Mornings set the tone for the day. Here’s how to use them to boost your mood and weather hard times.
How we start the morning can set the tone for the rest of the day. But for too many of us, it can be a stressful experience filled with miserable commutes and hectic schedules.
To feel happier during the work day, consider your morning routine ― and what happiness at work actually is. It does not necessarily mean forcing joy, but it can mean finding a moment of inner calm or time for yourself amid deadlines. Adjoa Osei, a licensed clinical psychologist and diversity, equity and inclusion consultant, said happiness can mean many different things to different professionals. And if you’re stumped on what it should be for you, ask yourself, “What do you want your day to look like?” she said. “When you are thinking about work and you allow yourself to daydream, what does that look like? Who are you interacting with? How does your day start?”
The goal is to make mornings a time that you look forward to each day and not dread. Here are different ideas to try out:
1. Drink a glass of water first thing after you wake up.
Hydration is a practical tip for helping your body feel good throughout the day. Osei said she noticed that not drinking water in the morning would negatively impact her body later.
“I would often wake up, I’m rushing, I’m walking my dog … then I’m dehydrated and have a headache for the rest of the day,” she said. That’s why she made a point to drink water in the mornings and recommends it to clients.
It’s an example of a simple but significant change you can do to shift your day for the better. ”It’s OK to think small, like, ‘What are the small things that I can do that have a significant impact?’” Osei said.
2. Reclaim your time and choose an activity that you like to do before you work.
Melody Wilding, an executive coach and author of “Trust Yourself: Stop Overthinking and Channel Your Emotions for Success at Work,” recommends starting the day with an activity that’s meaningful and centers you, like yoga, meditation, journaling or taking a class.
“You feel more in control when you start your day with something of your choosing, before diving into work demands,” she said.
Keep in mind that what’s a nourishing activity for others may not work for you. “For some people, sitting still, turning off any sounds or lights, that might be comfortable,” Osei said. “For other people, that might be absolutely terrifying and maybe your meditation is a moving one. Maybe you’re someone who needs to move and that is something that is relaxing or soothing for you. Maybe for some people, it might be tea.”
“Work doesn’t have to be the thing that contributes to your happiness. You bring your happiness to work.” – Cicely Horsham-Brathwaite, licensed psychologist and executive coach
3. Put the stress of setbacks like traffic delays in perspective.
Some mornings are less than ideal. There can be delayed trains or traffic with no end in sight, and there could be a meeting you are going to be late for. When you start to feel overwhelmed by the setbacks life inevitably throws your way in the morning, take a moment to breathe. Wilding said that one to two minutes of controlled breathing can reset your nervous system and help you regain some feeling of calm and composure.
Wilding also suggested a strategy she recommends to her clients called “the backpack.”
“Put the stressful situation into an imaginary backpack that you shrug off. You can make this more concrete by drawing a rectangle on paper and scribbling down your frustrations,” she said. “Tear up the paper and throw it away, symbolically moving on with your day.”
4. Create boundaries between you and the morning habits that drain you.
Notice what is contributing to your stress in the mornings. Osei noted that for a lot of us, it can be checking work emails and phone-scrolling first thing in the morning.
“If grabbing your phone or if turning on the news are things that start your day in a way that you would not like, how do we create some time to separate that? If you do want to watch the news in the morning, it doesn’t have to be the first thing that you turn on,” she said.
If you know checking your phone is stressful in the mornings, try putting it in a drawer across the room in which you wake up, she suggested. That way there are one or two activities between you and the habit you dislike. The goal is to create a buffer between energy-draining activities and those that energize and sustain you for the long day ahead.
5. Check in with your body if you are waking up tense.
If you wake up wound up, take a moment to take care of your body and help it relax.
“Do you feel tension in your shoulders? Are you clenching your jaw? Does your body feel tight? When you know the signs of stress and tension in your body, you can practice and train yourself to be aware of that and create a new experience for yourself,” said Cicely Horsham-Brathwaite, a licensed psychologist and executive coach.
She suggested progressive muscle relaxation, a practice of tensing and releasing your muscle groups, and taking a short stroll outside as two ways to address this physical tension.
6. Recognize that happiness won’t necessarily come from your work itself.
It’s also helpful to consider where you think you should be getting your happiness from. You may be looking for it in the wrong places.
“Work doesn’t have to be the thing that contributes to your happiness. You bring your happiness to work,” Horsham-Brathwaite said. “It is a mindset shift that is required to expand your definition of happiness so it isn’t so contingent upon the conditions of your workplace.”
Teaching yourself to feel good can help you not depend on outside forces like a job to help you feel happy. And that’s an important lesson that will help you at work and outside of it.
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