Motivation can be hard to come by these days. With work and home melding into one beneath the shadow of a global pandemic, civil unrest, and climate change—among other daily personal stressors—depression and anxiety are on the rise. Perhaps, because of it all, your morning routine has collapsed, setting you up to dread the rest of your day.
Luckily, three mental health practitioners are here to provide the tools to help you build back (or maybe even create) morning rituals during a time when you need consistency most. “The first thing I do with all my clients struggling with motivation, anxiety, or depression during this time is normalize their feelings,” says Rachel Hoffman, the head of therapy at Real, an online therapy platform. “We’re in unprecedented territory, filled with uncertainty and fear, and having self-compassion is critical. The routine that you were used to implementing might not apply in your current lifestyle and that could easily shock your system.” This makes it even more critical to reassess your priorities: Consider what you were doing before that might not be serving you anymore. “Try to visualize what would help motivate you and help provide you with the most energy and optimism for your day. This could be anything from a morning stretch to taking a walk with a coffee,” Hoffman says.
Rather than rolling out of bed and going straight to a screen—particularly easy for those of us currently working from home—in the hopes of a more productive day, Hoffman suggests that making “me time” in the morning can actually make us more efficient and less stressed in the long-term. A morning routine is “our way of telling ourselves ‘you come first,’ ” she says. “This can lead to higher productivity and a healthier, well-nurtured mindset.”
As for what to do? Hoffman’s main point is that your activity of choice should not be screen-centric. Personally, Hoffman listens to pump-up music while cooking a hearty breakfast. Others might bring a book to a nearby park with a cup of coffee or do a 10-minute in-bed meditation. “A morning routine should be unique and realistic to your current needs,” says therapist Ebony Medas, LMHC, a HealHaus practitioner. “You can also have different routines for different times.” On higher energy days, Medas’s morning routine includes a short run or some yoga, while on mellower mornings she might start the day with meditation and journaling. She emphasizes that you don’t need to go it alone: “Utilize the supports you have as best you can. This includes asking your family, friends, or roommates to join or motivate you in completing the plan you put in place,” Medas suggests. It’s okay to start small: “While meditation for 30 to 60 minutes every morning sounds great, this may be overwhelming if you are not a morning person, new to the practice, or don’t know where to begin,” Medas says. Start off with 15 minutes of anything. “Anything beyond that is a bonus.”
Below, more ideas to help you create (and repeat!) a morning routine.
“Whether you wake up to pray, meditate, or write what you are grateful for first thing in the morning, it can bring clarity, groundedness, and optimism for the day ahead,” says Christine Coleman, Ph.D, LMFT, a practitioner at DRK Beauty Healing, an organization offering free therapy for women of color. She recommends identifying at least three things you are grateful for every day. “Try not to overthink it. You can be grateful for your job, your friendships, your family,” Coleman says. If you’re having a hard time identifying anything to be grateful for, she suggests getting even more elemental: “[Being grateful for] for eyes to see and ears to hear can be enough motivation to give yourself that push to start your day.”
Develop a “Check-In”
For some, this may be as simple as asking yourself how you’re doing. Medas recommends going through the “5 Whys”—a technique in which you explore an issue or a feeling by asking “why?” five times. Maybe you journal it each morning or simply go through the process in your head from your bed. “For others this may include seeking outside guidance to address what you may be experiencing in a supportive and safe environment,” she notes. This could come from a morning session of individual or group therapy some days.
“Symptoms for depression, or depressed mood, include a loss of motivation to keep up with hygiene or switch out the sleepwear to clean, presentable clothing,” Coleman says. She adds that whether you’re depressed or not, many of us may be losing motivation to do basic things during this time. “Although physical appearance is not everything, looking at ourselves in the mirror and seeing a fresh face and outfit can be an instant boost of confidence. Mix and match pieces you haven’t worn in the past. Style your hair, put on some lipstick. You may be surprised at what you see and more importantly, how you feel.”
Eat a Satisfying Meal
“We’ve all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and I agree,” Coleman says. “Consuming a high-nutrient meal of your choice is not only good for your physical health but can also improve your mood,” she says. Research shows that eating a healthy breakfast can increase productivity, minimize cravings, and help with better self-control. Coleman recommends protein-rich or high-fiber carbohydrates such as oatmeal, fruit, eggs, avocado, flaxseed, spinach, and nut butters. If you can’t face cooking in the morning, try meal prepping the day or night before.
Create Positive Affirmations
“It can be easy to get looped into negative thoughts, especially when it seems as if we are in a whirlwind of negativity,” Coleman says. “However challenging life may seem, offer yourself gentle, encouraging words to start your day. You can say them to yourself, write them on your mirror, in a note, or on your phone. Affirmations can be short, yet impactful,” she says. Some of her favorites? “I’m doing the best with what I have; I will lean into rest and peace; I will welcome and encourage joy today; I am beautiful, wonderful, and unique; and, I can and will overcome my challenges.”
From Vogue US