By Andrea Lanier, Group Facilitator next pagenext page
In two years of volunteer work with persons suffering from anxiety disorders, I have been asked many questions about anxiety and how to reduce it. A couple of the questions that were asked in this context are: "Why do I experience anxiety so much worse in the morning when I wake up?" And, "Why is my anxiety so much worse on Monday mornings?"
What typically happens to many persons suffering from anxiety is that upon awakening, these people immediately and automatically evaluate or judge their experiences. When this evaluation has negative results, which is usually the case with anxiety disorders, this will cause anxiety symptoms of varying degrees. This evaluation is then followed by a prediction for and judgement of what the upcoming day will have in store, which is usually also negative and anxiety provoking. Since sleep is perceived as very pleasant, as a wonderful relief from anxiety, just having to wake up in itself is perceived as something negative. Also, the elements of darkness and coldness are poor motivations for a person to leave the comfort and safety of a warm bed. Hence, it is likely that the weather will be evaluated for how it might make a person feel. Rainy, dark weather is surely to be internalized as an indicator for a bad day and the person's mood will thus reflect the weather.
Thoughts like these are habitual thoughts, and they are not limited to the weather. There might be an analysis of how this day ahead may turn out and what it will contain. Will it be an easy, fun day, or will there be problems? Will the people one meets this day be nice or dreadful? Perhaps one just hates to go to work, too? Thoughts like these are a component of the social aspects of anxiety disorders. These habitual thoughts probably started sometime long ago, perhaps taught by family or friends. They do not arise out of intention; instead, one is hardly aware of them, but aware only of the feelings of disapproval, frustration, or anxiety they may generate.
The automatic unhealthy self-talk that is at the root of much anxiety can thus lead a person to a start into the day that is exhausting, depleting all energy before one can even get a foot out of bed. On Monday mornings, this is usually amplified for many people because the prior weekend had brought a retreat from many of the every-day challenges, and now it is time to not just predict and evaluate the challenges of a single day, but the entire week that lies ahead. This may be quite overwhelming for a person with an anxiety disorder.
However, since one perception of one's self and one's environment is based on past socialization, (i.e., it has been taught and learned), the mind can 'unlearn' old ways and learn new ways of thinking. As feelings are generated by thoughts, anxiety can be reduced and perhaps eliminated when thought habits are changed.
To accomplish new thought habits, first, there will need to be a change of focus: from thoughts of the future, or perhaps from thoughts of the past, to thoughts of the present time and place. This will require one to patiently train one's mind to become conscious of what it is one is thinking and feeling. It will require training the mind to frequently return to the present moment and to the immediate environment, instead of letting it concern itself with worries of future or past. At the very root of this change will need to be acceptance of what is. This will include an acceptance of the self, what is felt and what is thought. One will likely be tempted to be dissatisfied with things as they are, but you would do well to practice not spending any energy on trying to change things. With this in mind, one would do well to focus on what is, upon awakening.