How often do you get up to a rushed morning to get everyone and yourself ready to get out the door on time? In all fairness, early starts are tough and it’s easy for things to get out of hand. Add exhaustion and the anxiety of getting out the door on time to the mix, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a major stress response to start your day.
When I say major stress response, I’m referring to our body’s response to stress: the fight or flight response. The brain registers stress and then sends the signal to the body to produce stress hormones: adrenaline and about 10 minutes later, cortisol kicks in. The hormones are produced by the little adrenal glands that sit on top of the kidneys.
The morning is actually when we naturally produce the highest amount of cortisol. Right before we wake up, those little glands work hard to produce a massive amount of the hormone to get us up and going in the morning. This is called the Cortisol Awakening Response (CAR) and it’s a normal healthy response. If we wake up in a panic however, the CAR is going to be even higher than it already is. That response gets us feeling stressed out even longer and we’ll even be quicker to react throughout the day. Something else that happens with that response it our body disfavours the production of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that makes us feel happy. This results in feeling more depression, especially in the morning, which sets us up for an even harder day.
There are a few ‘not-so-great’ habits that heighten the stress response in the morning. I’d argue that by starting the day in a rush, checking your phone and emails first thing in the morning, or pressing snooze until the last possible minute, you could very much be setting yourself up for a stressful morning and a stressful day.
We need to really consciously work on keeping that frantic morning stress response to a minimum, which is why I’m in favour of the morning routine! Of course, this doesn’t apply to everyone, but for anyone who gets up to go to work in the morning, this probably resonates on some level.
Here’s what seems to work for me. I definitely don’t do all of this every morning, but some variation of it. And even when doing this, there are still some mornings we are rushing out the door to get to the school bus on time. Doing these things just seems to help everything else go more smoothly.
Having lunches prepared for the week. I usually make a big pot of soup or stew on Sunday night or make sure I have meals planned for the week and enough for leftovers.
Writing out my to-do list the day before, so I know what needs to be done that day and what my schedule is going to be like.
Setting my alarm 10 minutes earlier (took some time getting used to this one) to have time for a slower morning.
Having an easy ‘go-to’ breakfast that is tasty and nutritious. Chia seed pudding, hearty breakfast muffins or cookies and smoothies are on heavy rotation.
Getting up, taking a few deep breathes and doing some light stretching. Or a bit more of a workout if I have time.
Focusing on being in the present moment in the shower and NOT running through my to-do list and all the stuff that needs to get done for the day.
Scheduling a time to check emails in my day rather than checking them right when I wake up.
Setting an intention for how I want my day to go, how I want to feel during the day, or what I want to accomplish that day; doing a short meditation or some gratitude journalling before I start my work day.
What I find especially helpful with having a morning routine is that if some curve ball throws me off in the middle of the day, the level of anxiety it causes me is much lower if I made time for a grounding exercise than if I had a totally chaotic morning.
Of course, this is thrown off by an early morning event, a sick child, an early morning flight or anything else that is different from the norm. This is ok, as long as there is time to come down from that anxiety causing response, and as long at these days are the exception and we’re not starting all of our days in a panic.
Now, just to be clear, when I speak of a morning routine, I’m not referring to a list of tasks that have you exhausted even before starting your work day. It’s more of a ritual that helps you feel grounded and like you are ready to go through your day feeling inspired. Your morning routine may be totally different from mine, and that is perfect as this is something that is totally individual. So whatever works for you, do that! If you don’t know what works for you, try different things until you find what suites you best!