Six Tips If You Are Waking Up Anxious

Mar 3, 2022 | Building Emotional Serenity, Self-Improvement | 0 comments

Publishing my first book has been nerve-racking. The fear of unintentionally offending people, making costly mistakes, and not knowing where to find answers to publishing questions stresses me out.  However, reading perspective-restoring Scripture, listening to beautiful harmonies with life-affirming lyrics, and praying usually keep me calm enough to drop off to sleep quickly.

Nevertheless, I pay attention to my body, and it’s been telling me lately that stress has invaded my peaceful world. How do I know? Well, I’ve been waking up extra early in the morning with an unpleasant stirring in the pit of my stomach, accompanied by a vague sense of doom and a mind flooded with scary “what if’s?”

I know from my professional training that anxiety upon awakening is a biological problem related to the stress hormone, cortisol. The amount of cortisol in a stressed person’s system is higher the first hour after waking up.  Also, some research studies have indicated activity in the area of the brain called the frontal lobe decreases overnight. Unfortunately, the frontal lobe is largely responsible for rational thinking, executive functioning, and controlling the inhibition of thoughts and behaviors. This allows all the worrisome things we’ve put on the back burner during the day to come to the forefront and dominate our thinking as we awaken.

A mind racing out of control can cause us to perceive something as threatening, even when it isn’t. We can overthink past decisions and struggle to create solutions to unlikely worst-case scenarios. We become indecisive for fear of making mistakes.  The feeling in my stomach is caused by adrenalin flooding my system as I go into fight, flee, or freeze mode in the face of possible dangers I perceive as lurking in my vicinity.

Sometimes the worries of third-tri women relate to problems involving grown children or grandchildren.  Health concerns and troublesome physical symptoms in ourselves, our husbands, or others we love may have lodged in our brains and percolated overnight. Reacting to Covid scares, violence, and chaos on a local, state, national or international stage overwhelms us. So, what can be our strategies when we notice our serenity slipping away?

Although many books on anxiety fill Amazon’s warehouses, I decided to humbly offer a few tips I am choosing to employ during the latter years of my third-tri life.  Some are new practices I’ve instituted rather recently.

1. Start early in the day to make serenity-enhancing choices.

These include avoiding continual exposure to upsetting news reports, social media posts, and internet fear-mongering. I will have more to say on this topic in a subsequent blog. The evidence for damage resulting from staying on tech devices the last couple of hours before bedtime is absolutely compelling. The more you learn about how screen time and tech apps are adversely affecting your attention and stealing precious time from you and younger generations, the more motivated you will be to work for personal and community change in using technology.

In addition to avoiding stress-stimulating apps on your tech devices, carefully assess the quality of TV programming you are allowing to bombard your mind and emotions.  We are attracted to riveting movies and emotionally-laden episodes of favorite TV series. These offerings can be gripping and entertaining, yet pour adrenalin into our bodies and convey messages that your brain will wrestle with all night. Finding programming congruent with your personal values about violence, language, and moral issues is a huge challenge.  Reading a good newspaper or an engaging wholesome book are often healthier substitutes and are more abundantly available than quality TV programming. One reason for making these changes is to reduce the amount of stress you carry with you to bed.

2. Make some physical adjustments to your routines.

Exercising late at night can keep you from sleeping, but not exercising at all is even worseA walk before or after an early dinner is a much better evening habit.  Speaking of suppertime, eat early.  Acid reflux and heartburn afflict many in their later years, creating health-threatening conditions.  If at all possible, try to eat your last (and relatively smaller) meal between 4 and 6 pm. Those with unmanaged acid reflux sleep poorly all night long, research shows.

Since staying in bed in the morning with anxiety raging is such an uncomfortable reality for many third-trimester sisters, experiment with exercising first thing upon awakening.  Pop up immediately and put on your walking shoes instead of remaining in bed and obsessing about your concerns. I am committed to walking while listening to the Daily Audible Bible app first thing in the morning.  That habit enables me to listen to the entire Bible in a year’s time and replaces destructive morning ruminations.

Keep your toes toasty. Sometimes a simple change like wearing comfy socks to bed will give you a better night’s sleep.  Decreased circulation in older women can cause you to wake up earlier than necessary because of cold feet.  If you don’t like socks, throw a light blanket across the foot of your bed.

3. Write down the nagging fears plaguing you when you wake up, and fact-check them.

If you have a belief that something catastrophic might occur, instead of obsessively ruminating about it, research the subject. You may need to call a doctor, accountant, lawyer, or some other appropriate expert. Having a pen and notepad handy by your bed helps you build an external “to-do” list, thus eliminating internal brain clutter. If you’ve written down your concerns, you are more likely to do something about them rather than just returning to the same troublesome worries morning after morning.

4. Try leaving your phone someplace other than your bedroom

…or set the “do not disturb” function to a time after you usually wake up. Use an alarm clock if you need to awaken at a particular time.  The problem with a smart phone in your sleeping space is the ever-present temptation to check news feeds, emails, and social media as soon as you wake up, or even during the night, causing you to pour additional cortisol into your body.

5. Exert control when possible, but accept what you cannot change.

Tackle any realistic items on the to-do list you formed overnight. However, decide to give your worries and unsolvable problems to your all-wise and all-powerful Father to handle. Anxiety can serve as a helpful reminder that we need to pray, trust, and depend on God more.

6. Share your experience of anxiety with a caring spouse or friend.

Just talking about your concerns to someone else can help you realize how irrational many fears may be. Perhaps your confidant will suggest a possible fix for a problem tormenting you.  Professional counselors help folks implement healthier patterns of self-talk. However, even a friend or family member can sometimes assist you to think differently. I confided in my older son, who just happens to be a cognitive neuroscience professor teaching a class on anxiety to grad students this semester. He informed me that adrenalin-pumping athletes often give a different name to pre-game knots in their stomachs. Rather than labelling those feelings as “anxiety,” they think of them as “excitement.” Our discussion helped me reframe my recent fearful thoughts related to book publishing. I began viewing the feelings of butterflies dancing inside me during my third-tri season as “excitement.” How about you?

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