Gratitude is a game-changer for your morning
You know how it works. You snooze your alarm until you can't afford to snooze any longer. Or you are woken up by kids and/or pets before you like. You jump out of bed, start thinking about all the things you need to do before you even leave the house. And while you are running to get those done, you start worrying about the to-do's or tasks for that day. It's a routine most of us know can and does happen very easily but doesn't feel so good. Ironically, it's our way to control the day but we end up feeling out of control and overwhelmed. You have the power to change this and science shows that by changing this routine, we can change our biochemistry and how we feel.
Our stress hormone, cortisol, is naturally at its highest in the morning. This is good and necessary. We stop secreting melatonin and start secreting cortisol so we can get out of bed and "get going." The problem is that we tend to raise our cortisol far beyond what we need by instantly worrying, by rushing, by checking our email and social media first thing in the morning. All of this combined with a jolt of coffee, which is the main morning drink for most, can make us reactive, jittery or even just generally on edge. Once we are in this cycle, it can be difficult to wind down. We rush our children to school, rush ourselves to work or to our first tasks of the day and then find ourselves feeling like we have started off in a crazed way. This is not only what I hear from most of my patients and friends, it is what I often experience since I am human. And there is a distinct difference between this routine and a day started with gratitude.
Gratitude has been shown to decrease our cortisol by 23% in studies. Now, that is important anytime through the day that we are getting overwhelmed. But, in the morning, this is especially critical. We tend to start our day in a frazzled mode. What if we started our day differently? It could look many ways, your right way is going to be the one that works for you. Maybe you commit to taking a moment upon awakening before getting out of bed? Just a moment, you can spare that. You find your breath, you inhale deeply a few times and you offer gratitude to something or someone to start your day. Maybe you take those breaths and then slowly get out of bed and as your feet touch the ground, you use that moment as your touchstone? So that you find gratitude just for that, for getting out of bed. Maybe you feel gratitude for what you are able to do that day. Maybe you offer gratitude that you can actually get out of bed and have the gift of physically doing that. Or maybe your life is so hard right now that you just offer gratitude that you are arising and trying to meet the day.
It doesn't matter what or whom you offer gratitude to. It just matters that we change the conversation we are having with ourselves first thing in the morning.
Maybe you do morning gratitude journaling before doing anything else. Maybe it's that you verbally offer gratitude to a family member or pet. Maybe you offer gratitude to your shower, that you have running water to meet you this morning. Are you getting the idea? All and any of these are different than awaking, checking that email from your boss that is telling you ten things needed from you that morning or finding out on Facebook that everyone else seemingly has a happier life than you.
This is a simple tool we can all use. A tool that can make big change. When we have higher cortisol levels, this leads to so many unwanted health effects. Higher cortisol causes higher blood sugars and thus higher insulin, leading to inflammation and risk of insulin resistance. Higher cortisol causes storage of body fat, especially in the middle where we know it is the most risky for our health. See when we are stressed, our body sends messages that we need fuel, to store that fat for later. So sad for our body to get that message just because we are stressed out about a day that has not even happened yet!
David Whyte, the poet, describes in his poem, What to Remember When Waking,
In that first hardly noticed moment in which you wake,
coming back to this life from the other...
there is a small opening into the new day
which closes the moment you begin your plans.
I love that reminder! The moment you start to make plans, you lose the sacredness of a day that has yet to unfold. You have already made it into a day you are expecting or dreading, instead of allowing it to be its own unique moment. Don't close out your small opening. Stay with that extraordinary moment of waking by being present. Use gratitude to shift your morning. Let me know how it goes! And if you are reading this in the morning, I offer gratitude for your attention!