In the productivity guru and influencer world, how people “do” their mornings is often a focus. To start your day right, you should eat this way and not that way. To be more productive, do this, not that.
Commonly recommended morning practices ― like exercising or journalling ― can be helpful and healthy. “But if we get too rigid about certain rituals in our day, that’s when they can become more toxic,” said Han Ren, a licensed psychologist, speaker and educator based in Austin.
When you put contingencies around what your morning “should” look like, this can make you anxious about doing everything perfectly ― then anxious if things don’t go as planned. Even healthy habits can stress you out if you feel you “must” do them for your day to start well.
This stress can be more pronounced if you’re a perfectionist. If you don’t achieve these self-imposed expectations, you can end up feeling like a failure or feeling like you haven’t done enough, said Athina Danilo, a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Burbank, California.
Or you may have a subconscious belief that if you don’t fully carry out your morning routine, then you won’t be in a good place at work, added Alison Nobrega, a therapist and licensed clinical social worker practicing in Oakland, California. It’s not hard to imagine how these anxiety-inducing thoughts can affect the rest of your day.
That said, it can be difficult to pinpoint which morning practices are actually causing you stress. Below, experts give some examples of how common habits can be causing you anxiety — and what you can do about it.
Eating A Slow Breakfast
This recommendation, while meant to make you relaxed and centreed, can backfire if it does not fit into your current life circumstances, Ren said.
Say you have children, and as a parent, you need to prioritise getting your kids dressed, fed and ready for school in the mornings. Trying to fit in a long breakfast during the chaos is probably going to be challenging and increase your stress.
Even without children, you may value an extra 30 minutes of sleep in the morning before getting ready for work, and you’ll feel more rewarded and in a better mental state by doing this instead of sitting down for a longer meal.
Snoozing Your Alarm
On the flip side, sometimes the way we prolong our sleep isn’t ideal. Pressing snooze multiple times can send you into a state of stress.
“Hearing that snooze button over and over is a reminder of all the things we have to do during the day,” Nobrega said. “Essentially, we’re procrastinating getting up because we don’t want to do those things.”
“Procrastination feels good in the moment, then doesn’t really feel good when it adds up,” Ren added. “Pushing the emotional or physical discomfort down the line puts you in a sense of urgency or time crunch later on.”
Not to mention the fact that you’re not getting quality sleep during this time, anyway. Snoozing actually makes you more tired when you finally do get out of bed. It’s probably better to set the alarm for half an hour later and savour the uninterrupted, deeper sleep. You’ll also save yourself from the mindset that you’re already delayed when you first wake up.
A lot of experts will tell you that journalling in the morning is a good way to start your day, and that can be true. But if you tell yourself you “need to do” the activity when you wake up, Nobrega said you may experience stress — particularly if you don’t do it as you intended to (for example, “I need to journal for 30 minutes every day and to write this specific way.”)
Also take into consideration that journalling may not fit your life at this time. “If you’re more of a verbal processor, it might actually stress you out, because you’re having to sit with your own thoughts and write them down,” Nobrega said.
It may also be stressful if you believe the journalling needs to achieve something or that there has to be an end result to the journalling exercise when really, it’s just a way to process your experiences and emotions.
Writing A To-Do List
There are certainly benefits to taking your floating thoughts and jotting them on a notepad to free up brain space. These thoughts are commonly in the form of to-do lists. Such lists can be helpful to manage anxiety, but you may want to gauge your perception of them to see whether they actually do the opposite for you.
“It could be stressful if you’re overly ambitious and have written down more things than you can realistically do,” Ren said. You may even copy over things you didn’t get to from yesterday’s list, and then the to-do list functions as a tangible confirmation of your worldview that you are unable to reach the perfectionistic standard you’re setting for yourself.
Ren said it almost becomes a “way [for some people] to punish themselves for what they didn’t get done the previous day.” If that’s the case for you, try creating a “done” list instead. It’ll help you recognise what you’ve accomplished.
Eating Breakfast With Your Family
While the benefits of sharing meals with your loved ones cannot be overstated, forcing this to happen first thing every morning may not be right for everyone. This is especially true if mornings in your household are busy and people may not be ready for amicable social interaction yet.
You may find it depleting instead of energising, Danilo said. If so, quality time and bonding can happen at another time, like dinner, when there’s less pressure on the duration of the meal.
Getting Right Out Of Bed
There is merit in reserving your bed for sleeping and sex only and avoiding other activities like checking your emails or scrolling social media. But when you become rigid around this “rule,” that’s when things go awry.
Holding this rule too tightly can create pressure on you to bolt out of bed the minute you wake, Danilo said, even if you may want to laze around for a few minutes.
Ask yourself whether looking through your phone in bed leaves you feeling energized and in a good mental state, or if it causes some nervousness and stress, Danilo said. Then, choose the practice that best supports your well-being.