Look, when I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder back in 2017, it changed my life. Even though I know diagnoses may change depending on the doctor, it gave me something to focus on. Something to make my life better. Granted, things got worse before they started getting better, but I learned some things because of this diagnosis that helped me to understand my behaviors better.
For most of my life, I’ve had severe anxiety and bouts of depression. I remember coming out of the recession and feeling anxious for just about ten years straight. I had a hard time re-engaging with life because it felt hopeless and like nothing was ever going to change. It felt like the other shoe would drop at any moment. I lost everything, my home, filed for bankruptcy, nearly lost my relationship, and felt like a shitty human being. I recovered from most of it with time, but my relationship never fully recovered and that’s when things really shifted. My wife and I couldn’t reconcile things, and that resulted in me being single at 44 years old. And being on my own, I’ve had to look at how I’m showing up in the world. It can be easy to give up hope and lose purpose and meaning. In fact, I have never been in a darker time in my life than I was going through my divorce. I had a choice. Give in and die or choose to live, pick up the pieces, and move on. I chose the latter.
It takes effort to shift that energy and get back into life, and what I’m about to share didn’t happen overnight. It took time and commitment to create this as part of my daily routine.
The biggest life changer for me was in creating a morning routine. Without my morning routine, I feel like I would be overrun by depression and hopelessness. My morning sets the pace for my day and helps me map out what it is I want to accomplish. There are six things that I do EVERY morning, and I want to share those with you.
Let’s face it; if you’re reading this article, it’s probably because you’re struggling similarly to the way I was struggling. Maybe you wake up anxious or depressed. Maybe you’ve lost hope in your life or business. Maybe you’re going through a divorce as I did. Whatever it is, I believe that these routines will help you break free. My goal in sharing these is to help you get unstuck. So, let’s jump in:
1. GET OUT OF BED> The first thing I do, is to wake up and get right out of bed. It’s the decision to just go after life again. Of course, you could lay there and cuddle up under the blankets and lay around for a few hours, hoping that maybe the energy will subside, but I can tell you that it won’t. Our body produces a chemical called cortisol. Cortisol is a steroid produced in the adrenals that is instrumental in awakening (Alexa, 2019- God bless this little device. I can count on her for quick answers). The beauty of this chemical is that it helps us wake up. The ugly of this chemical is that it can cause anxiety and depression. Cortisol occurs biologically. Your body produces more of this hormone when you wake up than at any other time during the day (Laurence, 2019). According to Dedovik and Ngiam (2015), cortisol levels peak at about 30 minutes after awakening and level off after about 60 minutes. Unfortunately for you and me, this means that we're going to wake up anxious and depressed. So, if we want to move that chemical out of our body more quickly, it’s best to jump out of bed and get moving. It seems that activity helps eliminate cortisol from the body. It almost seems like cortisol is meant to wake us up in the mornings; like the song “Shot to the heart…” Okay, maybe not like that song. Anyhow, cortisol seems to serve a purpose, but when it stays in the body, it can produce depression and anxiety, and so by moving, you’re helping get this chemical to reabsorb.
2. MAKE YOUR BED> if you haven’t seen this video by William McRaven, US Navy Admiral, take a quick second and watch it now (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sK3wJAxGfs). Okay, I lied. It’s not a second; it’s six minutes, which is about how long it takes to make my bed. While this may seem cheesy, making my bed has made a huge impact on my life. Since making my bed, I won the Nobel, became president of the United States…Okay, yeah, none of that happened, but it does give me a sense of purpose. It gives me a task first thing in the morning that is so easy it’s hard to fail, and by accomplishing it, I am showing myself that I can get something, anything, done. It may not seem like much, but making your bed in the morning can make for a great start to the day.
3. EXERCISE> the next step is for me to exercise. I combine that with audiobooks, so while I’m working out I’m listening to something valuable. I have one of those shaking machines. You know the giant vibrators… No! not the sexual ones, just the ones you stand on. I stand on that for about 10 minutes and then do some resistance training. I have exercise bands and weights in my room, so I’ll grab those and do some exercises first thing in the morning. All the while, I listen to audiobooks. One of my new favorite things is to listen to “The Blinkest Minute” on my echo device. In short blurbs, I gain insights into how our world works; and it’s absolutely free. If you saw my exercise routine in the morning, you would be wholly unimpressed. Its low impact, it’s easy, and I only do it for maybe 10 to 15 minutes. Let me tell you why I choose a low-intensity exercise first thing in the morning. Low-intensity exercise can actually decrease cortisol levels. If done for long periods, low-intensity exercise can increase cortisol levels (nearly the same as high-intensity exercise; https://www.dnafit.com/advice/fitness/cortisol-stress-and-exercise.asp). For me, I want to reduce my cortisol levels first thing in the morning because of my high anxiety. So, for me, this routine of a low impact exercise has been a game-changer. I feel way less depressed and anxious and can get a jump on my day while doing something good for my brain and body.
4. JOURNAL, PRAY, AND MEDITATE> The next step in my routine is to journal, say a prayer, and meditate. When I Journal, I only do one page. I start by writing down what I’m experiencing, followed by three things that I’m grateful for, followed by what I will contribute for the day. I will word it like this; “I am grateful for…” and “Today I will contribute by…”
When I finished journaling, I will say a prayer-- even though I don’t know if I fully believe in a God, it feels good to pray. Next, I will turn on meditation music, and sometimes just sit for a minute and try and be present. I have to admit, I’m not super great at sitting still mentally, but it’s good to just slow down for a bit.
5. COLD SHOWER> This is a hard one. I don’t just take a cold shower; I take a hot shower followed immediately by 30 seconds of cold. Holy shit, this one gets me. I hate this one, and I love it at the same time. Taking a cold shower at the end of a hot shower honestly is fucking miserable. However, there are some real health benefits to shocking your system in this way. Check some of those benefits out here (https://www.msn.com/en-us/health/health-news/12-benefits-of-taking-cold-showers-every-day/ar-BBUq4zD).
6. FINALLY, GROOM YOURSELF> Show yourself that you’re worth it. Take a shower, comb your hair, trim your beard if you’re a man… or a woman; just make yourself look handsome or beautiful or whatever makes you feel comfortable. But show yourself in the mirror that you are valuable and that YOU matter. This is a way for you to demonstrate that you’re worth it; that you’re worth taking care of. And by God, you are. I think of Stuart Smalley on Saturday Night Live saying “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it people like me.” Now, you don’t have to be cheesy like that-- although that is pretty funny, you can make yourself look good. Take care of your clothes put on some clean clothes, brush your teeth. You matter, and part of knowing that you matter is showing yourself that you matter by taking care of your appearance.
There you have it! Boring, I know, but I don’t care, okay, I do care, but this is what I do, and it works. You don’t have to do all of it. You can take parts of it and adapt it to you, but create a morning routine because it will set the pace for your day. It will help you get out of the funk and move on in your life, and you’re worth it. Now, go create the life you want and start that first thing in the morning!
Dedovic, K., & Ngiam, J. (2015). The cortisol awakening response and major depression: examining the evidence. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, 11, 1181–1189. doi:10.2147/NDT.S62289
Laurence, E. (2019, February 24). How to prevent morning anxiety from totally ruining your day. Retrieved from https://www.wellandgood.com/good-advice/morning-anxiety/