I've been getting up half an hour to an hour early every day and reading a really engrossing book. It's actually really relaxing and gives me time to chill before starting to worry about what needs to be done.
posted by pyrom at 11:47 AM on March 7, 2010

Best answer: This used to happen to me. At the worst of times my anxiety would wake me up at 2am and, despite being someone who can go to sleep in a helicopter, it would take me ages to calm down and get back to zzzzz's.

Then I tried the 'three good things' technique.

Each night after getting into bed and laying my head on the pillow I thought about three good things that had happened that day. Sometimes they were awesome things - got a raise, helped a lost tourist, cooked a great meal for friends. Othertimes I had to really think to find even one good thing. But I'd comb my memory of the day and find one, then two, then three - even if it was just the beautiful flower I saw on my way to work, the stack of files I got through that day, the fact that I didn't drink the whole bottle of wine but just two glasses...

Over a couple of weeks I discovered that my morning anxiety became much reduced. I put this down to the type of things I was programming my mind with before sleeping. By concentrating on good things before sleep, my mind seemed to focus on good things while sleeping and I would wake up with much less stress.

tl;dr summary: Think good, self-positive things just before sleeping. This will program your mind to carry good thoughts through the night and reduce the anxiety upon waking in the morning.
posted by Kerasia at 2:17 PM on March 7, 2010 [9 favorites]

Try zazen, this is exactly what it is for. good luck.
posted by asa at 4:23 PM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I agree with betweenthebars. Dump EVERYTHING on your head onto a page, so that you have your worries solidified on paper. If you're thinking about it, write it down. Sooner or later you'll realize that all you have to worry about is on paper, and your mind is free to be empty/free. You can tackle these things as tasks to be solved, or things to be considered, and that helps. As long as these things stay in your mind and whirl around, however, it's gonna be worse.
posted by suedehead at 4:57 PM on March 7, 2010

Best answer: The writing it down suggestion is excellent. I've found music can pull me out of a downward-spiraling funk most easily, so maybe rethink what your alarm clock is playing and replace it with something that makes you feel good, talk radio or a podcast you'd actually want to focus on, or a particularly good radio station?
posted by R a c h e l at 5:27 PM on March 7, 2010

Best answer: I'm not sure this will help, but I add it anyway. I also occasionally have this issue, though with me it is more often at 4:00 in the morning. But I also find that if I wait a few hours, these feelings will be gone.
So, I have tried to train myself to say "It's too early to think about this now; wait till you get up." Sometimes this is enough to get my brain to break the cycle, and I can fall back asleep.
posted by wittgenstein at 5:34 PM on March 7, 2010

Best answer: A book that gives really useful tips on clearing your mind and getting things on paper rather than in your head is Getting things done by David Allen.

Replacing repetitive unhelpful negative thoughts with positive ones (like mantras) helps as well. It is important to keep these thoughts positive and in the present time. E.g. repeating 'I will not get sick' focusses on the word sick (I'm told the subconscious mind doesn't understand a negative), and is likely to make you feel sick. A better thought would be 'I feel relaxed and full of energy'.

And as asa also suggests: you can train your mind as well: mindfulness or zen meditation for instance help you see that your thoughts for what they are ('just' thoughts).

Of course it will take time, and there is no miracle cure, but above mentioned will help you make yourself feel more in control of yourself. Good luck!
posted by charles kaapjes at 10:48 PM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 1. Plan a luxurious breakfast on the weekends. Get an automatic coffeemaker that you can preset to start before you wake up. Whatever motivates you to look forward to getting out of bed.

2. Redirect your attention immediately to something else upon waking. Watch a half-hour TV show while you eat breakfast or read a chapter of a book (physical, not online).

3. Hot shower (not a bath; baths are for thinking). Every time your thoughts drift to something stressful, bring them back to feeling the water on your skin. Use a scented body wash or light a candle in the room.

4. When you're out of the shower, hopefully calmer, make your list of things to do as described in previous comments.
posted by desjardins at 9:05 AM on March 8, 2010

Deal with it the night before. Keep a notebook near your bed. When you get ready for bed (do you have a ritual? Or do you just slump in to bed when that latest TV show is over? get a ritual!), lay down under the covers with a cup of tea or a glass of water. Now write. Fill a full page or more. Write down everything. All the stuff that you need to do, all the stuff you don't want to forget. Free-form it.
I have to be up at 6am for that meeting with Steve. I hope I can wake up on time and not hit snooze 20 times. I can smell the can't litter box from here. Ew. Stupid cat. I could get up and clean it right now, but I'll do it tomorrow. Maybe in the morning if I wake up on time. Hey my foot hurts. I wonder if those new shoes are bad for me .......
Just write. If you get it all out on paper, you know you won't forget it. Review it in the morning.
posted by phrakture at 12:12 PM on March 8, 2010

Waking up 45 mins earlier and knowing that I would have plenty of time to do everything, has really helped me. Also, that way if I finish everything early, I can reward myself with a short nap or reading a good book, sans anxiety.
posted by egeanin at 12:24 PM on March 8, 2010

Response by poster: this is why i love askmefi. you guys and gals are amazing-- thank you for all the ideas! i will mark a few as best answer but i truly appreciate each reply.

i have just started exercising regularly (and am surprised that my asthmatic self can go jogging without dying! hooray!) so i'm betting that will help. i do have a bedtime routine/ritual, definitely. i woke up this morning and didn't feel as stressed as usual, so maybe just putting this question out into the world helped a little.

again, THANKS!
posted by sucre at 3:50 PM on March 8, 2010

Before you go to bed, think about what you have to do, and plan out the approximate times for doing it. Then take a deep breath, and find a few things that were good that day and just think about them as you drift off to sleep.

It's a good way to face your problems but then get to sleep calmly and quickly. When you wake up, you know how you plan to tackle the upcoming things you have to do, so you won't worry as much.
posted by atsyrk at 6:42 PM on May 31, 2010

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