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Better Living

How to Stop Waking Up Stressed


I got out of bed today to discover the floor of my family room littered with 27 toy dinosaurs, arranged in alphabetical order. My five-year-old son, Liam, was in his fort, gazing at the prehistoric land he just created and giggling to himself with glee.

I’d love to be able to leap up in the morning with that level of zeal. Though right now, with loved ones who are sick and having work contracts cut in half, my focus is to wake up not feeling overly stressed, anxious, or scared.

I’ve been making some small changes that are helping me feel lighter as I begin my days, even when I have no idea what lies ahead. My system isn’t perfect, but lately, I’ve been waking up calm and at times even hopeful. Here are six techniques that are working for me and might work for you, too.

Start a simple evening ritual

If kids don’t follow a nighttime routine, they turn into wild gremlins. Adults are not all that different. Our inner monsters are hard to tame in the morning if we don’t take steps to keep them at bay at night.

To reap the benefits of an evening routine, you don’t have to do some extensive, 10-step ritual. Just do a few small things consistently: After you wrap up your dinner, play some relaxing music. It will serve as a signpost for your brain to know that the day is winding down. Once you feel more relaxed, take 10 minutes to do nothing at all. You don’t need to sit cross-legged and chant if that’s not your thing. Just allow yourself to breathe.

Put your worries down on paper

Ending your day by breaking out a gratitude journal is a healthy practice. You’ll never make room for more in your life if you don’t appreciate what you already have. But there’s also value in flipping this practice on its head and starting a worry journal. When you get everything that’s plaguing you out of your mind and onto the page, you can gain clarity about what’s worth worrying about and what simply isn’t.

You’re allowed to be scared. Get all of your fears out. Having a good cry before going to bed can help you feel looser in the morning.

Get a dose of human contact

Every night before going to bed, Liam yells, “Tots!” (which is Catalan for “all!”), at which point our little family of four hugs it out. Our youngest son, Luc, starts screaming with joy. We laugh. My shoulders drop. More times than not, after the hug, we don’t even need to apologize to each other if we’d lost our tempers or gotten on each other’s nerves earlier in the day. We move on.

Maybe you’re alone right now and hugs aren’t an option. Why not add a goodnight call with a friend to your evening ritual? We’ve all learned by now just how important human contact is. Knowing you’re loved before going to bed can help you feel less alone in the morning.

Think about something you’re excited to do when you wake up

Every morning during quarantine, after getting my kids dressed and fed, I’ve been going out to my terrace to finish my coffee and Dutch caramel waffle cookie. It’s become one of my favorite rituals. The sound my cookie makes when it snaps in half is glorious. That is my moment.

Before going to sleep at night, think about something you can’t wait to do in the morning. Maybe it’s finishing another chapter of the book you’re reading. Or carving out 30 minutes to write. Whatever it is, having it in your mind will give you more pep when you wake up.

Ask yourself, “Who needs me?”

One reason why the author Viktor Frankl was able to survive four years of living in concentration camps was that each morning, he reminded himself of who was going to need him once his nightmare was over.

After you wake up, hit snooze. But instead of falling back to sleep, sit on the edge of your bed and think about who needs you. And then make a plan to reach out to them. Some days, I might decide to leave short voice messages for people to let them know I value their friendship, or write uplifting comments on the articles of young writers who show promise. Ask yourself who you can help each day.

Try the “last time” exercise

My father-in-law is an avid hiker, and a few years ago, he was about to climb one of his favorite mountains for the final time. While he was sad to say goodbye to the spot, his last hike was a beautiful experience — to this day,

he can tell you about each step he took and how the light took on different shapes at every turn.

In the morning, embrace the “last time” technique. Know that everything is temporary. Yes, this thought can be depressing. But it can also be liberating.

Imagine it’s the last time you’ll give your kids a bath before they can do it on their own. Would you sit on the sidelines, or would you join them in joyful splashing? Imagine it’s the last time you’ll be able to work from home with your partner. Would that change your routine at all?

Some mornings will be easy. The sun will shine, and you’ll feel good. Other days will be much darker. You can’t control everything that happens to you. You can, however, make some changes to wake up feeling a little bit brighter.