By Carolyn Steber, Bustle
It's natural to assume that everyone wakes up with a feeling of worry, stress, and dread — the kind that propels them out of bed and into a busy day. And to some extent, that's true. It's common to experience some stress in the morning, but if it's happening regularly, it may actually be a sign of high-functioning anxiety. And that's not something you'll want to ignore.
"People with high-functioning anxiety tend to stay at a steady frequency of low to moderate levels of worry throughout the day," therapist Melissa Coats, LPC, of Coats Counseling, tells Bustle. "It is not enough to send them into a full panic attack. But it is enough to take up plenty of brain space and energy during the day."
Some people might even admire you for your drive and ability, Coats says, even though it actually feels like a "consistent buzz of negative energy." This low level type of anxiety may help you get things done, but it doesn't mean it's healthy. And it doesn't mean it's a good way to start the day.
If it seems like you're waking up anxious, and feeling anxious throughout the day, seeing a therapist may help. Here are a few early morning thoughts that may point to high-functioning anxiety, according to experts, as well as what to do about it.
1. “What If Something Goes Wrong?"
Anxiety, in all its forms, can cause your brain to get stuck in an endless loop of "what if?" type questions. So if it's only 7 a.m. and you're already zeroing in on the things that could go wrong with your day, take note.
"A person who is anxious and worried about what could go wrong focuses on the negative and will [oftentimes] 'expect' things to not go well," psychotherapist Janika Joyner, LCSW, of Elevation Counseling Services, tells Bustle.
You might worry about making mistakes at work, or worry that something will go wrong in your relationship — just to name a few.
If you find that it's getting to the point where you're stressed and anxious the moment you wake up — and are unable to turn off these thoughts — it may be helpful to reach out to a therapist.
2. “I’m Forgetting Something..."
If you tend to wake up with an awful sinking feeling that you forgot something — even though you didn't — this may explain why. "People with [an] anxiety disorder often worry about forgetting to do things," Dr. Helen Odessky, licensed clinical psychologist and author of Stop Anxiety From Stopping You, tells Bustle. You might wake up to a scrolling to-do list in your head, as well as plenty of worries to go with it.
3. “Why Is My Heart Pounding?"
As Dr. Odessky says, "If a recurrent thought has to do with your racing heart — but you are in good physical health — this is a sign of high-functioning anxiety."
Anxiety can cause all sorts of physical symptoms, from sweating, to trembling, to dizziness — and even the sensation that your heart is pounding. If these are side effects you tend to struggle with, at any hour of the day, seeing a therapist or doctor may be a big help.
4. “I’m Worried About My Afternoon Meeting"
While it's fine to scan through all the things you have to do during the day, spending your morning worrying about events that have yet to occur can be a sign of anxiety, Joyner says.
It's much healthier to be in the moment in the morning, and check things off your to-do list as they happen — instead of waking up and fretting about them first thing. And yet, anxiety can make it difficult to think of anything else.
By adding in a few anxiety-reducing habits to your morning routine — and seeing a therapist if things really get out of hand — you will be able to feel better.
5. “I’m Such A Failure"
As Joyner says, "A person with high-functioning anxiety may wake up and compare themselves to their friends, coworkers, or even siblings." And this has a lot to do with the "drive" to be successful and organized that many anxious people feel.
You might lie in bed and think about how you measure up. Or you might scroll through social media, and become convinced everyone's doing better than you.
This isn't, however, a very healthy way to start the day. Not to mention, "playing the comparison game can increase anxiety," Joyner says.
6. “What If Traffic Is Really Bad?"
Many people with high-functioning anxiety get sucked into a worry spiral around seemingly simple things, such as their commute.
"A person who has high-functioning anxiety may attempt to get to work early so that they can start their day out of fear of arriving late and disappointing others," Joyner says.
You might also worry about things like the being alone in the subway, or getting stuck in traffic, or experiencing something bad on your walk to work. And these can all be signs of anxiety.
If it's getting to the point where you're becoming fearful, or are starting to avoid certain places, let a therapist know.
7. “Work Has Probably Already Emailed Me"
"Waking up anxious usually involves the mind automatically going to external stressors or responsibilities," Coats says. "Meaning your first thoughts are about everyone or everything else besides yourself."
Instead of easing into the day, or doing something nice for yourself first thing, you may wake up and immediately worry about your email. You may also reach for your phone, before you even get out of bed, in an attempt to quell your fears.
These are not only signs of anxiety, but are habits that can make anxiety worse. So it's best not to convince yourself that you're just "hardworking" or that you're getting a "jumpstart on the day." If it feels like anxiety, it probably is.
8. “I Need To Get Up Right Now"
If you feel guilty for lying in bed, or start worrying about how you should be helping your partner, your boss, your family, and so on, that's another sign you might have some anxiety going on.
"Because anxious people tend to focus on external factors, rest can often feel selfish," Coats says. "Even rest as necessary as sleep could feel like they are taking something away from the other people in their life."
So if your first thought upon waking is that you need to leap out of bed, it may be time to seek out a therapist's advice.
9. “I Really Messed Up Yesterday"
It's also a sign of anxiety if you can't leave the past in the past, and find yourself consistently worrying about what happened the day before. While it may seem simple to ask yourself things like, "I wonder what my boss thought about my presentation yesterday," this can actually be an anxious thought, Coats says.
But the good news is, there are plenty of ways to feel better. "First thing in the morning, before you do anything else, meditate or start a gratitude practice," Coats says. "Check in with your own body and mind. Be curious about how you feel and give yourself time to wake up, become present, and care for your own self before you concentrate on others."
It may take some effort, especially if you're used to being anxious and stressed in the morning. But it's worth it. "We automatically want to reach for our phone or start the day when we wake up," Coats says. "But the more you practice being mindful in the morning, the more automatic that behavior will become. You are then sending yourself the message that you are worth your own time and self-care becomes routine."
Of course, if it feels like your anxiety has gotten to a level that's difficult to shake these thoughts, don't hesitate to reach out to a therapist. They will help you take the next steps towards feeling better, so you can start your day on a healthier foot — and get your anxiety under control.