The sun’s up, the alarm clock sounds off and you peel your eyes open. What are your thoughts? I’m wondering if you squeeze your eyes shut and wish the day were over. Maybe you wake up tense with a boulder in your throat and an upset stomach. Maybe you have a low-grade sadness that the day just doesn’t matter.
I’ve had that experience. For too long I struggled with anxiety about facing the day. Unfortunately I allowed a narcissist into my life. No matter how much you give to people who feel entitled, it’s never enough. When you don’t give them what they want, they will make it their mission to make you miserable.
When it was over, I expected to feel like myself again. I gave it time. Gradually the feelings faded but I still had this anxiety when I woke up even though there was no reason to feel that way. No one was in my life who would give me hate looks and lambast me for existing. My brain had made an association that waking up equals fear. That part of the brain in charge of conditioned responses didn’t listen to logic.
Time for action! I tried telling myself over and over that there was no reason to be afraid. That didn’t work. What did work was consciously replacing my thoughts with gratitudes, changing my focus, and relaxing my body. Here’s the ideas that worked for me.
- When you wake up, focus on objects of beauty and comfort. I’m a visual person and I love the way the morning light filters so softly through the shutters in my bedroom. The morning before everyone is up is quiet and still. I noticed that with appreciation. There’s art on the walls that is meaningful and the walls are painted soothing color. Sometimes music is my alarm, but mainly I wake up on my own.
My grandmother’s radio is in my bedroom too. Thinking of her and my connections with people who love me soothed my emotional unease. And I can’t forget Atlas and Plato. I pushed myself to pet and be present (mindful) with them rather than drown in my self-absorbing fear.
2. Relax Your Body. Though I had no awareness of it, my muscles were tense which sent a message to my brain that there was something to fear. If you’re ready to run or fight there must be a reason. Guided imagery (Number 7), paired muscled relaxation (Number 12) and paced breathing are ways to relax. You could use an app on your phone such as Virtual Hope Box for breathing and relaxation exercises. I think it helps to have someone else’s voice guide you.
3. List your gratitudes. While repeating “I have nothing to fear” didn’t help, substituting thoughts of what was working well in my life did. I made a habit of listing my gratitudes. There are several apps that can help you with remembering what you cherish in your life. Here’s one made by a non-profit group.
Our minds remember what disturbs us and may not as easily recall the pleasures and positives that we have. Making an ongoing list of what you enjoyed and look at photos and videos of what is important to you. That can help the mind keep a balanced view.
After listing my gratitudes, I told myself that I wasn’t facing any catastrophes today. If I needed to, I followed with paced breathing again.
Success! I did these steps every morning for three months. Now I wake up calm again. Well except for those days when I’m doing something that is stressful.
If you’re having trouble with finding gratitudes, you might try Gretchen Rubin’s work on happiness. Tiny Buddha’s blog and her new book on love challenges (how to make and strengthen relationships) could be helpful too.
If you’re depressed or suffer from anxiety, the ideas above may help, but likely won’t be enough. I’m not at all saying that my struggle with this situation is the same. You may want or need to seek the guidance of a therapist.
Have I told you that I’m grateful for you? I am.
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