Morning…the most important time of the day?
Morning often involves a rushed fury of anxiety: flipping through email, mentally assessing what has to get done during the day and slamming down caffeine. This gets our bodies primed to be stressed and more negative throughout the day. We are on the alert—looking for the next fire to put out and how we can check more boxes off our to do list.
A recent conversation inspired me to write about the way we start our days and how much this can help us shift our mental health. If we develop a positive, calm mindset at the start of the day, we shape the course for our entire day (and for days after since what we focus on rewires our brains).
During this stressful holiday time, it is especially important to engage and rituals to help with self-care. Here are some tips for sending your morning off on the right track:
1.Wake up slowly. Allow yourself an extra 5 to 10 minutes to linger in bed. When you first wake up, notice that you made it through the night and your body is still here and healthy. No matter how you slept, you woke up this morning.
2. Begin your day with a ritual like a hot beverage. The ritual and the taste of matcha helps me feel comforted (matcha also gives me consistent energy through the day without the crash of coffee). Treat yourself to something that tastes and feels good right off the bat. Send yourself the message that you’re worth nourishing.
3. Engage in meditation or visualization. I often start my days by lighting Palo Santo and taking myself to a spiritual place in my mind. I imagine spaces that are completely safe, loving, and meaningful to me (like my Aunt’s house in Columbus). Often I will take myself through various natural landscapes in the world and think about the wonder of our natural world.
I will imagine the rain falling down on evergreen needles, a mountain range speckled by sunlight, a beach rich with grainy sand and colorful shells. I imagine clouds hovering kindly over cities, rainforests, gorges and then changing color and form, dancing into a variety of shapes, intermittently releasing rain and then letting the light through. Sometimes I light a candle and think about how generations of humans have been able to survive because of fire.
4. Gratitude journaling. Write out things you are grateful for in the beginning of the day to set your mind toward an attitude of gratitude, abundance, and joy rather than fear, scarcity, and lack. You may do this in a gratitude journal like this, on a computer, in a text message to a friend, or just in your mind.
Due to our negativity bias, we are focused on lack rather than what we have. Think about the parts of your body that are healthy and allow you to do things you love. Show gratitude for your legs that allow you to walk around and see this world, or your ears which allow you to hear beautiful music. Think of your taste buds which allow you to taste a complex curry or the sweetness of watermelon.
You might feel gratitude for being so held and supported by your community, your family, or yourself. Maybe you feel grateful for living in a beautiful place, or for the winter which allows this time of deep reflection. Maybe you feel gratitude for the journey you’re on, and the fact that you have no idea where you’re going (and how interesting that is).
In order to develop the gratitude muscle, you don’t have to feel gratitude for your entire course of your life. If you’re having trouble, pick out one or two small things that you do feel grateful for–even if it’s your comfy bed or a show you love on Netflix. Start small and remember that feeling grateful is a practice, not usually an involuntary emotion.
5. Poetry, music, books. Ingesting art early in the day also gets us out of our small, task focused mind. Pick up a poetry book by authors like Rumi, Mary Oliver, Robert Bly, or Hafez. Listen to a Debussy composition while making your tea. Read a modern Buddhist text by Pema Chodron, Tara Brach, or Jon Kabbat-Zin. Allow yourself to take in beauty right at the start of your day to remind yourself of the beauty around you.
Allowing yourself extra time in the morning doesn’t just help you feel calm—it sends you the message that you are worth caring for. You’re not just a cog in the wheel running to accomplish things and work and get things done. We work in order to live, we don’t live in order to work and accomplish.
If we can focus on the wonder of being alive rather than what’s wrong in our lives, we become more open to experiences and people. We still have the same childlike eyes which stared at Santa’s half eaten cookies on Christmas morning. We just have to practice.
Emma Kobil is a licensed professional counselor practicing in Denver, Colorado. Her philosophically informed therapeutic approach focuses on helping creative and perfectionist women in their 20s and 30s practice self compassion. Learn more about Emma, or schedule an appointment, at mindfulcounselingdenver.com.