A morning routine as the first line of defence against anxiety.
When it comes to anxiety or other mental health challenges, a lot of people choose to go down the medication path. Medicines can and do help but the downside is the dependence you develop after a point. I never even considered using medication as a possible treatment. Instead, I found something better.
You see, most of the people who suffer from anxiety wake up to chaos.
It’s like a war zone inside their head. A sense of helplessness and desperation over their own life is what triggers anxiety and panic attacks.
Before I learned to manage my anxiety, I spent a lot of time scrabbling for control. In pursuit of a little rest, a few moments of distraction, I did some terrible, self-destructive things. I never slept without exhausting my body to a dangerous degree. If I ever let my mind run free, the inactivity always resulted in fresh panic, even hallucinations. To my shame, I even developed a dependence on pills. Eventually, I asked for help and got myself into a detox program. Along with the physical cleansing, I was recommended a whole bunch of exercises and I did every one of them.
I got CONTROL – the one thing all mental health patients need in abundance, but you can’t control everything and just like medication, it’s not a very good, permanent solution.
So, you can do one better and create a whole new lifestyle that grants you control in a healthy, constructive way.
Building a morning routine is one way to do it. It’s the big change I made to my lifestyle and it had a massive (positive) impact on my mental health.
#1. The biggest reason why routines are such great tools for anxiety management is that THEY GIVE YOU CONTROL over your day
As I said, people with anxiety wake up to chaos, and it’s worse when the chaos is in your head. Ceasing control the second you wake-up is the one way to keep your day from spiralling.
A morning routine replaces the chaos with structure and discipline. I don’t know if it’s because I suffer from anxiety or my personality but I love structure and rules. They make me feel safe, and I think even those of us without any health issues (at least to some extent) crave a sense of safety and stability in our lives.
Drafting a morning routine gives you a plan that goes into action as soon as your morning starts. You go into a series of well-planned activities without letting the destructive thoughts take over. The vicious whispering of your anxiety might still be there but as you keep moving from one task to another, you deny it the space to take over. A month or two spent doing this will habituate you to a different pattern, a healthier pattern.
It will free up your mornings from the shackles of anxiety. Also, if you include exercise, reading, meditation into your morning routine, you may just find yourself changing the very chemistry of your mind and body.
Exercise pumps our body full of endorphin. It leaves you feeling happy and more optimistic. People with depression and anxiety may find that regular exercise can give them long-term relief similar to what’s offered by medication and talk therapy.
The morning hours are sacred. Anything you include into your morning routine will have far-reaching effects on your health. So, consider your situation, goals, and create an intentional routine, and see for yourself, exactly what an effective morning routine can do for you.
#2. It gives you a BUBBLE OF PROTECTION and TIME TO RECUPERATE
As mentioned above, a routine replaces the chaos with structure and discipline. A routine allows you to relax some of that control for a few hours. You don’t have decisions to make, you simply follow a plan.
This creates a bubble of time where your attention is away from desperately controlling fearful, anxious, and destructive thoughts. When we wake-up in the morning, our guard is down but before anxiety takes over, the routine kicks in.
This way, you control your mornings without any extreme measures.
It gives you a few hours to recover and recuperate. No unnecessary decision fatigue added to all the other issues.
#3. NO MORE CONFUSION OR INDECISIVENESS
Here’s another thing anxiety does to you, it makes you unreliable.
For the first year of my professional life, I never made it to work on time unless I got up at least 40 minutes before I had to. I could never leave the house without checking every door, window, socket, gas knob in the house. I would do it before going to bed and needlessly, I would repeat the exercise in the morning.
Based on the interactions I’ve had with others suffering from anxiety, I can tell you that my case was fairly mild.
It’s because of this very reason, I found a set routine somewhat of a gift to my sanity. It kept me going from task to task and as long as I maintained focus, I found myself getting into my cab and off to work without any unnecessary mishap.
#4. Even with all your challenges, YOU MAKE ROOM FOR GROWTH AND PROGRESS
Just because you have a few health issues, life doesn’t come to a stop. The clock keeps ticking and time keeps moving. You still have a personal and professional life that requires your attention.
A carefully designed routine (seamlessly) incorporates tasks of importance into your daily life. It can make room for learning and skill development which keeps your anxiety from derailing your aspirations.
As you complete one important task after another, the dopamine rush gives you a sense of accomplishment. It keeps you motivated and focused. As you automate your routine, this little benefit translates into improved mental health and enhanced productivity.
This is of particular importance for those creatively inclined. Instead of waiting for inspiration to strike, you program your mind to create and produce with regularity, anxiety and accompanying issues notwithstanding.
As we all know, our brains are negatively biased. Negativity, anger, fear has more of an impact on it than the possibility of success (optimism). It’s supposed to improve our chances of survival. This negativity bias is the reason why we are so afraid to take risks and why we back away from challenges that can take us from ordinary to extraordinary.
This negativity bias can and does cause anxiety even in the healthiest, happiest of people in the world.
By creating and following a routine, you inoculate yourself against this. You learn to work around the negativity bias. By accomplishing tasks of importance, tasks that can help you grow, you infuse your brain with a sense of optimism. This helps keep things moving forward or at least keeps you from giving in to fear.
#5. A period reserved for HEALING
A carefully designed routine takes into account ALL your needs and for anyone suffering from mental health issues, spiritual healing comes highly recommended.
Visualisation gives your mind a happier scenario to train its powers and focus on. It builds a mental image of a life shorn of all negativity and issues and as you focus on it, your mind finds comfort and relief. Gradually, your subconscious begins to accept the mental image for a distinct possibility, if not impending reality.
It reprograms your subconscious, changing the narrative to a more powerful one.
Meditation practices also allow you to familiarize yourself with the anxiety triggers. The story running on a loop in your head causing all the mental chaos. Once you understand your anxiety better, you can objectively analyse the thoughts and ideas at play and either let them go or put in place a different, healthier scenario.
Spiritual pursuits counter the negative effects of anxiety on our body as well. Stress and anxiety trigger the release of epinephrine and cortisol leading to an increase in blood pressure, cholesterol, heart rate. Meditation, on the other hand, triggers the body’s relaxation response by reducing oxygen consumption, slowing down the heart rate, and reducing the blood pressure.
More importantly, regular practice can strengthen your mind to resisting anxiety. You’ll be better at fighting stress and all the accompanying issues.
#6. FIGHT ANXIETY, the healthy way
EXERCISE + MEDITATION + JOURNALING + STRENGTH DEVELOPMENT – it can all be included in your routine which would ensure successful completion of all the exercises.
With time, the combined benefits will help improve your mental health and fight anxiety in the HEALTHIEST way possible.
Journaling has proven to be particularly beneficial in this case. Writing down all your anxious thoughts may be cathartic. It may also allow you to objectively analyse and process the identified triggers.
As you journal all the issues, you may also focus on the positives in your life. A regular gratitude exercise can engender healthier, positive emotions promoting a feeling of well-being.
#7. Builds willpower
A morning routine is honestly the healthiest way to build discipline and strengthen your willpower.
Suppression is the worst way to handle anxiety but at the same time, resisting the negative emotions that accompany anxiety may be the ideal solution.
A routine forces you to stay focused on the progression of your day. It helps you refuse mental access to anxiety. So, every morning, you program your brain to get up and go about the daily routine. This leads to the formation of new neural pathways. As you automate the routine, one task triggers another. The successful completion of one action smoothly leads to another. For several hours, your brain shuts down all anxious thoughts and feelings.
The new patterns strengthen over time, and strong internal resistance to anxiety is the reward.
Going against the natural inclinations of your mind and body is not easy. It requires a strong will and firm discipline.
A well-designed routine can give you both.
Perhaps, it’s time to design a routine and put it into action.
Try to remember that it takes 21-66 days to break old habits and patterns and build new, healthier ones. If initially, it seems frustrating and futile, don’t give up.
Eventually, you’ll find the rewards more than make up for the effort and time invested.
Occasional bouts of anxiety may go away on their own, but an anxiety disorder requires a more permanent resolution. Try to understand the anxiety and what it’s focused on. Accordingly, build a routine with a suitable solution built into it.
A routine will ensure that you go about your life and all chase your goals and ambitions without anxiety getting in the way. At the same time, it will also help you find healing in the best way possible.