Stressful life events, health concerns, and interpersonal 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.

Learn more about anxiety in our dedicated hub.

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Possible triggers for morning anxiety include the following:

Life stressors

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

  • 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, which people often refer to as the stress hormone, as a response to a real or perceived threat.

The body releases an abundance of cortisol in the morning. When cortisol wakes a person, medical professionals refer to this as the cortisol awakening response (CAR). An increase in cortisol levels can worsen symptoms of anxiety, such as heightened blood flow and adrenaline levels.

Sleep disturbance

A lack of high quality sleep can worsen anxiety symptoms. In addition, people with regularly disrupted sleep are more likely to have an anxiety disorder.

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

Learn more about the science of sleep in our dedicated hub.

Substance or alcohol use

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

For example, having a hangover from excessive alcohol consumption can increase anxiety in the morning and throughout the day. Research also shows that cocaine use can also worsen anxiety symptoms and increase the risk of an anxiety disorder.

Learn more about the effects of substance misuse here.

Physical health issues

Chronic physical illness can 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 do have another disorder, such as depression or bipolar disorder, their symptoms of anxiety may get worse. This exacerbation can lead to a person waking up with anxiety in the morning.

Learn more in our dedicated mental health hub.

Generally, a doctor, psychiatrist, or psychologist diagnoses anxiety. A person will typically see them to discuss 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 is likely to perform tests to help rule out other conditions, depending on what symptoms a person is experiencing.

Finally, they may 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 that is causing symptoms of anxiety.

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

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

  • exercising regularly
  • avoiding alcohol and other drugs
  • practicing deep breathing techniques
  • meditating
  • practicing yoga
  • eating a healthful diet
  • trying to avoid stressful situations

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, it’s important that a person talks with a doctor about their anxiety symptoms and available treatment options.