Why I’m Reading Away My Morning Anxiety

I am not, by any means, a morning person.

In fact, I’m the polar opposite. Mornings crush me. Ever since my earliest days in undergrad eight years ago, I’ve struggled with acute morning anxiety. At my best, I’ll wake up and internalize my worries for a few hours, with the anxiety usually subsiding as the day goes on and the more activity I have to endure.

But at my worst? Ha. It’s not very pretty. Think: crying spells, panic attacks, and/or emergency phone calls to my saint of a father who can talk me out of any mental spiral.

This was my morning for years. Until only a few months ago, waking up was a roll of the dice—I never knew what I was going to feel.

It came to a head one morning while I was showering before work. As I shampooed my hair, I just couldn’t stop fretting. My mind wouldn’t shut up, and the anxious thoughts kept rolling in about, quite literally, everything: my career, my sister in Boston, my dog in New Jersey, how I could possibly make it through another busy day, etc., etc.

When I got out of the shower, I stopped and just sat on the edge of my bed. I needed to get out this headspace ASAP, otherwise it would completely destroy the rest of my day as it had done so many times before. So, on a lark, I grabbed the book on my bedside table and just read, in my towel, for 15 minutes.

And you know what? It helped. A lot. As I put the book down to finally get dressed for work, I felt grounded. The deluge of thoughts and feelings of panic had dwindled almost entirely. It was as if, in those 15 minutes, I had forgotten what had riled me up in the first place.

I don’t know why it was such a surprise—books have always my best escape. I was a voracious reader in elementary and middle school, devouring every Junie B. Jones and Judy Blume story I could get my hands on. My fervor for reading only blossomed in high school when I was introduced to the classics; I even have a Kate Chopin quote tattooed on my forearm after first reading “The Awakening” in eleventh grade.

The point is, reading brings me joy. Getting lost in a book allows me to lose myself and the stream of worries, that unfortunately, love to hack my brain. It was almost comically obvious—why wouldn’t I turn to my happy place in the middle of a downward spiral?!

Since then, I try to read every morning. Just before getting out of bed, I’ll grab my book on my bedside table (currently Stephen King’s “The Shining” which, oddly enough, soothes me in a weird, twisted sort of way) and do what I love the most for just 15-20 minutes. This clears my mind and poises me for the journey ahead. And on the days where my anxiety still manages to creep in, I allow myself to pause, find the next chapter in my book, and reroute those negative thoughts and emotions.

I recognize morning anxiety is something I’m always going to have to battle. But by starting my day doing something I genuinely love and providing myself with a healthy diversion, I feel more armed to win that war, or at the very least, cope with it.