There are many possible causes of a person waking up with anxiety, including stress from work, school, or relationships issues. Although it is common to wake up feeling anxious from time to time, if a person experiences it 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.
Common symptoms of GAD include:
- nervousness or worry
- feeling restless, on edge, or wound up
- finding it difficult to concentrate
- frequent panic attacks
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 it is possible for anyone to develop anxiety.
Possible triggers for morning anxiety include the following:
Stress is the body’s natural response to unpleasant stimuli. The body releases cortisol, which people often refer to as the stress hormone, when a person feels worried or stressed.
According to one study, the body releases an abundance of cortisol in the morning when a person is under a lot of stress. When cortisol wakes a person, medical professionals refer to this as the cortisol awakening response (CAR).
CAR is the most likely cause of people with or without GAD waking up feeling anxious. For most people, the feeling should pass once the stressor is gone. If it does not pass, a person may wish to consider speaking to a healthcare professional about their continued anxiety. Doing this may also be beneficial for people who regularly feel anxious but cannot identify a cause.
People already dealing with anxiety should avoid alcohol and recreational drug use.
Although substance use and alcohol use do not have direct links to anxiety, they can make symptoms of anxiety worse.
As a result, alcohol or other substances can affect how a person sleeps or how they feel when they wake up.
There is evidence that how happy a person is in their relationship can directly affect aspects of their health. These include illness recovery and sleep patterns.
In a small-scale study, researchers asked 29 couples to record their relationship experiences during the day and how they slept at night. The results indicated that when females reported having positive interactions with their partner during the day, both they and their partner slept better than when the interactions were negative.
In a similar way, relationship status may cause a person to wake up feeling anxious.
GAD and other anxiety disorders may develop due to ongoing or acute stressful life events. Some life events that might trigger anxiety on waking include:
- changes in living arrangements, for example, 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
Finances affect nearly every adult, and many people worry about them. A person may have concerns about how they will pay for groceries, cover the mortgage or rent, or travel to work.
However, for some, thinking and worrying about finances can become an overwhelming problem.
When a person worries about finances excessively, they can develop anxiety that may affect their sleep and how they feel when they wake up in the morning.
Chronic physical illness can contribute to a person feeling more anxious.
Although everyone will respond to health conditions differently, a person who has an ongoing medical issue may develop 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.
It will generally be a doctor, psychiatrist, or psychologist who diagnoses anxiety. A person will typically visit 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:
- doing regular exercise
- avoiding alcohol and other drugs
- using deep breathing techniques
- practicing meditation
- 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, a person should talk to their doctor about their anxiety symptoms and the treatment options.