Causes & Calming Techniques — Talkspace

Why Do I Wake Up With Anxiety?

Waking up with anxiety can put a real strain on your day. Right from the jump, you’re stuck feeling that heavy weight of stress and dread. Some common symptoms of morning anxiety are:

  • Feeling like your day is doomed right from the beginning
  • Feeling fatigued, even though you just woke up
  • Feeling like you just can’t get out of bed
  • Difficulty focusing and concentrating
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Perspiring

So what causes the morning anxiety? 

The natural response

The most common theory about waking up with anxiety has to do with a stress hormone called cortisol. As a defense mechanism designed to protect us, our brain and body will naturally react to stress. Although we no longer face the types of threats our ancestors once did, stress results in our bodies and brains reacting as if we’re under attack.

Thus, when we’re stressed, we release more stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline causes the heart rate to increase, boosts blood pressure, and spikes energy supply. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone in the body. It acts to release more glucose into the blood and enhances the brain’s usage of those sugars to enhance alertness and prepare us to defend ourselves.

Research has shown that cortisol levels already surge in the morning for the first 30 – 45 minutes after waking. This is known as Cortisol Awakening Response (CAR) and may increase morning anxiety.


The common demands of life, like taking care of your family, accomplishing a huge workload, paying the bills, and preparing for the future, are all stressors. The limbic system of your brain perceives stressors as threats, and that can make you feel anxious from the moment you wake up each morning.

Substance abuse

If you’re using or abusing drugs and/or alcohol, waking up with anxiety can be common. While substance abuse may not have direct links to anxiety, it is known to increase anxiety symptoms. 

Relationship struggles

Some studies show that the energy in a relationship may affect how well you sleep at night and how rested and calm you wake up in the morning. 

Physical health problems

If you’re dealing with a chronic health condition, it’s natural to be stressed. Anxiety is common for those who have heart disease, diabetes, cancer, asthma, hypertension, and other serious health-related issues. Waking up with anxiety in the middle of the night or in the morning can be common when you have a serious medical condition. 

Financial stress

Worrying about money is a normal stress for many adults. Especially if you’re financially insecure, waking up with anxiety about how or when you’ll be able to pay rent, buy groceries, or cover bills is not unreasonable. 

Mental health conditions

Like our physical health, mental health conditions can weigh heavily on our psyches. Living with bipolar disorder, depression, or another mental health disorder can result in heightened anxiety at all times of the day, even in the mornings. 

“If you find yourself waking up feeling anxious, ask yourself what happened the night before? What were you thinking about before you went to bed? These questions can help you identify the cause of your anxiety.”

Talkspace therapist Bisma Anwar, LMHC

Fortunately, there are various techniques you can employ, beginning right now, that are known to alleviate morning anxiety symptoms. You can practice these daily upon waking and decrease the frequency and intensity of morning stress.

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