It’s never too early for self-care. A solid morning routine can give you all the fuel you need to handle your tasks. There are some small habits we can pick that will ultimately change how prosperous our days are. Here are 9 of them.
If your typical morning is a blur of snooze button hits, phone scrolling, and rushing out the door, might we suggest something different? Developing a deliberate routine that includes a few healthy habits can make your AMs feel less harried, and in turn set the tone for a more mind—and more productive—day.
“Having a morning routine can do wonders for our health and our mood,” says San Francisco Bay area-based clinical psychologist Samia Estrada, PsyD. When people’s typical morning routines were disrupted during the early days of Covid-19, they reported feeling more stressed and burnt out, found one Personnel Psychology study. The good news? “As people started to reengage in a morning routine again, they began to see positive changes,” Estrada explains.
Finding a morning groove can make you feel better, too. While figuring out what works best may take some trial and error, these expert-backed ideas are a great place to start.
Get up a little bit earlier.
Being an early bird can boost your mood. Rising just one hour earlier was found to cut a person’s risk of major depression by 23 percent, per a recent JAMA Psychiatry study. More time can mean more opportunities to be mentally present during your morning activities rather than rushing through them, says Estrada.
That might mean pouring a cup of coffee and noticing the feeling of the liquid warming your body or staying in bed a few minutes longer and soaking up the softness of your pillows and sheets. “It’s the art of savoring, rather than the actual activity, that gives you the benefit,” she explains.
Open the shades ASAP.
Or if not right away, at least within 20 minutes of waking up, recommends Michael Breus, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of Energize!. Exposure to morning sunlight not only helps you feel more awake in the AM, it’ll support better sleep at night.
Direct sunlight triggers cells in your eyes to signal to your brain to turn off the production of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, Breus explains. “It also sets a time for when melatonin production should start again, which will determine when you feel sleepy at night before bed.”
Drink a glass of water.
Don’t worry; we’re not saying you should skip your coffee. Just sip some H20 first. Even mild dehydration can cause cognition and focus to take a nosedive, research shows. And after seven to eight hours without liquid, you’re likely teetering on the edge. “It’s normal to wake up slightly dehydrated,” says New York University adjunct professor of nutrition Lisa R. Young, PhD. “Your body functions overnight without hydrating, and even breathing and regulating your body temperature can lead to fluid loss.” If the idea of downing cold water first thing sounds awful, a cup of hot herbal tea will also do the trick, Young says.
Don’t go straight for your phone.
If you’re among the 80 percent of adults who reach for their smartphone within 15 minutes of waking up, consider opting out. The information overload from work emails, social media, and the news is overwhelming to your brain when you’re first waking up, Estrada explains. That overwhelm cause your levels of the stress hormone cortisol to spike—and more easily flood your system throughout the day. That means you don’t just feel more harried when you first get up but are prone to more tension all day long.
Make your bed.
Pulling up the covers and rearranging the pillows takes two minutes flat. But it can give you a burst of motivation that sticks around all day. Surveys show that three-quarters of adults who make their beds in the morning report still feeling accomplished at the end of the day.
Not that they’re still gloating about their perfectly arranged covers, of course. Making the bed might make you more likely to tackle other items on your to-do list. “Doing something productive activates our brain’s reward center. And the brain likes to feel that reward, so it seeks to complete more tasks so it can be rewarded again and again,” Estrada explains.
Just 10 minutes spent sitting or walking outside can give you a feel-good boost, found a Frontiers in Psychology review. In addition to getting that surge of energy from the sun’s light, exposure to natural spaces is tied to improved mood, less stress, increased attention, and even a greater ability to be empathetic and cooperative, according to the American Psychological Association.
And if you happen to notice a squirrel nibbling on a nut or a group of crickets chirping away, even better. “Animals and insects generally flee or remain very quiet in the face of danger. So it’s theorized that, evolutionarily, we intuitively feel safe when we see or hear them,” Estrada says.
Eat a protein-rich breakfast.
Having a morning meal with protein within two hours of waking can help support steady blood sugar levels and keep you from getting overly hungry, Young says. You’ll be less likely to reach for a sugar snack mid-morning as a result, but that’s not all. Regular breakfast eaters experience lower rates of depression and have better memories compared to those who skip out, research shows.
Don’t worry too much about getting a certain number of protein grams, says Young. Just focus on food choices. Scrambled eggs with whole grain toast and sliced tomato, low-fat cottage cheese or Greek yogurt with fruit, or whole grain toast with peanut butter and a banana are all balanced, protein-rich choices.
You’re probably already familiar with the near-endless benefits of regular exercise. But scheduling your workout for the morning may come with extra perks. Just 30 minutes of moderate-intensity walking performed in the morning can improve cognitive performance throughout the day, found a British Medical Journal of Sports Medicine study of older adults. An AM workout might also help you burn more fat throughout the day (if done before breakfast) and even sleep better at night.
Turn down the shower temp.
Sometimes a hot shower hits the spot like nothing else. But if you’re up for a challenge, consider shifting the faucet to cold for a minute or two. Adults who routinely reported taking hot-to-cold showers experienced a 29 percent reduction in sick days compared to those who skipped the chilly bathing sessions, found one PLoS One study. Experts are still learning about the benefits of cold water therapy, but it’s thought that cold showers could bolster your immune system, according to the Cleveland Clinic. (But skip this one if you have a heart condition, since the cold water can put extra stress on your ticker.)
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