How to start a morning self care routine to reduce stress and anxiety

From the moment we wake, the way our morning unfolds impacts the day that ensues. Adding a few simple rituals and creating a morning self care routine can help you to start the day as you’d like to go on

Woman gazing out of the window

For many of us, mornings aren’t a time for mindfulness. Quite the opposite in fact – by the time you’ve been jolted awake by your alarm, dressed, showered, got the family out of bed or bolted down some breakfast, any small stresses you’ve experienced will already be accumulating.

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Starting the day in a rush can mean that we end up feeling tired and grumpy before we even start work. If you snapped at your kids/partner/flatmate… you might be feeling guilty and low. If they snapped at you (after everything you’ve already done for them this morning!) you’ll be feeling tetchy. If you decided to skip breakfast, you’ll feel lethargic and if you try to boost your energy levels with sugary cereals, pastries and caffeine then you’re in for a blood sugar crash mid-morning.

None of us want our mornings to be this way, but the myriad tasks we have to complete before we are ready to leave the house can make every morning feel somewhere between a military operation and a battle zone, and convince us that there isn’t time to do things any other way.

And yet… wouldn’t it be lovely to enjoy some quiet time before plunging into your day? To get ready for work calmly and in plenty of time. To say goodbye to loved ones having not argued or raised your voice. To find time for a nourishing breakfast. All of these things are possible. Okay, perhaps not perfectly so every day, but achieving some of these things most days is good enough for us. Surprisingly, and reassuringly, the changes required to make this happen are small, simple and achievable – no matter how busy your morning is at the moment.

Psychologist and yoga teacher Suzy Reading and nutritionist Christine Bailey have put together a set of simple morning rituals and energy-rich, nutritious breakfast ideas to help you create a calmer morning routine for happier, calmer days. “How we greet the day has a tangible impact on our clarity of mind, outlook and energy levels,” says Suzy. “A morning routine that uses all your senses and anchors you in purpose will help you head out with a real pep in your step.”

Suzy recommends trying this new routine for a minimum of 14 days, and if you can manage a month, even better. Research has found that it can take up to 60 days for a new routine to become a habit so the longer you commit, the more positive the outcome is likely to be. Before you start, download your free Morning Rituals wall planner.

Morning routine poster

Suzy’s mindful morning self care rituals

Suzy’s routine begins with a mindful appreciation. “As you wake, before you take any other action, reflect on one thing you are happily anticipating in your day, even if it is hopping back into bed at the end of it! It can be as simple as thankfulness for another day, for this body, for this breath,” she says. “Gratitude is a powerful mood alchemist so invoking a feeling of appreciation lifts us energetically and sets the tone for our whole day. If there is time, listen out for sounds of nature around you. Tuning in to the dawn chorus can help us feel part of something bigger than ourselves. See if you can identify who belongs to each call and keep a look out for them when you head out later – this a great distractor from worry or your neverending ‘to do’ list.”

Next, select a scent: “Choose a product with a scent you love – a spritz of room spray, or tenderly apply some hand balm or body lotion. Scent has the power to transform your mood in an instant, whether it be via the opportunity to pause and take a moment to enjoy a pleasurable aroma, by encouraging us to soften and take a few restorative breaths, or the scent itself harnessing different energetic effects.”

Suzy’s favourite scents are peppermint or pine for focus; citrus, basil, white neroli and mimosa for energy and lavender or myrrh for calm and relaxation. “Memory plays a significant part too, where particular scents can connect us with treasured times, special people or transport us to precious places,” she explains. “Think about how you want to feel and choose a scent that helps you tap into that.”

Starting the day with a good stretch can also help you to prepare for what’s to come. Suzy suggests standing tall and taking some yoga ‘mountain breaths’. She says: “Stand upright with your feet hip width apart. Place your arms down by your sides and gaze forwards. Notice how it feels to be standing upright, feeling the strength of your legs and the support from the earth beneath you.

“As you breathe in, raise your arms out to your sides and reach them overhead. Gaze up and press your palms together. As you breathe out, lower your arms down by your sides, reaching through the crown of your head and look forwards. Focus all your attention on how it feels to be moving, keeping your mind anchored on this present moment. Repeat this arm movement with your breath six times, noticing how it helps you breathe deeply and how you feel better when you breathe better.

“On the last repetition, hold the pose with your arms overhead for a few breaths, feeling the length of your spine and the strength of your core. Notice the sense of power, energy and alertness you feel when you reach up and stand tall like a mountain.”

Follow your mountain breaths with some mountain side stretches. Suzy says that you should begin with your feet hip-width apart and your arms placed down by your sides. “Imagine there is a pane of glass in front of you and one behind you, so you can’t arch or round your spine, all you can do is elongate and side bend,” she says. “As you breathe in, raise your right arm skyward with your palm facing you, stretching all the way out to your fingertips. As you breathe out, reach your right arm up and over toward your left, making a banana shape with your body, until you feel a stretch through the right-hand side. As you breathe in, bring your body back to upright. As you breathe out, float your right arm back down by your side.

“Breathe in and raise your left arm up. Breathe out and reach your left arm up and over, banana-shaping your body and stretching the left-hand side. Inhale to return to centre and, as you exhale, float your left arm back down by your side. Repeat this action three to six times each side, moving slowly and deliberately with your breath. There is no benefit in moving fast. Once complete, notice if you feel taller and more peaceful than when you began and tune in with the energy that is now circulating around your body.”

Finally, Suzy recommends ending your routine by repeating some mantras: “Choose a mantra that resonates for you. Maybe it’s a simple ‘I am’ statement paired with a quality you’d like to invoke – some of my favourites are: ‘I am calm’, ‘I am resilient’ and ‘I am ready’. Other powerful mantras include: ‘I soften into this moment’ or ‘I appreciate me’. Return to this mantra throughout your day to find calm and clarity.”

Christine Bailey’s healthy breakfast self care tips

It’s important to prepare for the day in a mindful way, but we shouldn’t overlook the role that breakfast can play in helping us feel calm and ready. Award-winning nutritionist Christine Bailey has some breakfast suggestions to help you get the energy you need first thing in the morning.

“As part of a calmer start to the day it’s really important to eat a nutritious breakfast,” she says. “Often when you feel stressed blood sugar fluctuations can aggravate symptoms such as anxiety. Aim to include protein with some healthy fats and slow releasing carbs.”

And if you’re short on time, opt for breakfasts that can be easily prepped in a few minutes the night before. Christine recommends smoked salmon on seeded wholegrain bread, which is a good source of vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids. Another satisfying breakfast suggestion is eggs with spinach to boost essential amino acids which help your brain to produce dopamine and serotonin.

“Spinach is also rich in B vitamins and magnesium which is needed for healthy brain function.” Also on the menu is live Greek yoghurt paired with almonds and blueberries.

“Probiotics [found in yoghurt] have been shown to support stress and mood,” Christine says. “Almonds also provide a significant amount of vitamin E, which has been studied for its role in anxiety prevention, while blueberries are high in vitamin C and other antioxidants, such as flavonoids, that have been studied for their ability to improve brain health and thus help with anxiety relief.”

For fruit lovers, berry chia puddings are another nutritious option. Oats have long been championed for their slow-release carbohydrates, which keep you going for longer. Christine suggests eating your porridge with nut butter and banana, as these are good sources of tryptophan – an amino acid which is converted into serotonin – our ‘happy’ hormone.

Not a porridge fan? Then try oat cakes topped with avocado for a similar mood lift. “Avocados are very high in potassium and also contain magnesium which helps to support healthy blood pressure levels – useful if stress causes your blood pressure to spike,” she says.

For a vegan option, Christine recommends scrambled tofu with turmeric: “Turmeric is a spice that contains curcumin, a compound studied for its role in promoting brain health and preventing anxiety disorders. Tofu is a great plant based protein to support healthy neurotransmitter (brain) function and stabilise blood sugar.”

Find lots of simple and delicious breakfast recipes at christinebailey.co.uk.

Woman drinking coffee in the morning
Unsplash/Amanda Lins

Does it work?

Changing your morning routine might feel risky, so we want to show you that it’s worth a try. So you know it works, we asked 5 readers to test these morning rituals for 14 days to see what a difference a fresh start to their day makes…

“My mental health really benefitted from the positive mantras”

“As a team leader working in advertising, I often feel very stressed,” says Danielle Stevenson, 28, from Sheffield, UK. “I’ve started to use mindfulness to help me cope with my busy life, so I was keen to try a new morning routine.

“At the start of the two weeks, I was struggling to sleep well. I would wake up a lot during the night, so I never felt very well rested. I managed to fit in the routine every day, but there were days when I ran out of time to make breakfast. “I particularly enjoyed doing mountain side stretches in the morning. Previously, I would just jump straight in the shower and start getting ready, but I found myself feeling less stiff and tense after doing the stretches for two weeks.

“I also found the mantras to be really helpful. I made up my own each morning and chose something that would help me face a particular activity. For example, on one day I knew I had a huge ‘to do’ list so I chose the mantra: ‘I can achieve every task I do today’ which provided motivation throughout the day.

“After two weeks, I definitely felt like my stress levels had improved. I’ve started taking breaks throughout the day to breathe and notice the things around me, which helps me to keep calm and ensures I’m looking after myself. “I feel that my mental health has really benefitted from the positive mantras and that being mindful in the morning really sets me up for the day so I’m definitely going to continue.”

Stress level at the beginning: 8/10

Stress level at the end: 3/10

“I’ve learnt to take things more slowly” “I’ve learnt to take things more slowly”

“As a busy mum to two-year-old twins, I’ve struggled to find a calm morning routine,” says Sally Pamplin, 34, from West Sussex. “Before I started, I was worried that I’d struggle to fit everything in with two toddlers, but actually, I only found it difficult on a couple of days.

“To begin with, I found it hard to be mindful first thing in the morning. I’m a subconscious worrier and therefore a busy dreamer, so my mind is busy as soon as I open my eyes but I did manage to fine-tune this exercise.

“After a few days, I noticed that my mornings were feeling less like a race to get everyone out of the door. I also felt more motivated to exercise and bring some yoga stretches or a walk into my day.

“My children reaped the benefits too as I’ve incorporated stopping and taking three breaths into both mine and the children’s days. If the children get worked up or upset, I sit with them and tell them to breathe with me and it has the most incredible effect. The twins have even started to join in with my morning stretches!

“I feel that parts of the routine are totally ingrained in me now – I’m planning to carry on taking time to sit at the table for a wholesome breakfast. Overall, I’d say I’ve learnt to take things more slowly and I no longer leap out of bed as soon as I wake up. Instead, I stay still and take stock. And I listen to my mind and body. It sounds obvious but with the whirlwind of life with a young family that often gets muted. This process has completely opened my eyes to it.”

Stress level at the beginning: 6/10

Stress level at the end: 3/10

“The routine makes me a much nicer person in the morning!”

“I work as a busy reception manager in Leicestershire and often have to get up very early for work,” says Estelle Rogers, 40. “But I’m not a morning person so I was grateful for something calming to do first thing. “At the start of the two weeks, I felt like a bear with a sore head every morning – sad, anxious and depressed. I found that having the morning routine gave me something to focus on other than the stress and anxiety that I usually feel.

“In theory, I should have been more stressed over the two weeks: I had a very busy diary with first aid training, a job interview and I was working a lot of hours – and yet I felt so much more in control than I usually would. “I also found that my mood improved over the course of the two weeks. Basically, the routine makes me a much nicer person in the morning! Usually, I am given a wide berth as I can be a ‘stresshead’ and can quite easily have an argument with myself, but I haven’t woken feeling like that since day three. I particularly love the aromatherapy part of the routine. Most mornings my smell was orange as I found it really energised me; this was the smell of my shower gel. The exercises calmed me, the daily motto empowered me, and the chamomile tea (after my coffee!) also calmed me and made sure that I was ready to embrace the day.

“The breakfast didn’t work for me, so I’ll go back to my old faithful of peanut butter on crumpets. Honestly, there have certainly been less arguments in the morning since I have been following the routine so I’d be silly not to continue with it!”

Stress level at the beginning: 8/10

Stress level at the end: 4/10

“I now wake up refreshed from a good sleep”

“I’ve been trying to bring some self-care into my day, meditating and knitting for relaxation, but I still find the idea of ‘me-time’ a bit alien,” says Gail Cadogan, 48, from Fife, Scotland. “I run my own business making and selling copper enamel jewellery, and I have three sons – two at primary school and one at high school, so my life is very busy and I don’t find it easy to switch off and relax. “Before starting the morning routine, I was finding it difficult to fall asleep and I was suffering from symptoms of stress, with headaches, irritability and a racing heart.

“In the mornings, I’d wake feeling sluggish and unable to motivate myself. The routine has really helped with this. Both my sleep and my waking have improved. I enjoy the morning mantra and stretching and I now feel as if I wake up refreshed instead of dragging myself out of bed.

“It was harder to follow the routine at the weekend and I found it difficult to fit in a good breakfast, as I tend to grab my porridge on the go, but overall I feel more in control and able to deal with whatever the day holds. I’ll definitely be continuing to start my day with positive thoughts and stretching and I’m now trying to integrate more nutritional breakfast foods into my family’s diet too.”

Stress level at the beginning: 8/10

Stress level at the end: 4/10

“I felt more in control of my time”

“Lately, I’ve been feeling that there are not enough hours in the day. As I head into the menopause I need to find more calm in my life,” says Julie Evans, 50, a yoga teacher and holistic therapy trainer in Cheshire, UK.

“For the first week I fitted in the exercises easily – I struggled a little in the second as I was away from home. The breathing exercise, along with my use of essential oils, helped me to start the day with a clear mind and as the weeks went on, I felt that I had more time during the day and I was more in control of my time.”

Stress level at the beginning: 7/10

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Stress level at the end: 4/10

This article was originally published in In The Moment Magazine, issue 29. Discover our latest subscription offer, or buy individual issues online.