Mornings are tough.
As the alarm claws its way through your slumber and all the tasks of the day run through your mind, it’s oh so tempting to just turn back over and retreat back to sleep.
But no, you’re a grownup with stupid responsibilities. You have to get up and face the day – starting with the morning.
We’d all love to be the type of people who jump up and out of bed filled with motivation and joy.
But if that’s a distant dream, here’s a more realistic goal: let’s do what we can to make mornings a bit less sh*t.
To help us in this mission, we asked a bunch of experts to share their top tips for making our mornings better. Here’s what they said.
Prep practical bits the night before
Avoid the mad rush of the mornings by preparing as much as you can the night before.
‘Pack your bag, decide what you are wearing and prepare your lunch,’ recommends consultant health psychologist Dr Sue Peacock.
And plan out your day the night before, too
Write out tomorrow’s schedule in the evening.
‘Doing so will not only save you energy and time the following morning when you already know what your priorities are, but also help you sleep better now that your thoughts have been transferred to paper,’ says Simon Alexander Ong, coach and author of Energize: Make the Most of Every Moment.
‘As a result you are able to protect your energy for what is most important and your most important tasks.’
Start your day with a stretch
‘Stretching first thing in the morning is not only an effective way to open up the body and wake it up after a long sleep, but it also activates your parasympathetic nervous system, increases blood flow to your muscles and release those feel-good endorphins which help to reduce pain and boost mood,’ says Carlos Cobiella, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon.
Keep a bottle of water by your bed
This’ll make it easier to kick off your ‘drink more water’ goal the moment you wake up.
Shaileen Shah is a happiness coach, and lists this as one of his highly effective morning habits.
‘Drink water first thing – we can dehydrate during the night and this activates the stomach,’ he notes.
Ditch the snooze button
‘Banish the snooze button,’ says life coach Avril Matthews. ‘Waking up can be tough so why make yourself do it more than once every morning?’
Start each morning by setting your intention for the day
Life coach Kerry McLaughlin recommends: ‘Set your intention for the day.
‘I’m not talking about setting goals, but more of an ethos.
‘If, for example, the intention were to be efficient with your time, make decisions from the start to the finish of your day that align with this intention.’
Counselling Directory member Andrew Harvey says: ‘One way of having a better morning is to have a better night before.
‘It’s worth reflecting on how your evening routine is impacting your wellbeing in the morning.
‘For example, are you using alcohol to “wind down” in the evening? This may be having a negative impact the next morning.’
Take on an (easy) challenge
Shaileen advises starting your day with a mental challenge, like doing the daily Wordle.
‘This activates the brain and gives a sense of accomplishment,’ he tells us.
Move your body
‘This can be anything from structured exercise to simply shaking your body to some music,’ says psychologist Dr Tina Mistry. ‘Our bodies have been lying in bed for 7-10 hours so could do with a good shake-out.’
Don’t reach for your phone the moment you wake up
Andrew adds: ‘What’s the first thing you do when you wake? if you reach for your mobile and check messages, social media or the news, that might not be helpful and if you are feeling anxious or down in the morning this might contribute to it.
‘Experiment with doing something else for a few days and see what difference it makes.’
Kerry backs this: ‘Do not check the news or social media for at least an hour. Use the time to just be in the moment, and not be distracted by others or what’s going on in the world.’
Try a breathing technique
Lara Hughes, a holistic coach, suggests starting your day with box breathing – inhaling for four seconds, holding for four seconds, then exhaling for four seconds.
‘Repeat this for three to five minutes,’ she tells us. ‘By changing the pattern of your breathing, you activate your parasympathetic nervous system.
‘The result? Biologically, your brain chemistry changes, especially areas involved with emotion and judgement; your stress hormone (cortisol) decreases; and your heart rate regulates.
‘You’ll also notice you feel better, less negative and are able to think more rationally! A great way to nourish your internal state first thing in the morning, ready for the day ahead.’
We know, we know – you don’t feel especially grateful when you’re roused from your slumber and forced to get out in the world.
But gratitude is a habit that you need to practice. So challenge yourself, says Shaileen, to engage in a daily morning practice of ‘counting blessings’.
‘This causes an immediate positive shift in mood, activates the learning centres in the brain, and helps you feel connected by releasing the happy chemicals dopamine and oxytocin,’ he explains.
Wake up at the same time each day
‘This keeps your body and mind in a routine,’ notes Dr Sue.
‘Spending just five minutes each morning practicing mindfulness or any other form of meditation is an excellent way to practice sitting with distractions, instead of letting them take over your body and mind,’ says life coach and positive psychologist Yannick Jacob.
‘The goal is to sit with whatever is going on for you at this moment, and to acknowledge that this is something that’s going on, but without getting involved.
‘Imagine you’re sitting at the train station watching the trains (of thought) rush past. Try to acknowledge the thought (I’m noticing a thought about X), but don’t hop onto the train and follow where it leads.
‘Every time you catch yourself somewhere other than the present moment, simply teleport yourself back to the train station, and give yourself a little pat on the back for catching yourself out.’
Quit the judgment
‘The most important thing about mornings is that they are judgment free,’ says coach and expert in neurolinguistic programming, Rebecca Lockwood, ‘meaning that you do not judge yourself for how you feel when you wake up and you allow yourself to just feel into yourself and check in with how you are.’
Stick to a routine
Find a routine that works for you and stick to it. What that looks like is up to you – having any routine can help to boost mental health, as long as it’s manageable.
‘Morning routines are proven to increase productivity if they are created around things that are sustainable and maintainable in the long term,’ Avesta Panahi, psychological counsellor for Private Therapy Clinic, tells us.
‘Create a routine that does not feel to pressurising and does not set you up for failure. It may not be easy to maintain a 5am morning start when you have always been used to 9am.’
Try doing morning pages
Kicking off your day with some free writing can be a life-changer.
‘Journal on your thoughts,’ recommends Rebecca. ‘Grab a pen and paper and just allow whatever comes out of your mind to pour onto the pages. You don’t need to ever read it back.’
Have a tasty breakfast to look forward to
Luring yourself out of bed with the promise of something delicious? A stroke of genius, in our books.
‘My mum has always believed in a good breakfast in the morning and I share the same sentiment (plus I can’t think straight when I am hungry),’ says Dr Tina Mistry. ‘Eating a nutritionally balanced breakfast is crucial.
‘I love porridge or overnight oats, some fruit and a scoop of protein.’
Let the light in
The moment you wake up, open up your curtains and let the sunlight flood in.
‘This helps your circadian rhythm,’ Shaileen says.
Do some affirmations
‘Starting the day with positive affirmations will help you alter your brain space for the rest of the day,’ Joanna Konstantopoulou, health psychologist, tells us.
‘Affirmations are simply positive “I am” statements, such as “I am strong”, or “I am loved”.
‘Doing this helps you focus on the positives in your life, and if you get into the habit of doing so in the morning, it will set your day up perfectly.’
Plan to do one thing you enjoy every morning
‘Sometimes, people with mental health issues find that their moods are worse in the morning,’ notes consultant psychiatrist Dr Mohamed Abdelghani. ‘This is commonly seen in those suffering with depression, when it is called diurnal mood variation.
‘For many of us however, if our morning gets off to a bad start, we find that problems or irritation mount up throughout the day.
To avoid this happening, incorporate something you enjoy every morning to start the day in the best way possible.’
What that is is up to you – reading a chapter of a book, making yourself a fancy latte, stroking your cat – but having something to look forward to the moment you open your eyes can be life-changing.
Work out how you want to feel in the mornings
Productivity expert Tamara Myles suggests posing the following question: ‘How do I want to feel in the morning – Energized? Relaxed? Productive? Connected?’
‘Your answer to this question will help you determine the types of rituals you can engage in,’ she explains. ‘For example, if you want to feel energized, maybe you can fit in a workout first thing in the morning. If your goal is to be productive, you can take advantage of some quiet time before everyone else wakes up and spend some focused time tackling important items on your list. If your goal is to feel relaxed, perhaps some time meditating is the way to go.
‘There is no perfect solution that works for everyone. My advice is to start by identifying how you want to feel, then design a routine that is conducive to it.’
Try a morning meditation
‘Doing some form of meditation in the morning will help you clear your mind and get ready for the day ahead,’ says Joanna Konstantopoulou. ‘There are lots of meditations available on YouTube, and you can select whichever you feel would help you most.
‘For example, if you struggle with self-confidence, choose a meditation designed to overcome anxiety and boost self-esteem.
‘Meditation doesn’t have to be long or structured, it could even be a couple of minutes to sit with your eyes closed mindfully observing the sounds and sensations around you, or in the garden listening to bird song.’
Make your bedroom like a hotel
‘Check into a hotel room every night,’ says Simon Alexander Ong… but he doesn’t mean that literally.
‘The environment of a hotel room is optimised for the purpose of quality sleep and it’s something we can also do to make our bedroom a more inviting place to be in the evening.
‘Given that we spend around a third of our lives sleeping, it makes sense to invest in a better sleep environment.
‘Our happiest and most productive days always begin with getting good quality sleep, as it is this that sets the stage for better decisions, for waking up with greater energy and increased levels of emotional intelligence.
‘When you sleep better, you live better.’
If you do therapy, consider scheduling it for the morning
Joanna suggests: ‘Therapy works wonders, and if you can, doing a therapy session in the morning could help to start your day right.
‘This if not possible for everybody, of course, depending on your situation and your therapist’s availability, but it could be a good solution for some!
‘If you are having ongoing therapy, even taking a little bit of time in the morning to review your progress and set positive actions for the day ahead can help you start as you mean to go on and achieve your goals.’
Try a Miracle Morning
The Miracle Morning is a routine created by author Hal Elrod, that revolves around doing six key habits every morning: silence, affirmations, visualisations, exercise, reading, and scribing.
Wellness expert Simone Thomas says this approach changed her life.
‘Six years on from reading the book, I am still doing my own Miracle Morning,’ says Simone. ‘Elrod’s book isn’t for everyone, but the big takeaway message is that by giving yourself an hour every morning, just for yourself whether you spend that time meditating, doing yoga, reading a book, or just enjoying your coffee with the sunrise, you will not only be a happier person but a more productive person as well.’
Let go of what doesn’t work for you
You don’t need to get up at 5am to have a good morning. You also don’t need to start the day with a green juice, or immediately meditate, or force yourself to do all the things on this list.
‘The biggest thing you can do you for yourself when it comes to setting yourself up for a great day is understand what works for you and what doesn’t,’ says life coach Penny Haslam.
‘In the past I’ve given myself a hard time for not being a morning person – the fact is I am not particularly dazzling pre-10am.
‘I tried to emulate the 5am yoga sessions, emails read and actioned by 7am, relevant personal development chapter read by 7.30am, all in time to do the school run. It did not work out well for me.
‘After a month of that, going against what suits me best, I was utterly exhausted, with low mood and anxiety. I’m much better suited for high energy at 11am and again at 4pm.
‘It’s extremely hard not to fall into societal thinking that you’re lazy if you don’t spring out of bed and get going at first light.
‘Try out a few different ways to start the day and be conscious of what feels good for you and what sets you up for success – don’t follow the crowd on this.’
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