You’re reading First Thing, a weekly series on HuffPost helping to make your mornings happier and healthier.
Mornings really can mark how the rest of our days go, so if you have a bad one – it’s not looking good. We’re not saying you have to get up at 5am and go for a run every morning (before having an insanely healthy breakfast), but there are some things you probably shouldn’t do if you want to improve your mood.
Here, we speak to therapists and wellbeing experts to find out what little changes you might be able to make to have brighter mornings.
Mistake #1: Leaving everything until the morning
We often have lots to do in the morning, says Somia Zaman, a psychotherapist, from deciding what to wear, to making packed lunches, packing school bags, and making breakfast. “Many of us are guilty of leaving everything we need to do until the morning, when we could plan ahead and do some preparation the night before,” she says. “A morning spent rushing about under pressure can make us more likely to neglect ourselves, for example not making time for breakfast, which can set our day off on a bad footing.”
Medicine: try making overnight oats!
Mistake #2: Reaching for your phone first thing
No surprises here. Most people reach straight for their phone when they wake in the morning. “This can have a negative impact on a person’s mood for the rest of the day because you aren’t allowing yourself to wake up naturally,” says Zaman. “You’re also likely to feel more anxious reaching for your phone as soon as you wake, because if you start the day by checking a lengthy ‘to do’ list, you are more likely to start the day feeling overwhelmed.”
Mistake #3: Skipping breakfast
Breakfast not only sets you up mentally for the day but physically as well, says Sarah Campus, a wellbeing coach and founder of LDN Mums Fitness. “It kickstarts your metabolism, and it regulates your blood sugars,” she says.
“By avoiding breakfast, you’re more likely to snack and – in particular – reach for sugary snacks which will give you a spike in energy but an even quicker slump creating a viscous cycle.”
Mistake #4: Ruminating
Scott Macpherson, a lecturer in mental health, says many people identify with the experience of waking up already worrying about all the tasks and stressful things that are upcoming. “Going with these thought patterns magnifies and prolongs negative mood states,” he says. “All the things we worry about fall into one of three categories: unimportant, unlikely or uncontrollable and, as such, worry is a bit of a waste of time.”
When you start the day in a negative thought loop, the thoughts are more likely to spiral into a vortex of negative emotions that affect your mood and your day, says mindset coach, Charlotte Ferrier. “That’s why exposing yourself to the news first thing is a rubbish way to start the day. As humans, we’re programmed with a negative bias and our systems naturally respond by pumping out stress hormones.”
Mistake #5: Hitting the snooze button
Sorry, but this will probably make you feel foggy – and actually more tired, says Campus. “It throws you off your circadian rhythm, interfering with your body’s natural sleep-wake rhythms,” she explains. “Regularly relying on it to sneak in more sleep will mess with your body’s internal clock, which can actually deprive you of sleep and lack of energy.”
Mistake #6: Forcing yourself to get up at the crack of dawn
We’ve all heard of those crazy long morning routines that start at 4.30am – that’s not the end goal, here. James Routledge, founder of a workplace mental health organization called Sanctus, says: “I’m not a fan of the ‘five things you need to before 5am every day’. I believe we have to be kind to ourselves and create our own morning routines that work for us.
“Everyone’s different: if you’re a morning person, maybe 7am sun salutations are a good thing. If you love a lie in, maybe an 8am alarm followed by Good Morning Britain is good for you. There’s no silver bullet or right or wrong, it’s about what works for you.”
Mistake #7: Reaching for caffeine and sugar
For those who suffer with anxiety, it’s often much worse in the mornings, says Phil Bridges, founder of mental health organization The Mind Map. “The stress hormone cortisol is released as a response to stress, and science shows cortisol is highest in the first hour of waking for those experiencing stress.”
Often when stressed, people make the mistake of reaching for caffeine and sugar as quick fixes, he says. These can increase your anxiety. “Instead, try to incorporate nutrients like zinc, magnesium, vitamin B and omega-3 fatty acids – linked to calming down anxiety. Avocado and eggs is a good solution.”
Mistake #8: Planning for the work day
Some say writing a to-do list, either literally or mentally, is a good way to start the day. But it doesn’t work for everyone. Dannielle Haig, a psychologist, says: “The most effective time to plan your day is the night before, because it enables you to park your work for the day enhancing a positive work-life balance.
“If you write your list whilst everything is fresh in your mind at the end of the day and then you can rest knowing you have tomorrow set to handle whatever you need to get done. It gives you a sense of control and contentment making your recovery time effective.”
Mistake #9: Not hydrating after sleep
“You’ve not drunk anything for six to nine hours straight, you are dehydrated,” says Laura Connor, a life coach. “Do not reach for the coffee first, it’s a diuretic and will dehydrate you further.
“Drink a large glass of water, at room temperature on an empty stomach, before you do anything else! This will hydrate you, make you more regular and help with detoxing. Most people aren’t aware that dehydration causes a release of stress hormone, cortisol, so get hydrating before you face the day.”
Mistake #10: Allow external sources to influence your day
Tee Twyford, a coach and founder of hustle + hush, says: “One of the biggest mistakes we make in the morning is to allow external sources to influence our day before we’ve had a chance to listen to our own inner voice. I’m not even talking about our partner, family or flatmates – as most of us will reach for our phones and check our WhatsApp messages, inboxes, social media newsfeeds and news alerts before we acknowledge the person next to us.
“All of which means, before we’ve even checked in with ourselves and what we might need, we’ve opened up the floodgates of a very noisy world.”
First Thing is a weekly series on HuffPost UK Life giving you tips and advice on how to enjoy your mornings. Whether you’re an early bird or night owl, starting your day off right will make for a happier and healthier day. We’ll be sharing exercise advice, nutrition guidance, as well as ideas on forming new habits. (And no, the answer to a productive morning isn’t just setting an alarm for 5am!)