Why you should have a morning routine and how to create the perfect one for you
Many of us wake up and bombard ourselves with what Dr. Ranjan Chatterjee calls “micro-stresses”. You snooze your alarm and wake up late...heart rate rises...then you check your email and that message from your boss makes your pulse jump...and then you race around to get you and your family ready for the day, feeling off-kilter and rushed, piling micro-stresses onto each other before your day really begins.
Each one of these brief blood-pressure-rising instances is a small stress. Each one alone doesn’t impact you too much, but keep piling one on top of another and they add up. And importantly, starting your day with a bombardment of micro-stresses means that you will reach your overall stress threshold sooner.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Welcoming your day with a morning routine that nourishes you instead of depletes you will not only remove unnecessary stress, but will fill your wellness cup from the get-go so that you are able to approach your life with more calm and purpose.
The key to an effective morning routine is creating one that is tailored to you by listening to your body’s needs.
An effective morning routine will look different for everyone. Developing one that works for you might take some experimenting, and it will definitely take some reflection and tuning into what you really need - not what someone else told you is the right way to start your day. Some of us gain more peace from a slower, more easeful morning routine and some of us benefit from infusing more movement and energy from the get-go.
Let’s take a look at how you can create a morning routine that serves you. I recommend choosing one activity from each of three categories: Connection, Nourishment and Movement.
Connection refers to time with yourself to be quiet, tune in, practice mindfulness. There are many ways to do this in the morning and my recommendation is to work on Connection right after you wake up as the first part of your morning routine (and before you reach for your phone!).
TIP: your mind will come up with a million excuses as to why you don’t have time for this or why you shouldn’t do this. Gently thank your mind for its opinion and do it anyway. This is a muscle that needs strengthening and there is a practice to just doing it, even though you might not want to. Eventually you will look forward to your time with yourself and certainly feel the benefits of the practice.
Connection is about practicing mindfulness. It allows you to meet yourself where you are, observe how you are feeling in your body and start your day tuned in, rather than tuned out. This will help mitigate those micro-stresses and fill your internal cup up so that you can approach your day with more equanimity.
Here are some ideas for Connection:
- Free journal upon waking up. Write for 10 minutes about absolutely anything with no pressure to sound a particular way or format your work.
- Meditate for 10 minutes (you can use an app like Headspace or Calm to direct you)
- Journal 3 things you are grateful for
- Read a inspiring book for 10-20 minutes
- The 5 Minute Journal is an amazing resource that combines several of these practices
Movement is about moving your body in a way that nourishes you. For some people this will be much slower and milder and for some this will be a high-intensity work out. Pay attention to how movement makes you feel in the morning (without expectations for what you “should” be doing) and adjust accordingly.
For a long time, I thought that I “should” work out in the morning and that it “should” be high-intensity and sweaty. All the health magazines told me so. The problem was that I actually really didn’t feel well in the morning. When I worked out too hard, I felt crashed out all day at work. I would be so tired the next few days that I would miss consequent workouts, never getting into any routine. Instead of listening to my body, I was listening to outside advice that didn’t work for me.
Once I stopped forcing myself to get to bootcamp class first thing in the morning and started listening to what I actually needed - walking, yoga, hiking - I felt so much better throughout my days. I learned to listen and take care of my needs and then I actually had the energy to do higher intensity workouts sprinkled in.
I tell this story to remind you that with all things wellness it is critical that you listen to your unique body. Pay attention to when a workout is not serving you and when it is.
In terms of morning routine, movement doesn’t always mean “exercise” as we think of it. It can be stretching, walking or dancing, for example.
Here are some ideas for Movement:
- 10 minutes of stretching
- 30 minutes of walking around your neighborhood
- Yoga (at home or go to class)
- Go for a run or a hike
- Attend a workout class
- Put some music on that makes you move and dance for 10 minutes
- Do 20 minutes of strength training at home
Finally, I am a believer in nourishing your body with real food in the morning.
TIP: keep a full water bottle on your bedside table when you go to sleep and first thing in the morning, drink all of it. Drinking water in the morning is important, because our bodies lose a lot of water overnight. Do you find you wake up headache-y and groggy? A big glass of water might be the trick to feeling better. Even better if you add electrolytes and/or minerals.
Again, nourishment is going to look different for every person. It is imperative that you allow yourself the time and space to sort out what works for you. Some people truly are not hungry first thing in the morning and prefer to put off eating and a lot of people could really benefit from a full meal (protein, fat, veggies) to set them on the right path for the day.
I personally have learned that to keep my hormones balanced and my energy consistent, I need a big, healthy meal that includes high-quality protein, healthy fats and veggies within an hour of waking in the morning. This way of eating in the morning can be especially helpful for many women, while men tend to be able to fast for longer without the crash. But it is important to listen to yourself. If you are feeling a mid-morning energy crash at work or like you need lunch by 10:30am, try filling your plate up for breakfast.
Yes this takes more time! Eating real, healthy food in the morning requires more planning than stopping at the coffee shop on the way to work. It is worth it and you are worth it. Take time to plan out your week, do some meal prep on Sunday and learn what products and foods you like and work for you.
Here are some other tips for Nourishment:
- Here are some ideas for a nutritious meal of protein, fats and veggies:
- Skillet with sausage, kale, sweet potato and ghee
- Egg scramble with veggies, toast and avocado
- Smoothie: low sugar fruit (like berries), coconut milk, high-quality protein powder, nut butter, and greens
- Drink coffee after you have eaten
- Manage sugar intake in the morning - skip bread products, sugary pastries, high sugar yogurt and granola. These do not set you up for sustained energy throughout the day and can be hard on your system.
- If you have an intermittent fasting practice, break your fast with a well-rounded meal like the one described above.
A couple more tips to set you up for Morning Routine success:
- Make a commitment to yourself. You can easily keep going without a routine, no one is keeping score here, but know that you are worth taking care of. Showing yourself that you can commit to morning practices will also help you improve and make changes in all areas of your life. There is a reason that most of the great thinkers and influential people of the ages have had morning practices.
- Work with resistance and practice self-compassion. Resistance WILL come up; no need to be surprised by it. Your mind will come up with infinite excuses as to why you should skip it today - and sometimes your mind will win. Acknowledge that resistance is coming up and remember why you are choosing to start your mornings differently. When you miss a morning, be as kind to yourself as you would be to a best friend. The more authentic compassion you show yourself, the more likely you are to follow through and get back on track.
- Start simple, easy, and doable. If you try to go from no morning routine to a complicated sequence of practices that take a lot of time, you are likely to not follow through. We must crawl before we walk before we run. Start super simple. Commit to just 5 minutes of silent meditation to start or a similarly small, completable action. Give yourself the opportunity to succeed. I promise holding the smaller commitment will lead you to deepen the practice in your appropriate timing.
- Wake up at the same time every morning. Go to bed when you are tired. Identify the time of morning that allows you space to do your morning practices. Waking up at the same time every morning encourages your body and your mind to find consistency and your circadian rhythm to regulate. Go to sleep when you are tired at night.
- Do your morning routine before the rest of your house is up. If you are a parent, taking 20 minutes before you get the kids up is so worth it if you can swing it. Your morning will feel less rushed, you will feel more peaceful and your kids will notice. Even 5-10 minutes is beneficial and you do have time for that.
- Finally, pay attention to how you feel throughout the day. Allow yourself to be really honest and ask, did that morning routine serve me? Did that food feel good in my body? In my mind? Did that workout help me feel clear and energized, or did it leave me depleted? Be curious and listen to the answers your body gives you - and adjust accordingly.