How Having a Morning Practice Strengthens My Mental Health

morning tea

Here we are, another new year and the hopes and wishes for a more evolved you. Since you’ve probably already been inundated with all kinds of ‘how to’s’ and ‘should’s’. I’m not going to even go there. Instead, I want to share with you how I do my best to start off on the “right foot” by developing a morning practice. I’ve found that incorporating a practice of consistent activities into my daily life has helped me find balance over the years. More importantly, I wanted to share how practice has given me a place to return to when everything else around me has become chaotic.

I’ve been trained in the art of “early bird gets the worm” since I was younger. I grew up in a household that followed the rule of, “if mom is up and at ‘em then we all are up and at ‘em”. And my mother was up before sunrise most days…I don’t remember her even sleeping in on the weekends. To this day, I don’t really sleep in unless I’m sick. I say all this to say, I’m a morning person. So I feel obligated to share that waking up early isn’t half the battle for me as it may be for others. 

Find Your Center

Because I’m a morning person, how I start my day plays a huge role in how the rest of my day goes. While I do have the ability to pivot for days that don’t start off so well,  it is much easier to ground myself and return back to my center when my day starts out with a focus on all that is good and lovely. Because all that is good and lovely will then become my go-to position in clutch time rather than panic and run, (or rather anxiety and procrastination). I don’t think I’m alone in hoping for a day where I’m not constantly putting out fires and trying to catch my breath. So, I’ve learned that when I start my day with ease, I go into the rest of my day feeling calm, cool, and collected, which makes me feel ready for the world. And the way I start my day became a practice.  

Proof is in the pudding

Science has been telling us for quite some time that having a routine alleviates stress and anxiety. But I believe even without the academic research, we can feel the difference when we do something with consistency and when we don’t. 

For instance, I like eating breakfast in the morning, it really is the most important meal of the day for me. If I don’t eat my breakfast (or any meal when I’m hungry) I get Hulk angry. But taking it a step further, studies show that, “missing meals, especially breakfast, leads to low blood sugar and this causes low mood, irritability and fatigue”. Feeling hangry is real ya’ll!

Find what works best for you

I think when you’re first starting to build habits it may be helpful to see what habits already come natural to you. You may be able to find gifts in the things you believe are a negative. Here’s a quick example: If you are a night owl and you have been trying your hardest to write in the morning because that’s what all your favorite influencers constantly say they do…you may be better off following the flow of your own body rhythm. Write at night, do your best and most creative work when you are at your optimally best. If it’s night, then it’s night. Here’s my personal example of a slower learning process to finding what works for me…

I already had a habit of reading books often. I love to read! However, I could not read myself back to physically fit. My physical health was the issue and I couldn’t read and then daydream my way into having the strong abs I used to have, and not being out of breath just climbing stairs. 

The problem was I couldn’t find the motivation to go to the gym. The strategy of giving myself a reward at the end of the week to convince myself to go didn’t fly. Going with a buddy, didn’t make it enjoyable or something to look forward to, and whenever I stepped foot in the gym everything just felt…not right. I attempted the gym many times and it just didn’t do it for me. What’s an ‘out of breath from stair climbing’ woman to do? 

Life shifts can come about in the most mundane of actions

So, I took what I did naturally, read – and I used my habit of reading to my advantage…instead of devouring my beloved fiction, I set aside time and started reading books about personality types and how to motivate yourself based on your personality. I started looking up research about the things that get in the way of achieving goals. I theorized that if I could look at my stop signs and red lights with courage, then maybe they wouldn’t be so scary anymore and I could triumph over how they affected my livelihood. I read books like The Four Tendencies and took a second look my personality tests results, (I’ve taken quite a few of them). I found great relief in reading that I may be more vested in other kinds of activities for physical fitness that I overlooked, rather than going to the gym. I experimented with suggestions.  

Surprisingly, I took a renewed interest in martial arts and nature walks. I don’t consider myself an outdoorsy or sports person, and I hate being terrible at things- especially in front of an audience…but despite that, doing these activities make me feel in touch with my body, and in turn my emotions. As a thinking personality type, this does not come easy to me. More and more I can see my fears and anxiety as if they were tangible objects. In this way, I can’t ignore them, I can’t deny them, no putting them aside with busy work, I have to face them. Journaling the morning after a rigorous martial arts practice the night before has really helped me focus my reflective writing. Throughout the day I am better able to look at situations in a different way and consciously learn ways to better cope. 

It started with a small shift. Instead of reading fiction for an hour right before falling asleep on week nights, I switched to reading nonfiction before falling asleep and everything else began to piece itself together from there. I still have a ways to go, but for starters, I’m no longer out of breath when I walk up the stairs. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a win! Which reminds me…

Celebrate the small victories

Just showing up to do the practice in and of itself is reason to pat yourself on the back. We don’t really get participation medals for making healthy choices and changes in our lives, but I don’t see why we can’t pause to acknowledge all of the mini battles we had to fight and overcome just to even get to the starting point. If you’re at, “Yay! I made the bed today!” after a major depressive episode, then go you! If someone shares how they have depression too and are able to function just fine…good for them! But this is your life that you’re fighting for…they don’t fight for it for you. Compare = despair…I don’t even want to play that game anymore. I am already my biggest critic, now, I’m learning to be my biggest cheerleader. I do that by pausing.

Pause is an important practice in my day. I am not a fan of hustle culture nor am I a fan of team no rest. I’m not interested in promoting a culture that teaches us to treat each other as if we’re robotic commodities only as useful as the sum of our good parts. Which brings me to what I consider the best part of how having a practice keeps me well…it’s there when I need it and I don’t beat myself down when I don’t follow it with perfection. I strive to not be married to the outcome of my anticipation, but rather, be open to the possibilities that intentional self-development manifests in my life. Enjoying the journey transforms practice from “just some routine” to a meaningful way to embrace the totality of my human experience in this world. The mental health benefits are a bonus or in foodie speak, icing on the cake. 

Until Next Time…Peace!

Oh! By the way, if you want to learn more about the blogger of this post feel free to check out my about page.

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