7 Women On The Morning Rituals That Help Their Anxiety

What do you do the second your eyes open in the morning? Some of us (okay, most of us) reach for our phones to scroll through email, Instagram, and Twitter until we can finally get ourselves out of bed. Others simply roll out of bed after hitting snooze a million times, and still others somehow manage to be morning workout people.

But if you’re one of the roughly three million people who struggle with an anxiety disorder in the U.S., mornings might be your most dreaded and frantic time. It’s not uncommon for anxiety symptoms, such as a racing heartbeat, nervousness, and dread, to start from the second you wake up. And because of the emotional and physical effects, anxiety can often completely derail your entire day.

One small thing that can help you sidestep your symptoms, though, is a morning ritual. While a routine can be helpful for anyone looking to have a better day, for people with anxiety, having something you do each morning that either grounds you, helps you feel safe, or is simply something you look forward to can be a useful tool, explains Kristen Scarlett, MA, a New York-based licensed mental health counselor with One Medical Group.

Why? Anxiety is essentially an unstoppable cycle of worry, and if you can start the morning off on a calmer and more positive note, your chances of getting ahead of that cycle are much better, Scarlett says. In addition to doing all the things you already know you’re supposed to do (sleeping, eating your veggies, being active), a morning ritual “can greatly lower a person's anxiety level, enabling them to respond in a healthier way to the triggers they face each day,” she adds.

So what counts as a ritual? It can truly be anything. “Routines, when acted out with awareness, become rituals. Ultimately, it’s this awareness that helps anxiety,” says Saga Blane, a millennial woman in New York who’s been curating her own anti-anxiety morning routine for five years. In other words, a ritual is anything you do on a regular basis (it doesn’t need to be every day) that you do for the sole reason of connecting with an inner sense of calm. Because everyone is different and anxiety can be so personal, we spoke to seven women, including Blane, about the things that work for them. Click through for their stories. (*Some names have been changed.)

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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
“I take a morning nap.”
We’ve all heard the advice that you shouldn’t look at texts or emails before you leave your bed, or that we shouldn’t look at emails until we’re in work mode, but morning nap? Sign us up.

“After I shower I actually get back into bed (in my towel) and lay completely still and shut my eyes and focus on my breathing. I always wake up right at 15 minutes like clockwork. It’s the weirdest thing,” explains Angela Sumner, who suffers from what her doctor termed residual anxiety. This means her anxiety, along with symptoms like chest tightness and shallow breathing, tends to show up only when she’s already going through some other stress, for example if she’s having a particularly rough week at work.

This means that for her, stress management is extremely important. Her ritual of the morning nap helps her prevent and manage the times her anxiety flares up. “It gives me peace before my day gets hectic,” she says. “It's the most perfect part of my day when everything is calm, and I can focus and reflect. I try and set an intention, too — if I have a running to-do list that is weighing on me, I will focus on breathing and vow to make my list after I've given myself my time.”
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
“I take my meds at the campus dining hall.”
For many women dealing with anxiety, medication is a key part of managing it — and there’s no reason to think that’s not an important ritual itself. Alexis Bates tells us that every day she wakes up early and heads to breakfast at the campus dining hall, so she can eat at the same time she takes her medications. Getting up early enough to sit quietly for this ritual also helps keep her from running late to class, something that always incites a lot of worry and extra anxiety. “I always feel really off if I don’t [do this], like everything is ruined,” Bates says.

The reason this works is because it instills order. We can’t always control everything that happens, but “if someone is prone to anxiety, I encourage them to control what they can control in order to maintain a lower baseline anxiety level,” Scarlett adds.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
“I place my hand over my heart for a few minutes."
“The morning is especially difficult for me,” Patricia Grisafi says. “Most of the more physiological symptoms associated with my anxiety, like heart palpitations, manifest in the morning when I wake up. So, I practice some somatic experiencing techniques, like placing my hands over my heart.”

Somatic experiencing” is a type of therapy developed by psychologist Peter Levine, PhD, for patients dealing with post-traumatic stress. The idea is that training yourself to focus on the uncomfortable physical sensations of traumatic stress (trembling or rapid heartbeat, for example) can release and calm your symptoms. There is very little research on somatic experiencing, but a few of the specific techniques are supported by some research, including “orienting” techniques, which is what Grisafi uses.

Grisafi explains that she often places her hands over her heart as she lies in bed right when she wakes up, and simply lies there for a few minutes to sit with any physical sensations, good or bad. “It can be very powerful to feel that your body is physically there, especially when experiencing anxiety,” she says.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
“I draw a tarot card from my favorite deck.”
After being diagnosed with clinical anxiety in graduate school, Blane has tried it all to get her symptoms under control: traditional talk therapy, medications, shamanic healing, and more. These days, her morning ritual reflects all of that work — and she feels better than ever.

Her full ritual involves meditation, burning Palo Santo (a type of wood associated with cleansing rituals), and arranging a crystal grid. But one of the most important parts is drawing a single card from her favorite tarot deck, an animal spirit deck. “Normally I ask, ‘What energy will serve me well today?’ or ‘What energy do I need to get closer to my intention today?’” she explains. “The morning of my first day [at my new job], I sat and did my little ritual. I pulled a Butterfly card, which signifies transition. The write-up for the card literally has the words ‘you might be starting a new job.’ It was a gentle reminder to be extra kind to myself, to practice self care and take it slow in this turbulent time.”

Scarlett, the mental health counselor, adds that connecting with your spirit by doing yoga or a guided meditation is something she recommends regularly to her patients. Making it your own, as Blane has done, can make it even more powerful.
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“I copy inspiring quotes into my journal.”
Scarlett says that words can also play a big role in starting the morning on the right foot. She often encourages her patients to keep a calendar with inspirational quotes so that they can read one each morning before getting out of bed. For Annie Smith*, who has been dealing with anxiety since she was a child, writing in a journal really helps. Her regular ritual of writing in the morning especially helps on days when she feels the most anxious. Those mornings, she will fill up a page with handwritten quotes from her favorite authors (Jean Paul-Sartre or Dalton Day), Bible verses, or even just phrases that remind her of friends and family.

“I usually find them as I browse the internet — so, Tumblr sometimes, or reading fanfiction or books. Sometimes I copy them from the day before if they still resonate,” she says. “The quotes help me because they don't change, seeing the words makes them feel real, and it gives me a constant to hold on to.”

If quotes aren’t your thing, another similar routine that Scarlett recommends is keeping a gratitude journal. Writing down three things you’re grateful for can help it feel more personal.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
“I lay on the bathroom floor with the fan blowing on me.”
Scarlett explains that changing either the “sounds, sights and scents” in your environment can help you shift attention away from symptoms. “Practices such as blowing a fan or air conditioning on one's body can help take the focus away from unsettling thoughts and emotions and be mindful of how the air feels on the skin instead,” she says.

Amanda Hill explains that morning can feel especially hard and that “trying to get a handle on” anxious thoughts can “improve my day or stop me from having a full-blown panic attack.”

She will often lie on the bathroom floor in the dark with a fan on. “It's a small bathroom so it feels womb-like. It's also where the AC is the strongest, so the blast of cold air helps when I'm feeling anxious and getting really warm and sweaty,” she says.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
“I put on fuzzy earrings.”
“Every morning I do a 10-minute Headspace meditation and I try to exercise,” explains Pauline Gray* about her morning ritual to get ahead of her panic attacks. “But the secret weapon is my favorite earrings. They’re fuzzy, and when I put them on, I know all day I can stroke them when I’m stressed. When I was a kid, I had a blanket that I rubbed. The earrings have a similar comforting element to them.”

Some people have a lucky sweater, others have fuzzy earrings. The point is that, through trial and error, you can find what works for you and your anxiety.
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