10 things you can do this morning to heal your anxiety

Benjamin Foley
Timothy A. Clary | Getty Images

If you are anything like I used to be, you probably put mornings right up there with death on the scale of things you most dread. I used to wake up in a fog, feeling just as tired as when I went to bed, and immediately I began to fear the inevitable feeling that creeps into your stomach and throat.

Here it is again, I would think to myself as I pulled the covers over my head. Fearing that this is how I would feel every single morning for the rest of my life. No confidence that I could ever make myself feel better.

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I had always heard about how the most successful people like Gary Vaynerchuk, Tim Ferriss, and Ben Franklin had daily, morning routines that helped them wake up energized and ready to take on the day. But in the midst of my anxiety, the thought of waking up at 4 am to hustle was the last thing on my mind. I needed to find a way to model the morning routines of the most successful people in business in a way that was focused on decreasing my stress & anxiety.

I realized the "morning routine" I used to follow was setting me up for increased anxiety and failure throughout my day.

For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?' And whenever the answer has been 'No' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something." -Steve Jobs

I would wake up. Snooze my alarm a couple times. Then finally open my eyes to face the day. Immediately, I would check all of my "socials" to assure myself that I had not missed anything. After realizing that no one had liked me throughout the night, I would get out of bed, take a shower, down a cup of coffee, and run off to work.

No structure. No purpose. No peace.

It was no wonder why I would arrive to work completely stressed out. I was setting myself up for failure by not being intentional with how I operated my day.

After reading an incredible article by Benjamin P. Hardy on Medium, I decided to finally try out a morning routine. My morning routine would be focused solely on lowering my anxiety, instead of increasing it.

Benjamin Foley and his fiancé.

Why a morning routine?

Because it can massively reduce anxiety

When I implemented an effective morning routine and stuck to it, I was able to massively reduce my anxiety. In addition, it also helped with my productivity, energy, relationships and a host of other areas of my life. It truly was life-changing.

I wish there had been a list like this when I was first battling with anxiety during my senior year of college. On most nights I was going to bed after two. I would procrastinate anything that felt remotely difficult in fear it may trigger more panic. And my mornings were always a nightmare. It was my daily reminder of that I had a problem.

However, something happened once I began working on my personal development, I started to view my mornings as a gift rather than a nightmare. I begin to trigger my brain, from the moment I first opened my eyes, to see the beauty in my life.

Creating a morning routine has been the single most important strategy for lowering my stress and anxiety that I have implemented over the last year. It has allowed me to get more done than I ever thought possible, while also helping to keep me grounded throughout the day.

Once you begin starting your day off on a positive, structured, and intentional note, you will be amazed by the reduction in your anxiety as well as the other benefits you will receive.

With this short morning routine, your anxiety will start to drop and your life will become enhanced.

10 things you can do to naturally heal your anxiety

  1. Wake Up Early
  2. Make Your Bed
  3. Meditate / Pray
  4. Take a Cold Shower
  5. Coffee, Tea, or Your Breakfast Drink of Choice
  6. Brain Dump at Desk
  7. Gratitude
  8. Morning Three
  9. MITs
  10. Deep Work

Let's do this.

1. Wake up between 5:30–6:00

According to Hannah Hepworth, an expert on natural anxiety relief, "when you wake up early you can have plenty of time to get where you need to go. Instead of rushing and yelling … you can work calmly."

Getting up early to simply "crush it" is not a good idea. But when you wake up early you have more time to focus on things like self-care and reading that you will often not focus on if you are rushing out of the door every single morning.

Start small and build up.

Maskot | Getty Images

2. Make your bed

The reason making your bed is so powerful is that it allows you to successfully complete a task first thing in the morning, which then builds momentum to continue doing more for the rest of the day.

Making my bed has taught me that how you do anything will be how you do everything. No matter how bad or stressful your day becomes, you can always make your bed. And if that is all that you complete in the day; it is still a success.

Growing up I hated making my bed, now I relish it. In fact, I sometimes get upset when my fiancé makes it before I have a chance to do it.

3. Meditate or pray

Like some of you, I used to be very skeptical of meditation. Just the word itself has an aura of incense and ommming. I didn't want to lose my edge or be one of those hippies sitting cross-legged playing the banjo and singing Kumbaya. But as I dug deeper into the research, I found that mindfulness meditation (devoid of religious ties) can have massive, positive effects on your brain and help decrease your anxiety and depression, substantially.

According to an article written by the Harvard Medical School, "Mindfulness meditation can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain."

Well…if Harvard said it worked, I better try it. So, I gave it a shot using the free 10-day trial from Headspace. And the results have been amazing. I started to feel calmer and had more clarity of my thoughts and emotions after five days. However, It took me several months to make this a recurring habit, but now that it is a staple in my morning routine, the benefits have been less anxiety, more clarity in business decisions, and overall increased happiness.

I have furthered my exploration into mindfulness and meditation and it has brought so much more depth and healing into my life. By being present to the moment you start to wake up to how much chatter you have going on in your head on a day-to-day basis.

The goal is not to stop these thoughts but rather to be aware of them and act on them skillfully. When you can do that it changes your life.

Best resources for getting started:

  1. Headspace
  2. Waking Up By Sam Harris
Break your snooze habit with this 5-step strategy

4. Take a cold shower

Disclaimer: This sounds awful. In fact, when I first heard about it I didn't try it for months because I didn't think it could help and I loathed the idea of taking a freezing, cold shower. However, after 3-months of consistently taking a cold shower every morning, I can ensure you the benefits are enormous.

The science behind cold exposure is not new science. Cold shower therapy is an ancient Ayurvedic remedy that has numerous health benefits such as treating anxiety and depression, improving circulation and toning skin. The use of coldness as a 'good stressor' on the body can help to trigger several helpful responses within the human body. It allows the controlled elicitation of the body's natural cell repairing, pain & inflammation reducing and metabolic processes.

A study by Researcher Nikolai Shevchuk of the Department of Radiation Oncology at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine found that cold showers can alleviate, and even prevent depression and anxiety. Shevchuk makes the claim that short, cold showers may stimulate the locus ceruleous, or "blue spot," which is the brain's primary source of noradrenaline — a biochemical that could help mediate depression and anxiety.

The body is stressed by a hostile factor — in this case, icy water — that stimulates a healing response in the body and can lead to lower levels of anxiety and depression as well as a plethora of other benefits.

The easiest recipe to get the psychological lift is by taking a cold shower for 2 to 3 minutes once or twice daily, preceded by a five-minute gradual adaptation to the temperature (i.e. start your shower hot and then finish it with 2–3 minutes of pure icy goodness). Only taking a cold shower can strengthen your body's parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems, increase proper circulation of blood through your body, and contract your muscles to eliminate toxins and poisonous wastes.

Cold therapy resources:

  1. Dr. Ronda Patrick
  2. I wrote a full post on the benefits of cold showers. Check it out here.

5. Go for a walk

Until recently, my mornings would always start with a cup of coffee. I have been consuming the beverage ever since I can remember, and I never wanted to lose that, but there came a point where I knew that healing my anxiety was much more important than the benefits of coffee. So I went cold turkey.

However, I needed to replace this habit with another, more helpful one. I decided that an early morning thirty-minute walk would be an amazing way to start the day. Not only does it get me out of the house and allow me to enjoy nature, it also helps increase blood flow and mood.

Some of the most famous men and women have been known to be huge meanderers (I think I made that up, but that's okay). I have been extremely pleased with this new update to my routine.

Give it a try, but leave your phone at home. Just embrace your surrounds and be grateful that you woke up this morning.

Tim Ferriss
Maarten de Boer | Getty Images

6. Brain dump at desk

"Could bitching and moaning on paper for 5 minutes each day change your life? As crazy as it may seem, I believe the answer is yes." -Tim Ferriss

Are they all crazy? How am I supposed to find the time to write out my thoughts every morning? I am not a writer. How could writing down my anxious ruminations help me overcome anxiety?

That was my initial barrage of fears when I first heard about the power of journaling. And if you are not someone who is already journaling for growth, your reaction is going to be the same.

But I am happy to say that I was dead wrong.

Over the past 12-months, journaling has been one of the four cornerstone habits (the other being meditation, exercise, and healthy diet) that I have implemented in my daily routine that has changed my life.

For me, the purpose of journaling is to create a vessel for clarity and resilience. A mode of transportation that takes my thoughts from anxious ruminations to empowered actions. It is an amazing way to trap your thoughts on paper and give you a heightened view of your internal dialogue; not a hack that will generate wealth and success simply by writing about it.

Some of the ways it has changed my life:

  1. I've massively reduced my daily anxiety and overwhelm
  2. I've figured out the main triggers for my anxious thoughts
  3. I've worked through massive life-changing decisions (getting married, leaving a job, starting a business, etc.)
  4. I've discovered trends in my thinking that has led to critical insights into my business and life
  5. It has unhinged a lot of the anchors in my mind and has opened a space for more creativity and growth
  6. It has helped me to leave situations and people that were not building me up
  7. Journaling is one of those things that sounds so simple that you initially believe that it will not work for you.
  8. But what I have learned from the greatest teachers is that it is often the simplest things that have the biggest impact on your life.

The two main reasons I journal:

  1. Brain clarity
  2. Detachment from thoughts

See my full write-up on how journaling can heal your anxiety here.

The 10-minute morning routine that Tony Robbins uses to stay grateful

7. Gratitude practice

I write the three things I am most grateful for today:

The key here is not to repeat that you are grateful for your family, life, and god. The key is to focus on being aware of the smaller things in life that you would miss if you were gone. This is a very powerful practice that has been utilized by the Stoics, Billionaires, and monks to help them appreciate life and reduce anxiety.

Dr. Emmons, a gratitude researcher, confirms that practicing gratitude daily can reduce anxiety and depression.

The three "topics" I find easiest to channel are:

  1. Person — I write one thing about my fiancé that I am grateful for every morning. But it could be anyone for you and probably helps if you change it every day to realize how many people you are grateful for.
  2. Small object close by — The wind blowing on your face, the warmth of the coffee mug, the silence of your bedroom. This is a stoic practice to realize that even if everything you owned was taken from you there are still small pleasures in life.
  3. Something I would miss if it were gone — running water, heat, the ability to run, etc.

8. Manifest your morning three

  1. Affirmation: By stating three affirmations in the morning I am able to put myself into a charged state. It may seem hokey, but it has been hugely beneficial to my mental state.
  2. What do I get to enjoy today — By starting my day thinking about what I get to enjoy today, I put my mind into a positive mode and trigger my brain to see the upside of the day.
  3. Daily intention — I start out each day with intention. Whether it's as simple as "I will be present today" or "I will choose to see the beauty in everything that happens to me today." It doesn't really matter, but I have found it extremely helpful for lowering my daily anxiety to be intentional about what I want my day's purpose to be,

9. MITs: Three most important tasks that need to get done

Even a basic plan of attack for your day can drastically reduce your anxiety by decreasing the cognitive load that comes with increased decision making. Each morning we wake up with a finite amount of brain power and every decision we make detracts from it. By having a basic structure that decreases the number of decisions you have to make about what you are going to do next, you will be able to take control of your day and calm your restless mind."

Every morning, I write down the 3–5 things that are making me the most anxious or stressed out. They tend to be things that I have pushed off for days on end. And more often than not, they are the most difficult or uncomfortable tasks that I need to do in order to move forward.

Once I have written out the 3–5 MOST important tasks — and no more — I ask myself the follow questions to help me prioritize which to focus on first:

  1. What task, if completed successfully, will make all of the others obsolete?
  2. What task do I have the most anxiety/fear about?
  3. What task will move me closest to accomplishing my number 1 goal?
Writer Mark Twain photographed in his old age
UniversalImagesGroup | Getty Images

10. 60 — 90 Minutes of deep work on #1 MIT prior to email

"If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first." — Mark Twain

Once I have prioritized my top MIT for the day, I block off 90 minutes of time to focus exclusively on it. This is a common strategy known as the 90–90–1 rule.

Why is it so important to get the top MIT done first thing in the morning?

Well, according to psychologist Ron Friedman, the first three hours of your day are your most precious for maximized productivity. "Typically, we have a window of about three hours where we're focused. We're able to have some strong contributions regarding planning, regarding thinking, regarding speaking well," Friedman told Harvard Business Review.

I understand we all have different schedules and responsibilities, but if we want to overcome anxiety and move our goals forward truly we must protect our mornings. If we don't take control of our mornings, something else will.

Don't check your email or social media until you have spent at least 30–90 minutes of uninterrupted time on your number 1 MIT. Use your mornings for output, not more meaningless input. As productivity expert Benjamin Hardy says, "[p]rotecting your mornings means you are unreachable during certain hours. Only in the case of serious emergency can you be summoned from your focus-cave."

Not only will this help you complete your number 1 MIT, but it will also do wonders for your anxiety throughout the day.

Make it sustainable

The purpose of this list is to be a roadmap, a blueprint, to help you reduce your anxiety by creating an empowered morning routine. It is packed with strategies and loads of scientific research about what routines and habits are the most effective to lower your anxiety and increase your life. But the most important strategy of all is to remember that when you are creating your own confident morning it needs to be sustainable for you. The best routine is the one you actually stick to.

If you are anything like I used to be, you need to listen to this part. I used to spend so much time worrying about the "perfect" morning routine. Should I wake up at 5:45 or 6:00. Should I meditate before or after, I shower? Should I exercise or not exercise? This constant need to be perfect kept my mornings stressful and prevented me from forming habits with my morning.

So, my hope is that you try out some of the ones that worked wonders for decreasing my anxiety and test if they make a difference for you. If they don't then drop them and try something else. The key is to keep testing what works and what doesn't for you and your life. The more you test; the closer you will get to your confident morning.

An Empowered Morning isn't something that just falls into your lap — it's created consciously. I hope you are able to implement some changes in your morning and more importantly, I hope it lowers your anxiety and gives you more excitement in life!

This piece originally appeared on Medium.

Benjamin Foley is the founder of Fully Rich Life and a mindfulness expert.

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