Having a stress-free morning often starts the night before. Some routines, however, can set you up to feel more stressed throughout the day. You might rely on a morning routine you’ve had for years, or you might start each day differently. But whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, how you spend your mornings can affect both your day and your overall mental health.

The first step to creating a morning routine that supports mental health is to cut out habits that increase stress levels.

Not preparing the night before

The best way to prevent feeling stressed in the morning is to plan the night before. Stuffs like laying out clothes, packing your kids’ lunches, and even deciding what you want to have for breakfast the night before will go a long way to make your mornings smoother, especially if you aren’t a morning person. Thinking ahead can also prevent decision fatigue.

Not getting enough sleep

Not getting enough sleep can make you feel more irritable all day. Many people swear by waking up early to allow themselves time to meditate, exercise, or to do something they enjoy before the work day. However, experts agree that not allowing yourself enough sleep can make it harder to do other self care activities.

Inadequate sleep pushes the sympathetic nervous system into over-drive, meaning that your heart will beat faster and you will interpret things as more stressful and overwhelming than they actually are.

Checking social media and the news right away

Try to wait at least 30 minutes before checking social media in the morning. It seems natural to check our phones in the morning for emails, the latest news, or to keep up with friends on social media. However, these behaviors aren’t setting you up for success. Limit news consumption to about 30 minutes during the mid-morning and 30 minutes in the early evening.

Drinking coffee right away

You might want to avoid drinking your morning cup of coffee as soon as you wake up in order to avoid a spike in cortisol, the hormone released when we are stressed. Cortisol has a circadian rhythm, with the highest levels naturally occurring 30-40 minutes after awakening. Habits that increase cortisol independently may lead to a higher morning spike and contribute to more stress-related symptoms such as elevated heart rate and feelings of stress and anxiety.

Sitting in bed and drinking coffee

Caffeine increases cortisol and adrenaline independently, and timing consumption with the naturally occurring higher morning levels may lead to a heightened stress response. As a result, it is recommended to drink your coffee about three hours after waking up.

Skipping breakfast or eating an unhealthy one

Avoid skipping breakfast, even for intermittent fasting. Anytime you don’t eat when you’re modestly hungry or stop when they’re comfortably full, you’re putting yourself at unnecessary risk of stress. Also avoid calorie-rich, refined, and processed foods for breakfast.

If you constantly consume diets high in processed foods, you might be lacking vitamins and minerals needed to boost energy and reduce brain fog. Without these, you may struggle to focus and your energy may be depleted.

The morning routine of others in your household

Scientists say it’s vital to understand how other people you’re living with deal with mornings. If you have children, it is recommended to plan out their mornings the night before so that helping them get ready doesn’t add more stress to your own routine.

Not bringing moments of joy into the morning

Your morning routine doesn’t need to be all drudgery. Put on a playlist of your favourite songs that get you dancing, or do a quick one-page inspirational reading in a motivational or amusing book.

The best way to make your mornings easier is to do something that makes you look forward to them. For some, meditation helps them feel calmer in the morning. Others enjoy exercising, journaling, or practicing a hobby. Another way to bring moments of joy into the morning is through gratitude.

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