Morning Anxiety – Causes of Anxious Feeling When Waking Up

Anxiety is an emotion that we all experience from time to time. Be it a major life event, a stage performance or an important exam, anxiety is the nervousness or uneasiness that is considered to be a normal emotion during these periods. However, anxiety can be a problem when it is continuous or arises and persists without any obvious reason. It is also a problem when it affects a person’s life to the point that they are avoiding people, daily activities and even situations that are necessary in life.

When is anxiety a problem?

As mentioned, anxiety is a problem if it is recurrent or persistent, occurs for no clearly identifiable reason and affects a person’s daily life, relationships, social interactions and career. This is known as a generalized anxiety disorder. It not only causes psychological symptoms but there may also be physical symptoms. The exact reason why generalized anxiety disorder occurs is unclear although it is associated with genetic factors and an individual’s personality.

An anxiety disorder needs to be treated as it can affect a person’s life in various ways and contributes to depression, sleep problems and even headaches, gastrointestinal or cardiovascular conditions. Therefore anxiety should be treated even if a person suffering with an anxiety disorder is coping with daily life. Treatment may involve psychotherapy with or without the use of drugs.

It is important to note that anxiety is not simply a matter of psychological stress. While psychological stress may contribute to anxiety, there is a clear differences.

Read more on psychological stress.

Causes of Anxiety When Awaking in the Mornings

Many people with generalized anxiety disorder report worsening of the anxiety in the mornings upon waking a night’s sleep. This occurs for several reasons that have been discussed further. However, there may also be reasons for this morning anxiety that cannot always be identified nor explained as to why it occurs more in the mornings than at other times of the day.

Being Awake

Being awake means that a person is now conscious and active. Emotions  and thoughts that may elicit these emotions are suppressed during sleep and will naturally return upon waking.  Even if a person is not going to face any possible triggers to anxiety (as discussed below) during the course of the day, thoughts and memories may be sufficient to trigger anxiety.

Exposure to Triggers

Another possible reason for morning anxiety is that a person awakes to a day where he/she may have to face triggers. These triggers do not cause anxiety. Instead it elicits anxiety when a person is exposed to it. The triggers may vary from one person to another. Some are potential threats to a person’s health and welfare while at other times these triggers are considered to be harmless.¬† Triggers may include situations like traffic or large crowds, or it can be substances like drugs and alcohol.

Hormone Levels

There are natural changes in hormone levels associated with the body’s 24 hour biological clock (circadian rhythm) as well as with changes between the waking and sleeping state. One such hormone that tends to rise in the morning is cortisol. It is also known as a stress hormone. The rise in cortisol levels in the morning could possibly contribute to morning anxiety.

Drug Levels

People who are on anti-anxiety medication may find that the levels of these drugs have dropped by the morning. Depending on when the last pill was taken the day before and along with the sleeping hours during which no medication is used, the drug may wear off by the next morning. This allows the anxiety to arise or intensify again in the morning but should subside with a morning dose of the pill.

Prevention and Remedies

There are many ways to prevent and remedy morning anxiety. It depends on the underlying causes that tend to make anxiety worse in the mornings, and it also depends on the individual case. It is always advisable that a medical professional assess the reason for the morning anxiety and make suggestions on the best approach to manage it. Never self-medicate as it can hold several health risks.

The following measures may therefore assist with remedying or preventing anxiety attacks in the morning.

  • Take anti-anxiety medication on time everyday. If the dosage involves taking pills once a day then try to keep to the same time daily. Similarly if pills have to be taken twice daily then ensure that it is taken at 12 hour intervals so that circulating drug levels are steadily maintained.
  • Report morning anxiety to your doctor. It is important that your doctor is aware of these morning episodes as it may require a change in medication regimen. A bedtime dose or a morning dose may be necessary to counteract the drop in drug levels by the morning.
  • Identify potential triggers of anxiety and speak to a doctor or psycotherapist about it. A journal may help to identify triggers that are not obvious. Your psychotherapist may provide you with counseling and assist you with coping skills to reduce the intensity of these triggers.
  • Be cautious with substances that stimulate or depress the nervous system. This includes alcohol, nicotine and caffeine. These substances can worsen anxiety. Nicotine and caffeine may be obvious exacerbating factors as these substances are stimulants. However, even a depressant like alcohol can make anxiety worse.
  • Learn to practice time management and prioritize tasks. Many people with anxiety are sometimes overwhelmed by a day full of activities, demands placed on them and requirements to fulfil various responsibilities at work and at home. This can worsen anxiety but good time management and learning to prioritize tasks can help prevent these episodes.
  • Take note of whether certain pharmaceutical drugs worsens anxiety. This needs to be reported to a doctor as a potential trigger. Some drugs may contribute to anxiety as a side effect. It may also be seen with certain dieting pills and supplements. Prescription drugs should never stopped unless advised by a medical professional.
  • Try to avoid physical and psychological stress or at least minimize it. Stress is not unavoidable in daily life. However, there are situations which can be avoided or handled in a way that will minimize the resulting stress on the body and mind. This can help with anxiety in most cases.

Read more on ways to reduce stress.

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