I recently saw a long-time patient who is struggling with a lot of negative thinking. She described her mornings as dreadful, not because of sleep issues, but because she wakes every day thinking of all the things she must do, how difficult it will be, how much she dislikes her job, so on and so forth until she is nearly in tears. These thoughts are definitely part of her chronic dysthymic disorder (a long term, mild depression that is often difficult to treat), but this type of negative thinking is very common outside of depression or dysthymia. I know I've heard the alarm clock and spent the next 9 minutes of snooze time dreading my day.
My patient wanted ideas to help improve her mornings. The good news is, she easily recognized that her thoughts were affecting her emotions. I shared with her a few simple suggestions to try to start her mornings off in a more positive way. These are things I've learned from various sources, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, my yoga teacher, several inspirational blogs I read, and probably Oprah is in there somewhere :) The suggestions are overly simple, and designed to be tailored to fit each person, and they are certainly only the tip of the iceberg! If you decide to try to change your own routine, commit to the new practice for at least a month. There is research that says it takes 20-30 days to create a new habit, then it becomes second nature.
1. Get up around the same time every day. Seriously, even on weekends. Try to go to bed around the same time every night, too.
2. Get out of bed the first time the alarm goes off. This prevents the extra time spent stewing and dreading getting up. Put the clock across the room if needed, to make this more likely.
3. Start the morning with a positive thought. Anything will do: "This will be a great day" or "I can't wait to begin," anything you like. You don't have to believe it the first hundred times you try this, but eventually I think you will!
4. Get out of bed on the right foot. Literally. I have read that Ayurvedic science recommends this as part of a morning routine. Hey, every little counts, and so long as it doesn't get all OCD, give it a try!
5. Start the morning with a gratitude practice. Think of things that are great in your life, even if you can only get to "I'm breathing today," choose that and be grateful for it.
6. Consider starting the day with meditation. This has been a huge day saver for me. The peace I find in meditation affects my attitude and reaction to the whole rest of my day.
7. Try some energizing or balancing pranayama (yogic breathing exercises). Yoga Journal is a great resource for more information on these practices.
8. Try to do something active in the morning, like exercise or yoga. Morning yoga loosens up my tight muscles, but I also feel a great sense of accomplishment for having completed my exercise for the day. I can check that box off my to-do list!
9. Eat breakfast. Most important meal of the day, just like mom used to say. A body needs fuel to make it through the day.
10. If all else fails, do what my 8 year old son does, and play an inspirational song. Like I Gotta Feeling by the Black Eyed Peas or Don't Stop Believing by Journey. Something that makes you smile, sing along and move your body.
I will have to wait a month to see if my patient takes my suggestions, but I use some or all of these most days, and I have seen a huge difference in how I feel as I'm getting going in the morning. It took a while to create an actual routine, and I won't say I pop out of bed with a grin every day, but the odds are much greater than they used to be!