Why are mornings difficult? (Part 1)


If you suffer from anxiety and/or depression or any other psychological difficulty, it seems that for many, the mornings can be particularly difficult.


The start of the day, from waking, seems to feel overwhelming. Perhaps it feels as though you simply cannot make it through the day. It seems that from this moment you are filled with dread?


These moments are so overpowering that any belief that we can get through the day, that it will be okay, that we may enjoy it, simply cannot exist. I will get back to this bit later!


When we start to wake

When we move from sleep towards wake we are in a transitory space, not asleep but not awake. To understand this a little more, we need to look at sleep stages:

  • Stage 1 non R.E.M (Rapid Eye Movement) Sleep

  • This is the stage where we move from a waking state towards a sleeping state. Here we are dozing and our breathing starts to slow which then leads to our muscles starting to relax. This is why many relaxation techniques start by focusing on breathing! Your brain waves (activity in your brain) moves from a daytime state (which is for most people more active than sleep states).

  • Stage 2 non R.E.M Sleep

  • Here your body further moves towards R.E.M sleep, breathing slows a little more and muscles relax a little more. Brain activity reduces a little more but there are brief moments, or spikes, of activity. Most people spend more time in this sleeping state than any of the others.

  • Stage 3 on R.E.M Sleep

  • This occurs for longer periods of the first two stages and is what we need to feel ready for the morning. In this stage you are the most relaxed, breathing is at its slowest and your muscles are more relaxed as a result of this. Trying to wake someone from this stage is not easy! REM sleep is believed to be essential to cognitive functions8 like memory, learning, and creativity9

  • Stage 4 R.E.M Sleep

  • This stage is so named as our eyes can move rapidly from side to side whilst closed. Dreaming commonly is experienced during this state however your arms and legs are kind of paralyzed. This happens so you cannot ‘act out’ your dreams! Even though asleep and unlike the other stages you breath faster and more irregularly (perhaps acting out dream needs - so if running in your dream, or frightened, your breathing may speed up). Lucky we cannot act this out I guess?


If we think of moving from a sleep state to a waking state, normally our thoughts and feelings may remain from the dreams we have had but are getting ready for the day! If you are anxious or depressed, you may feel your day is too hard, difficult to get through or a problem. You move quickly into a state of ‘get ready for this awful, terrible, frightening day”!

If you suffer from generalised anxiety your dreams will reflect this so not only do you feel the day will be impossible, your dreams have confirmed this and you stir already in a heightened state.


Why are mornings the “prime” time for finding things difficult?

If you suffer from anxiety and/or depression, there is usually an underlying psychological reason for this. When we feel in a heightened anxious or worried state, we are in a very heighted state of ‘I need to be constantly ready to solve unsolvable problems’. (These problems are unsolvable but perhaps require a counsellor to help you understand them better before you can find a useful resolution).


The anxiety can often be from past experiences and this is sort of ‘projected’ onto all that you face.


The torch of torture.

If you imagine you have a torch in your mind that shines on everything that you think about and experience moment to moment. Everything you see is taken in to make sense of it in your mind and, before we can even make sense of what we are seeing, the torch shines a light on it first!


Now for most people, the torch light is a colour that simply means we can see the sights or experiences or feelings more clearly. For most people, they can better choose what they shine their torch on!


However, if you have anxiety and/or depression, let's imagine your torch is RED only red and you cannot turn your torch off!


So whatever you think about, daydream about, dream about, talk about, think about yourself or others, or the things you experience will have your RED torch shone upon them. The result is that they will always be experienced as being RED. Your anxiety makes the torch red. This creates what feels like a never ending cycle. We feel anxious, our torch is switched on and red. When we experience things with a RED colour we become more anxious...the cycle repeats.


Why do I have a torch of torture?

If you have experienced things in your life that have been difficult to make sense of when you were younger. You may have felt lots of difficult emotions and perhaps at that time, you could not find a way to resolve or escape from the situation. This often creates a psychological conflict which may stay with us until resolved, even into adulthood! These conflicts are what makes the Torch red….and often torturous!


How do I change the light colour of my torch?

An effective way of working towards being able to change the torchlight yourself is from counselling. A counsellor can, working with you, help explore the source of possible conflicts and explore ways in which you can find a way to resolve them!