Diary of an Anxious Mind Entry 9: What Would John Steinbeck Say?
So last week I spoke about ‘Morning Anxiety’. That is, waking up in the morning with a low mood, a panicky feeling or some other bleak sensation. The source of the anxiety may be known to you – but often it is not. It may simply feel like a black cloud which has settled over your head without good reason.
In the last diary entry, I revealed my own coping mechanism – which is to flee! If I wake to find the demons are lurking, I bolt from my bed; get showered and dressed; then I sprint for the nearest café and absorb the real world. Always works (and Starbucks have made a fortune from me over the years!).
But prevention is better than cure and if I could find a way to stop morning anxiety, I might enjoy a more leisurely start to the day. And on this point, I have recently been pondering the biological side of anxiety.
My interest was piqued after a rare nap on the sofa. It was a Sunday afternoon, my work and family tasks were reasonably up to date; and Colombo was playing out reassuringly on some random TV channel. When the sun moved round to my window I couldn’t help drifting off into a pleasing snooze.
When I awoke (feeling fine), I was struck by an important question. Why does anxiety only attack me when I wake up in the morning and why does it never get me if I wake up after an afternoon nap.
I was reminded of a famous quote by John Steinbeck in which he states that “it is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it”
I wonder what it is that happens inside John Steinbeck’s head that doesn’t happen in the mind of anyone who suffers from morning anxiety!
Because our version of Mr Steinbeck’s observation would read a little more like this.
“It is a common experience that a seemingly non-existent matter at night is turned into a real big f*cking deal after the committee of sleep has worked on it“.
Similarly, neurology expert Professor Daniel A. Barone, also claimed that, at night, a key function of the brain is to ‘take out the trash‘. Again, I suspect that the reverse applies in the case of anyone who suffers from morning anxiety.
I suspect that my own brain actually goes out at night and brings the trash in; it fetches back the mental rubbish that I have already disposed of. If that were not bad enough, it slopes off down the street, ransacking the neighbours trash too – like a racoon. And, by morning time, my head is full of it.
Now you might think that clue is in the name. ‘Morning anxiety’ is bound to affect us in the morning rather than after a daytime snooze but, for me, it’s all about what happens inside the sleeping mind – and we all know that there is a world of difference between a ‘nap’ and a ‘sleep’. Our body clock knows when we are properly going to sleep at night – as opposed to being slothful on the sofa for a couple of hours.
At night, our brain undertakes a vast range of rest and regeneration activities. I was often told that depression and anxiety can be down to a ‘chemical imbalance’ in the brain (which I always thought was a great excuse) but it actually makes a lot of sense! And, if the brain carries out a lot of chemical processing at night then it makes sense that morning may be the moment that you feel any ‘imbalances’ more acutely.
So what exactly is it that is out of balance? What is it that overreacts or under-reacts and leaves anxiety sufferers fleeing from their demons every morning.
Let me remind everyone that I am not a medical expert. I am led to believe that there are billions of chemical reactions which take place in the body and mind every day, so I will not make a fool of myself by selecting one at random! Instead I have picked up a couple of common suggestions which crop up when reading around the subject of morning anxiety.
One is that adequate Magnesium levels are essential in regulating the stress hormone (Cortisol) and maintaining a healthy mind. Many of us are now deficient in Magnesium so is that something which is worthy of consideration?
The other is that, if our blood sugar levels have dropped considerably during sleep, then mornings may start with anxiety or low mood.
As I say, I’m no expert and you should read up on these findings yourself, but I may just toy with some Magnesium supplements and see if it makes any difference.
I would also like to try a jar of honey before bedtime but, as you know, I am also trialling a sugar free diet as a means of stabilising my mood. A spoonful of honey before bedtime will mean that my sugar free diet is out the window. And then I will be at the mercy of all the cake and biscuit delights that I have lived without these last few weeks.
Oh well – something had to give!
Next week: You’ve Got the Power!