Stressful life events, health concerns, and other issues can all cause a person to wake up with anxiety. Although it is common to wake up feeling anxious occasionally, if a person does so frequently, they may have generalized anxiety disorder.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a condition that causes uncontrollable and excessive worrying that affects a person’s everyday life. GAD may cause a person to wake up due to anxiety or have difficulty falling or staying asleep.

GAD and other anxiety disorders can develop over time. In most cases, several ongoing circumstances lead to a person developing a form of anxiety.

People with a history or family history of anxiety may be more at risk than others, but anyone can develop anxiety.

In this article, we detail potential causes of waking up with anxiety and a range of coping techniques.

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GAD and other anxiety disorders may develop due to ongoing or acute stressful life events. It may be multifactorial, and many stressful life events or situations may cause symptoms to worsen.

Examples of stressful life events that may cause anxiety when waking up include:

  • changes in living arrangements, such as moving to a new area or someone else moving out
  • changes in employment, such as switching jobs or losing a job
  • experiencing physical, mental, or sexual abuse
  • the separation from or death of a loved one
  • emotional shock after a traumatic event
  • relationship trouble
  • financial worries

Stress is the body’s natural response to unpleasant stimuli. The body releases cortisol as a response to a real or perceived threat. People often call this the stress hormone.

The body releases an abundance of cortisol in the morning, reaching its highest concentration levels in the blood between 8 and 10 a.m.

After waking, a person may experience an increase in cortisol concentration levels. Medical professionals refer to this as the “cortisol awakening response.”

An increase in cortisol levels might worsen symptoms of anxiety, such as heightened blood flow and adrenaline levels.

A lack of high quality sleep can worsen or contribute to anxiety. People with regularly disrupted sleep are also more likely to have an anxiety disorder.

This may cause a cycle of anxiety affecting sleep quality and poor sleep quality, worsening anxiety.

Alcohol and substance misuse may cause people to feel anxious upon waking. People might often self-medicate anxiety with alcohol and other substances, but these may increase a person’s risk of developing an anxiety disorder.

For example, a 2022 study states that having a hangover from excessive alcohol consumption may increase anxiety in the morning and throughout the day.

Research also shows that cocaine use may worsen anxiety symptoms and increase the risk of an anxiety disorder.

Learn more about the effects of substance misuse.

Chronic physical illness could contribute to a person feeling more anxious.

Although everyone will respond to health conditions differently, a person with an ongoing medical issue may develop health anxiety.

Some common health conditions that may trigger anxiety include:

A person living with GAD may or may not have additional mental health disorders.

If they have another disorder, such as depression or bipolar disorder, their anxiety symptoms may get worse. This exacerbation might lead to a person waking up with anxiety in the morning.

Generally, a doctor, psychiatrist, or psychologist diagnoses anxiety. A person may talk with a medical professional about persistent anxiety, a feeling of being overwhelmed, or sleeping difficulties.

The healthcare professional will usually perform a basic examination and ask questions about the person’s health — including any other mental health disorders — and what symptoms they are experiencing.

Before confirming a diagnosis of anxiety, the healthcare professional might perform tests to help rule out other conditions, depending on what symptoms a person is experiencing.

They may also ask the individual to complete a self-assessment. There are many different types of self-assessment, but they will use the one that they believe will best determine whether the person has an anxiety disorder or another disorder causing symptoms of anxiety.

If a person has GAD or another form of anxiety, their doctor may prescribe an antidepressant. They may also recommend counseling, support groups, or other forms of therapy to help a person feel less anxious.

A person may also take steps at home to reduce their anxiety. These include:

A person who consistently wakes up feeling anxious may have GAD or another form of anxiety. Many potential triggers can cause a person to wake up feeling anxious.

If these feelings persist, individuals may wish to talk with a doctor about their anxiety symptoms and available treatment options.

The following are commonly asked questions about waking up with anxiety.

What can a person take for morning anxiety?

There are various medications a doctor can prescribe to lessen the symptoms of anxiety. Some options include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), tricyclic antidepressants, and benzodiazepines.

One can also try herbal remedies or supplements such as chamomile or valerian. If a person wishes to try herbal remedies or supplements, they may want to speak with a doctor. Some herbs and supplements may interact with medications or other underlying health conditions.

How does a person stop waking up in the middle of the night with anxiety?

If a person often wakes up during the night with anxiety, they may wish to consult a doctor. A doctor may suggest medications or other treatment options to help lessen anxiety and improve sleep.

People may also find it helpful to speak with a mental health professional. A mental health professional may provide coping mechanisms to help people lessen the symptoms of their anxiety.

Why does a person keep waking up in a panic?

A person may experience nocturnal panic attacks due to life stressors or an underlying condition, such as panic disorder.

A person may wake up with anxiety due to stressful life events, disturbed sleep, health concerns, and other interpersonal issues.

It is common for people to wake up feeling anxious occasionally, but they may wish to speak with a healthcare professional if this happens frequently.