Like many of you, I struggle with mornings. Over the years, though, I’ve learnt what I can do to get my day off to the best possible start – and, luckily, that doesn’t mean getting up at 5.30am, working out till I collapse in a crumpled heap, then treating myself to an egg-white omelette.
A productive morning routine sets you up for the rest of the day. I get up at 6.30am (OK, it’s quite early), make tea and, if I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed at the thought of the day ahead, I write a to-do list. Just getting it all down on paper helps to focus my mind. From 7am to 8am, rain or shine, I walk my dog, and while I’m out, I do a quick gratefulness meditation: I think of three things I’m thankful for and acknowledge them out loud (studies have shown this works to reduce stress hormones). Then I go home, start work and have a smoothie at 10am: my current favourite is spinach, lettuce and avocado with almond milk, which my daughters find quite gross! These are all small things, but they help to improve my mood.
So what do the professionals think is the best way to start your day? Here are 10 tips from therapists and wellbeing experts on the little changes you can make for a brighter morning.
1 Do create a routine that works for you
“I believe we have to be kind to ourselves and create morning routines that work for us,” says James Routledge, founder of workplace mental-health organisation Sanctus. “If you’re a morning person, maybe 7am sun salutations are a good thing; if you love a lie-in, maybe it’s an 8am alarm followed by Good Morning Britain. It’s about what works for you.”
2 Don’t reach for your phone first thing
Most of us grab our phone as soon as we wake up. “This can have a negative impact on a person’s mood for the rest of the day, because you aren’t allowing yourself to wake up naturally,” says psychotherapist Somia Zaman. “You’re also more likely to feel overwhelmed.”
3 Do open the curtains straight away
As soon as you wake up, open the curtains wide to let light into your bedroom. “Bright sunlight will help your circadian rhythm know that it is morning and make you feel more alert and ready for the day,” says Dr Lindsay Browning, chartered psychologist and neuroscientist.
4 Don’t lie there ruminating
Lots of us wake up already worrying about all the stressful things we feel we need to achieve in our day – and our systems naturally respond to this by pumping out stress hormones. “Going with these thought patterns magnifies and prolongs negative mood states,” says Scott Macpherson, a lecturer in mental-health nursing. “All the things we worry about fall into one of three categories: unimportant, unlikely or uncontrollable and, as such, worry is a bit of a waste of time.”
5 Do move your body
Starting your day with some kind of movement energises the mind and the body – whether that’s a simple yoga routine, a seven-minute online workout or a walk with your dog. It doesn’t need to be complicated or intense – in fact, the simpler it is, the better, as it means you’re less likely to find excuses not to do it. Exercise will get the blood flowing and help quiet any mental chatter.
6 Don’t forget to drink
When you wake up, you are dehydrated – you’ve probably not drunk anything for at least seven hours. “Drink a large glass of water, at room temperature, on an empty stomach, before anything else,” says Laura Connor, a life coach. “This will hydrate you. Dehydration causes a release of the stress hormone cortisol.”
7 Do ditch the coffee
Anxiety is often worse in the mornings, says Phil Bridges, founder of mental-health organisation The Mind Map. “Cortisol is released as a response to stress, and science shows cortisol is highest in the first hour of waking.” Don’t make the mistake of reaching for caffeine and sugar as a quick fix – these can increase your anxiety. Instead, try to incorporate zinc, magnesium, vitamin B and omega-3 fatty acids into your breakfast. They’re linked to calming anxiety.
8 Don’t skip breakfast
Breakfast sets you up mentally and physically for the day ahead, says Sarah Campus, a wellbeing coach and founder of LDN Mums Fitness. “It kickstarts your metabolism and regulates your blood sugars,” she says. “By avoiding breakfast, you’re more likely to snack and reach for sugary treats, which will give you a spike in energy but an even quicker slump.”
9 Do make time for self-care rituals
Putting time and effort into your appearance will help to boost your self-confidence. You need to feel good about yourself, so at least take 10 minutes to have a shower and brush your hair; putting on clothes you love, plus make-up and fragrance, is an added bonus. If you feel well turned out, it’s one less thing to worry about. And I know what I’m talking about on this one!
10 Don’t forget to breathe
This is not as silly as it sounds. How often do you catch yourself taking shallow, anxious breaths rather than breathing into your belly? Dr Alka Patel, a lifestyle physician and GP, suggests taking 60 seconds to slow down your breathing before you turn on your computer. “Slowing down your breath rate to six or less breaths a minute activates your parasympathetic nervous system, giving you calm and control for decision-making,” she says. “Breathe in for a count of four and out for a count of six and repeat six times. Repeat throughout the day when you notice the stress beginning to mount.”
We need to cultivate positive habits as part of our morning routine. That might be hard work at first – but eventually they’ll become second nature. And I promise they’ll help. Share your top tips to start the day right with Studio10. We’d love to hear them.