9 Reasons Waking Up Early Helps My Mental Health
They say you’re either an “early bird” or a “night owl.” From my experience, resisting sleep-ins and getting up earlier has helped me out of the darkest patches of my mental health. It’s helped me stay energized and positive for the day. Most importantly, it’s opened up opportunities to form healthy habits that contribute to my well-being. Here are my nine reasons why being an “early bird” helps mental health:
1. Resisting the snooze button is empowering.
You may purposely set your alarm a little earlier than intended, just so you can have the satisfaction of pressing the snooze button several times before getting up. I know–I’ve been there. But resisting that inner urge is enough to kick-start a lot of good feelings for the day. It eventually makes me feel strong for fighting the urge and more determined to face the day, capable and motivated. On a low day, I feel a great sense of dread for the waking hours ahead. The sound of the alarm going off is enough to cement my anxiety. But getting up right away stops me from prolonging the torture my illness wants to feel. Staying in bed longer would feed my anxiety, and if I do that, I can face a slippery slope if I’m not careful.
2. That first cup of coffee tastes even better.
Even though coffee, at any time of day, always hits the spot for me, nothing beats that very first cup after waking up in the morning. When I know I’m up early, sipping my cup while the world is still quiet outside, I can appreciate the taste. I have more time and clarity to focus on one of the things that makes me truly happy. As I drink that fresh first cup, it feels like I’m taking in a new day with optimism, almost like I’m cleansing away those early morning anxieties.
3. Planning my day feels clearer and more complete.
Being awake a little earlier than I need to be allows me to connect with my plans for the day. Since recovering from anorexia, I’ve managed to shake off the rigidity it encourages, so I have to be careful not to get carried away with planning my day. What has changed for me is when I’ve planned out my week, I am open to changes. I make room for life to happen. During my early mornings, I like to reshuffle what’s to come for day while writing out the little things I hope to accomplish. When I can see it in black and white, this settles my anxieties. I feel capable, which plants a seed of peace in my head for the rest of the day.
4. There’s an open window of time for exercise.
Getting outside for a jog or going to the gym first thing in the morning sets me up in a stronger place mentally for the day. Although some days I dread exercise and my head makes excuses for all of the other things I should do instead or my poor body image drags me down, I know that once I’m home, I’ll reap the benefits. As someone with a history of an eating disorder, separating exercise from body image is an ongoing challenge. If I want a lifelong, healthy relationship with food, I need to recognize that the most important benefit of exercise is mental and physical health combined. I used to think exercising and losing weight would boost my self esteem, and when I was encouraged not to exercise during recovery, I associated exercise with weight loss. This was so hard to disconnect. I am in the process of connecting exercise and mental health – which will release endorphins, get the blood pumping and make me feel strong. Being out in nature when jogging naturally lifts my spirits. I’m lucky enough to live opposite the seafront, so that’s my go-to location.
5. Time feels like it has more quality.
This is a lovely feeling. Though it’s tempting to set my alarm just before I need to wake up, having an hour or two head start makes me feel more at peace. I no longer wake up in a panic or feel overwhelmed. Instead, it gives me time to reflect before getting on with my day, and I’m able to check in with how I’m feeling. Time becomes about quality when I no longer need to rush into each task for the day.
6. I am more creative and productive.
Mornings are the times my ideas and ambitions flow best. I’m able to think more clearly about what I want long-term in life, and what really makes me tick. Then I’m able to narrow that down to thinking about what small steps I could do today to help reach my goal. For example, I want to publish an illustrated book based on my mental illness recovery. Because I go through patches of finding writing daunting and convinced it’s some humongous thing that will crush me if I try, I have to remind myself that starting somewhere will get the ball going. So I trust it’s something I love to do, then commit to write something smaller to get some practice. This gradually increases my confidence. These small things involve writing articles about things I am passionate about, or writing a post on my recovery blog.
7. I remember to take my medication.
When I’m less rushed, I have no excuse to miss my medication. There have been many times when I just haven’t prioritized my medication because my head feels jumbled, and I’m focused on what I ‘‘need’’ to do, which leads me to forget to take care of myself. Now that I’ve developed a routine in the mornings, it’s something that has become a habit.
8. Watching some morning news with my breakfast makes me feel more connected to the world.
I’m not big on keeping up with the news, but I find that catching the main headlines helps me feel more alive. Being aware about what’s going on in the world makes me more in tune with the present moment. It helps me focus on the fact it is a new day because I can get caught up in the same everyday habits. Also, thinking about how many hours the news anchors have already been up for work puts things into perspective and makes me see I’m not up that early at all!
9. I am more present with those around me.
This has to be one of the most important advantages of all. When I am with people throughout the day, be it anyone from my therapist to my Dad, I feel like I’m really there as opposed to worrying about this and that. I’m less worried about the next thing I need to do. Waking up early gives me a clearer and more realistic perspective on the day; I’m less hard on myself when I don’t get everything done. But the best thing about feeling more present with those around me is my ability to have more meaningful conversations.
We’re each so extraordinarily unique, so these things may not necessarily work for everyone. But for me, they’ve been especially essential to my bulimia recovery and my generalized anxiety. Every day really is a new chance; being an “early bird” sets me up better for that.
Unsplash via David Mao