Waking up with severe anxiety

Causes & Calming Techniques — Talkspace

Updated 1/14/2023

Waking up anxious in the morning, or waking up at night with anxious thoughts or feelings is common for many people. Nearly everyone experiences feelings of anxiety and stress periodically. However, if your anxiety is affecting you daily when you wake up or causing incessant sleeping problems or other physical symptoms, it might become overwhelming to the point that you can’t perform routine activities like work and interacting with your family.

Here, we’ll look at some of the common symptoms of morning and sleep anxiety. We’ll explore some of the causes that can be contributing to you waking up early with a sense of dread about your day. We’ll also offer various calming techniques that you can use, beginning tomorrow morning, to decrease the frequency and intensity of waking up with anxiety every morning.

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 anxiety in the morning?

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 by raising our cortisol level. 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 or anxious thoughts 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, MA, MSc, 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.

5 Calming Techniques to Avoid Waking Up with Anxiety

Wondering how to stop waking up with anxiety? You’re not alone. Let’s review some techniques that have been found to help many people wake up more confidently, calm, and energetic, ready to face their day. 

Though you might not be able to totally prevent the feeling of anxiety or panic you experience when you first wake up, you can help lessen the physical symptoms and severity with natural remedies for anxiety. Try using any or all of these methods right away. 

“There are many ways to help calm your anxiety. You can do a guided meditation, do yoga or a workout, engage in a deep breathing exercise, have a healthy breakfast, listen to relaxing music, take a walk, or write a journal.”

Talkspace therapist Bisma Anwar, MA, MSc, LMHC

1. Change your diet

The foods and beverages we choose to consume have an effect on our mood and functioning. Neurotransmitters, hormones, and other biological chemicals are all synthesized in our bodies based on the nutrients (or lack thereof) we get through our diet.

Studies show certain foods are associated with anti-anxiety effects. These include: 

  • Brazil nuts
  • Eggs
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Chamomile
  • Yogurt
  • Turmeric
  • Dark chocolate
  • Fatty fish like mackerel and salmon

Consider adding more of these foods in your daily diet to help your anxiety levels.

Also, you might want to watch your intake of caffeine and other stimulating substances. If you’re already prone to anxiety, caffeine might exacerbate those symptoms. A glass of warm lemon water or decaf tea with honey in it may not be as exciting as that strong cup of coffee, but it can definitely be more calming.

2. Meditation & deep breathing (pranayama)

Mindfulness meditation offers many benefits to improve emotional and mental health. You can do it anywhere, without any equipment or memberships. Most communities have group meditation courses and support available. There are several different meditation styles, each having benefits for generalized anxiety disorder. Even just five minutes of meditation or deep breathing exercises for anxiety daily can have measurable benefits.

3. Leave the television off & opt for music

Repetitive exposure to negative stories like what we see and hear in the mainstream media these days has been linked to increased anxiety. If you don’t like the silence in the morning, try putting on some calming music to create a more relaxing environment. Remember, “calming” doesn’t have to be the same for everyone. You might prefer classical music, jazz, acoustic…try whatever is soothing to you.

4. Exercise

There are several various ways that daily exercise helps to alleviate a high anxiety level, including:

  • Diverting your attention from what’s making you anxious
  • Activating executive functions in the brain
  • Decreasing muscle tension
  • Altering brain chemistry

Regular exercise builds up resources in the body that help increase resilience to erratic emotions. Exercise actually changes your brain chemistry by increasing the availability of neurochemicals that work against anxiety, including gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), serotonin, various endocannabinoids, and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).

5. Journaling

Taking a few minutes each morning or at night just before bed to jot down your anxious feelings or thoughts can help to calm your mind and focus your thoughts. If you’re journaling in the morning, try tracking your dreams from the night before.

Solidifying your relationship with yourself is an excellent way to decrease nighttime anxiety. Doing so can help you stay in touch with your goals and aspirations and spot negative emotions creeping up on you as they occur.

Learning How to Manage Anxiety Day-to-Day

If you’re waking up with anxiety every morning, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, and other types of therapy for anxiety and techniques can help. Working with a therapist, you’ll learn new coping skills for how to treat anxiety that can work to decrease your morning stress.

You might also consider taking prescription medication for anxiety like benzodiazepines, anti-anxiety drugs, beta-blockers, or antidepressants, but note that these are often associated with adverse side effects and do little to solve the core problem causing your anxiety. If you and your doctor do decide to try medication for generalized anxiety disorder, it likely will be a short term solution that’s coupled with effective, proactive strategies like those we’ve discussed here today.  

Focusing on holistic approaches like mindfulness meditation, taking a relaxing bath, setting and being committed to goals, and showing gratitude are all simple, effective ways to combat waking up with anxiety every morning. 

Each of them can help to reduce morning anxiety symptoms so you can have calmer, happier days. If you’re ready to start your journey and take steps to learn how to stop waking up with anxiety, Talkspace can help. Our approach to online therapy makes the process as easy as possible. Get started by connecting with a therapist for a possible anxiety diagnosis.

See references

  • Powell D, Schlotz W. Daily Life Stress and the Cortisol Awakening Response: Testing the Anticipation Hypothesis. PLoS One. 2012;7(12):e52067. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0052067.
  • Hasler B, Troxel W. Couples’ Nighttime Sleep Efficiency and Concordance: Evidence for Bidirectional Associations With Daytime Relationship Functioning. Psychosom Med. 2010;72(8):794-801. doi:10.1097/psy.0b013e3181ecd08a.
  • Liu C, Liu Y. Media Exposure and Anxiety during COVID-19: The Mediation Effect of Media Vicarious Traumatization. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(13):4720. doi:10.3390/ijerph27134720.
  • Audiffren M, André N. The exercise–cognition relationship: A virtuous circle. J Sport Health Sci. 2019;8(4):339-347. doi:10.1016/j.jshs.2019.03.001.
  • Brellenthin A, Crombie K, Hillard C, Koltyn K. Endocannabinoid and Mood Responses to Exercise in Adults with Varying Activity Levels. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2017;49(8):1688-1696. doi:10.1249/mss.0000000000001276.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to in the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.

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Waking up with anxiety: 7 possible causes

There are many possible causes of waking up with anxiety, including stress and personal issues. Although it is common to wake up feeling anxious occasionally, if a person does so frequently, they may have generalized anxiety disorder.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a condition that causes uncontrollable and excessive worrying that affects a person’s everyday life. GAD may cause a person to wake up due to anxiety or have difficulty falling or staying asleep.

Common symptoms of GAD include:

  • nervousness or worry
  • feeling restless, on edge, or wound up
  • finding it difficult to concentrate
  • fatigue
  • frequent panic attacks
  • irritability

GAD and other anxiety disorders can develop over time. In most cases, several ongoing circumstances lead to a person developing a form of anxiety. People with a history or family history of anxiety may be more at risk than others, but it is possible for anyone to develop anxiety.

Possible triggers for morning anxiety include the following:

Stress is the body’s natural response to unpleasant stimuli. The body releases cortisol, which people often refer to as the stress hormone, when a person feels worried or stressed.

According to one study, the body releases an abundance of cortisol in the morning when a person is under a lot of stress. When cortisol wakes a person, medical professionals refer to this as the cortisol awakening response (CAR).

CAR is the most likely cause of people with or without GAD waking up feeling anxious. For most people, the feeling should pass once the stressor is gone. If it does not pass, a person may wish to consider speaking to a healthcare professional about their continued anxiety. Doing this may also be beneficial for people who regularly feel anxious but cannot identify a cause.

People already dealing with anxiety should avoid alcohol and recreational drug use.

Although substance use and alcohol use do not have direct links to anxiety, they can make symptoms of anxiety worse.

As a result, alcohol or other substances can affect how a person sleeps or how they feel when they wake up.

There is evidence that how happy a person is in their relationship can directly affect aspects of their health. These include illness recovery and sleep patterns.

In a small-scale study, researchers asked 29 couples to record their relationship experiences during the day and how they slept at night. The results indicated that when females reported having positive interactions with their partner during the day, both they and their partner slept better than when the interactions were negative.

In a similar way, relationship status may cause a person to wake up feeling anxious.

GAD and other anxiety disorders may develop due to ongoing or acute stressful life events. Some life events that might trigger anxiety on waking include:

  • changes in living arrangements, for example, moving to a new area or someone else moving out
  • changes in employment, such as switching jobs or losing a job
  • experiencing physical, mental, or sexual abuse
  • the separation from or death of a loved one
  • emotional shock after a traumatic event

Finances affect nearly every adult, and many people worry about them. A person may have concerns about how they will pay for groceries, cover the mortgage or rent, or travel to work.

However, for some, thinking and worrying about finances can become an overwhelming problem.

When a person worries about finances excessively, they can develop anxiety that may affect their sleep and how they feel when they wake up in the morning.

Chronic physical illness can contribute to a person feeling more anxious.

Although everyone will respond to health conditions differently, a person who has an ongoing medical issue may develop anxiety.

Some common health conditions that may trigger anxiety include:

  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • hypertension
  • asthma
  • psoriasis
  • depression
  • cancer

A person living with GAD may or may not have additional mental health disorders.

If they do have another disorder, such as depression or bipolar disorder, their symptoms of anxiety may get worse.

This exacerbation can lead to a person waking up with anxiety in the morning.

It will generally be a doctor, psychiatrist, or psychologist who diagnoses anxiety. A person will typically visit them to discuss persistent anxiety, a feeling of being overwhelmed, or sleeping difficulties.

The healthcare professional will usually perform a basic examination and ask questions about the person’s health — including any other mental health disorders — and what symptoms they are experiencing.

Before confirming a diagnosis of anxiety, the healthcare professional is likely to perform tests to help rule out other conditions, depending on what symptoms a person is experiencing.

Finally, they may ask the individual to complete a self-assessment. There are many different types of self-assessment, but they will use the one that they believe will best determine whether the person has an anxiety disorder or another disorder that is causing symptoms of anxiety.

If a person has GAD or another form of anxiety, their doctor may prescribe an antidepressant. In addition, they may recommend counseling, support groups, or other forms of therapy to help a person feel less anxious.

A person can also take steps at home to reduce their anxiety. These include:

  • doing regular exercise
  • avoiding alcohol and other drugs
  • using deep breathing techniques
  • practicing meditation
  • practicing yoga
  • eating a healthful diet
  • trying to avoid stressful situations

A person who consistently wakes up feeling anxious may have GAD or another form of anxiety. Many potential triggers can cause a person to wake up feeling anxious.

If these feelings persist, a person should talk to their doctor about their anxiety symptoms and the treatment options.

treatment, how to get rid of anxiety, how to deal with anxiety for no reason

Anxiety is a negatively colored mood with feelings of worry, tension, and fear. In moderation, such emotions are useful: they help to mobilize forces and find a way out of extreme situations. But there must be grounds for concern, and normally it lasts a limited period of time.

If a person constantly experiences a feeling of anxiety and anxiety for no reason, this may indicate the presence of a mental disorder. In the absence of help, constant tension wears out the nervous system and the body as a whole, which leads to a breakdown in adaptation mechanisms and the development of chronic diseases. nine0003

If you notice that you cannot relax for a long time, then you should think about visiting a specialist.

In pathological cases, a state of anxiety and restlessness without a cause manifests itself both mentally and physically.

Mental symptoms:

  • constant feeling of fear and excitement for no reason,
  • poor concentration and attention,
  • sleep disorders,
  • emotional lability, irritability, tearfulness,
  • inability to relax and fully engage in daily activities or communication,
  • the need to reassure others that everything is okay. At the same time, words of support do not bring relief.

Physical symptoms:

  • rapid breathing and heartbeat,
  • headaches, pain in the abdomen and in the region of the heart,
  • excessive sweating,
  • eating disorders: increased or loss of appetite,
  • weakness,
  • shivering, chills,
  • stool disorders: frequent urge, constipation,
  • feeling short of breath,
  • nausea,
  • muscle spasms and pain.

Unreasonable anxiety and anxiety increase or smooth out from time to time. Exacerbations often accompany stress: conflicts, important events, illness. Normally, a person recovers quickly after the situation is resolved, but when upset, negative emotions do not go away. nine0003

The intensity of anxiety varies from mild to severe. The extreme is panic. If you ignore an anxiety state for a long time for no reason, then panic attacks can join it. They overtake unexpectedly and sometimes without a good enough reason, but after this episode, a person begins to avoid situations similar to the one in which it happened: public transport, an elevator, or just a crowd of people. This greatly reduces the quality of life and can lead to social isolation. nine0003

Causes of causeless anxiety and anxiety

The occurrence of anxiety disorder is influenced by heredity. It has been found that certain brain structures and features of biological processes play an important role in the emergence of fear and anxiety. Personal characteristics, somatic health problems, lifestyle and various types of addictions also matter. Sometimes there is no cause for causeless anxiety and worry. Negative feelings usually have a trigger - an event or thought that causes an anxious response. However, most people are not aware of their triggers and believe that their emotions are groundless. In this case, only a specialist will help to understand why excitement arises for no reason. nine0003

There are a number of diseases, the symptoms of which are constant anxiety. With causeless fear and anxiety, the reasons may be as follows:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Persistent nervousness and worry over small things that are usually visible to others and last 6 or more months. It starts in adolescence and intensifies with age.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder: obsessive thoughts and fears that are accompanied by obsessive actions that do not bring relief. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is distinguished - a person is indomitably haunted by memories that reproduce a traumatic situation. nine0014
  • Phobias: irrational fear of any, even mundane, things. Accompanied by uncontrolled panic and physical manifestations.
  • Panic attack - an excruciating and sudden attack of panic, which is accompanied by a fear of death and vivid somatic symptoms. The regular occurrence of panic attacks means the development of a panic disorder.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder: occurs after a severe traumatic situation and is accompanied by high levels of anxiety, avoidance and flashbacks. nine0014

These are the most common examples, but pathological anxiety can be a symptom of other disorders or the result of a failed stress management. If you want to understand why there is a feeling of anxiety for no reason, you should consult a doctor. Without clarifying the main factor and working on it, it is impossible to restore health and peace of mind.

What to do with causeless anxiety and anxiety

It is difficult to live in constant stress. If you experience causeless anxiety and fear of what to do, the following list will tell you: nine0003

  1. Talk to someone you trust. This could be a relative, a close friend, a therapist, or a helpline employee. People are social creatures, so communication is a good way to relieve internal tension.
  2. Find a way to calm down quickly. There is not always a person with whom you can share. Therefore, it is important to find a suitable method that will help you relax: breathing techniques, soothing music, aromatherapy, self-massage, and more. If you cannot independently choose a technique that quickly helps with anxiety for no reason, a specialist will tell you what to do. nine0014
  3. Add physical activity to your life. It is a natural and effective remedy for anxiety. Moderate sport relieves stress, lowers stress hormones, and strengthens the nervous system. Get at least 30 minutes of physical exercise a day.
  4. Normalization of lifestyle. Get enough sleep, eat well, give up bad habits. This stabilizes physical performance and neurotransmitter levels, which helps maintain emotional balance. nine0014
  5. Start keeping a diary. Notes help identify patterns of anxiety flare-ups, understand the causes, and notice early signs of their occurrence. Also, thanks to this, you will begin to focus more on positive events that you might not have noticed before.

With excitement for no reason, everyone who regularly encounters this wants to know what to do. There is no universal method, however, the 5 steps listed above are recommended for every person with increased anxiety. This may be enough to alleviate symptoms. But if self-help techniques do not give the desired effect, then with a regularly occurring feeling of anxiety for no reason, you need to find out from a specialist what to do. nine0003

Treatment of causeless feelings of anxiety and restlessness

Regardless of the cause of pathological anxiety, professional help is the only complete method to eliminate the problem. If you have constant excitement and anxiety for no reason, you can quickly and effectively learn from a psychiatrist or psychotherapist how to get rid of this condition.

Due to the diversity of anxiety disorders, their therapy must be adapted to the individual clinical picture and diagnosis. Therefore, only a highly qualified specialist who has experience working with different types of anxiety conditions can tell you how to get rid of an anxiety state for no reason. For example, the therapy algorithm for a patient with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is different from the help for panic attacks. nine0003

For a state of anxiety and anxiety without a cause, treatment includes the following approaches:

  1. Psychotherapy. The most promising direction, which not only eliminates the symptom, but identifies the cause and fights it. Therapy teaches when feeling anxiety for no reason, how to get rid of acute attacks of anxiety, relax, look at life situations differently. The doctor will help to uncover the main causes of your fears and work them out. The patient receives the tools to overcome anxiety and uses them successfully. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is usually used: in the course of treatment, the patient encounters an object of concern and gradually gains confidence that he can control the situation. nine0014
  2. Medical therapy. Depending on the type of anxiety and the presence of associated mental or physical health problems, antidepressants, sedatives, sleeping pills, and other drugs may be prescribed. When anxiety is felt without a cause, drug treatment will alleviate the symptoms and improve the quality of life of the patient during his psychotherapeutic work on the underlying cause. Uncontrolled medication leads to dangerous side effects and withdrawal syndrome, so they can only be used according to the individual course prescribed by the doctor. nine0003

It is recommended to use a combination of psychotherapeutic and drug treatment, but sometimes only the first one is enough.

You should not put off visiting a doctor if you feel that experiences are preventing you from living. Over time, the symptoms worsen and other severe mental illnesses join: depression, neurotic disorders, and more. If the normalization of lifestyle does not help, it means that you will understand how to get rid of unreasonable anxiety only from a psychotherapist. With a timely appeal to a competent specialist, only a few sessions of psychotherapy may be enough for recovery. nine0003

Thanks to modern psychotherapeutic approaches, hundreds of people are making great strides every day in the fight against anxiety disorders. There is no need to endure the painful burden of fear and anxiety, because timely assistance allows you to achieve excellent results: the patient will fully recover and return to a full life, and the improvement will be noticeable after the first session.

You wake up broken, and the alarm clock makes you sweat. Check Yourself, It Might Be Morning Anxiety

If the level of stress is already over the top in the morning; if, just waking up, you already feel incomprehensible anxiety - check yourself against this list. Experts explain the reasons and advise how to cope with anxiety.

Alla Rezyapova

Alexandra Gorn | Unsplash

It's okay to start the morning with anxiety every once in a while, licensed behavioral psychologist Rina B. Patel explains in a Huffpost article. An important presentation, a job interview, and even a nice date with a new partner can be troubling. But if your every morning begins with this feeling, it is worth understanding the reasons. Even if it's not a lot of anxiety, but only a slight feeling of being overwhelmed, experts recommend taking care of yourself. So, what are the causes of morning anxiety called by doctors? nine0003

Contents of the article

Increased cortisol levels

Cortisol levels in the blood are higher in the morning, and this is normal. Cortisol is injected into the bloodstream to help us wake up—but it can make us feel anxious. This happens when the morning rise in cortisol is superimposed on a general state of stress or overload: in this case, the level of cortisol in the blood is already high, and the morning surge creates an excessive peak, says sleep doctor Alex Dmitriu. nine0003

Incorrect sleep patterns

Monday mornings are the best times for cardiovascular disease to peak. An acute reaction to danger, "fight or flight", which makes our heart beat faster, usually releases the body during sleep. But if the level of background stress goes off scale, and every day becomes a new source of anxiety, then sleep does not give a long-awaited rest. And then the morning wake-up call can provoke a real panic attack and even cause a heart attack, which is not at all uncommon. nine0003

Mental health is the cause

Clinical psychologist Lyndon J. Aguiar explains that mental health can determine when you feel anxious. Social anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder can cause morning anxiety, while generalized anxiety disorder or PTSD can cause evening anxiety. A patient who is struggling with addiction will feel extreme anxiety during the hours that he used to set aside for his addiction. nine0003

Of course, one should not engage in self-diagnosis - it is better to consult a psychiatrist to make a diagnosis.

The devil is in the details

In addition to these specific causes, the causes of morning anxiety can be: vivid dreams, obsessive nightmares, PTSD symptoms, a life schedule, an overshooting stress level in general. Bad sleep, bad food, inability to cope with stress - and your mornings turn into a nightmare.

How to deal with morning anxiety? nine0055

If you wake up with a feeling of anxiety, you have "sucking in the stomach", if you have panic attacks in the morning, start by contacting a psychiatrist (or a psychotherapist; in Russia, a competent neurologist can sometimes help). These morning occurrences can seriously affect the quality of life and the ability to make decisions.