In the early days of grief, every day can feel like you were crushed by steam roller – morning, noon, and night. People talk about good days and bad days. Meanwhile, you can barely differentiate one day from the next. Eventually, you slowly start remembering what day of the week it is. Slowly you start noting that one day felt slightly more (or less) survivable than another. Right around then you might start to notice another pattern emerging: certain times of day always seem worse than others. It isn’t the same for all of us. Some of us are busying asking “why is grief the worst in the morning?”. Others are busy saying to themselves, “why is my grief so much worse at night?”.
Regardless of which question you’re asking, both are surprisingly common. Time of day has a real impact on mood and coping. People talk a lot about how seasons affect our mental health. Whether it is Seasonal Affective Disorder or the grief triggers that come at certain times of the year, many people are very aware of how seasons impact mood. But for some us, time of day can be just as significant and is often overlooked.
Though this is something we hear from clients and readers, from friends and family, I will fess up and share that the reason I am finally writing about it is that I have been going through a rough stretch. There has been lots of loss and transition and stress and a mess of other things. Though I have always been aware that my grief and mood are usually most impacted in the morning, I have been reminded of it with a vengeance. If you can relate, keep reading. Of, if you hate reading, click on the video below to watch a summary of all the good stuff (we get it, grief makes reading tough).
If you can’t relate and are busying thinking “no way, my grief is way worse at night”, don’t you worry. We have a post on that coming next week. Stay tuned.
Six Reasons Your Grief Feels Worse In the Morning
There are a number of reasons grief can feel worse in the morning, and this is not an exhaustive list. But if you are feeling it, this might give you some insight into why it feels so tough.
1. You were never a morning person.
Being a ‘morning person’ or a ‘night person’ isn’t just a matter of preference. There are real genetic dispositions! There are different chronotypes that mean some of us are night owls and some are morning larks. Some of us bound out of bed in the morning, whereas others snooze that alarm 8 times before finally throwing it across the room getting up.
If you were never a morning person, grief can feel like an added weight that makes the morning seem even more difficult to manage. If you aren’t a morning person, it isn’t just getting out of bed that is hard. Your brain usually doesn’t get moving at top capacity until mid-day (and can often keep going strong late into the evening).
Unfortunately, this can mean that even when you’re up, you’re not functioning well. Grief is also making it hard to focus and function, so layer those two together and your mornings can be pretty ugly.
2. Every morning is a reminder.
The reality is that sleep can be a brief reprieve from the pain of grief (heck, that’s why some of us start sleeping too much after a devastating loss – avoidance sure feels good sometimes). Mornings mean waking up to that brief, disoriented moment where you think your old life still exists. You roll over expecting to see your partner or think ‘I have to get my daughter up for school’. Then you instantly remember that the whole world has been turned on its head. That moment, the reminder of your new reality, a devastating reality, can destroy you morning after morning. It can feel like an impossible way to start the day.
3. The whole day is ahead (and that is daunting).
At other moments in life, having a fresh day ahead might have been a reason to bound out of bed. Unfortunately, with the weight of grief upon you, the thought of surviving the day can feel like an insurmountable mountain. Opening your eyes to the thought of a full day of obligations and stressors, or perhaps a day filled with nothing at all can zap energy and motivation before your feet even hit the floor.
4. Diurnal Mood Variation aka Diurnal Depression aka Morning Depression – it’s a thing.
So, grief is not depression, but there can be a relationship between grief and depression. If you had depression, grief can exacerbate it. Grief can sometimes trigger a depressive episode. And it turns out some people’s depression (or even just their mood) is lower in the morning and then improves through. This is actually a very common symptom of severe depression. So, even for people who are usually “morning people”, that can change dramatically when something like depression creeps in. Read more about Diurnal Depression here.
5. Healthy distraction can really boost mood.
As the day starts to wear on, your brain is often forced to focus on things other than loss and pain. It might keep trying to return to that, but it at least gets breaks here and there. These distractions aren’t always exciting – a stop at the post office, a morning meeting at the office. studying for that exam, making a plan for dinner. Even if you aren’t keeping up with those things or operating at maximum capacity, they are little breaks for your brain, and those breaks are important.
Before your brain really gets going in the morning, it is easier to hyperfocus on the cavernous void that is your loss. So, though we don’t advocate avoiding all the time, those little daily distractions can help you to get through the day.
6. Physical movement boosts mood.
And no, I don’t just mean exercise. Just getting your body moving lightly can release feel-good neurochemicals and make you feel a bit more alert. If you are slow-moving in the morning, these benefits of movement might not kick in until you’re forced to get out the door to head to work or run errands. You might not even realize that little movement is making things ever-so-slightly easier, but often it is.
10 Tips for Coping With Grief in the Morning
If you are someone who knows mornings make your grief feel worse (or grief makes your mornings feel worse), what can you do? As with many things in grief, sometimes it is just the little things. These ten tips can help.
- Pick your clothes the night before and have them laid out, so you aren’t taxing your brain with decisions in the morning.
- Pick (and maybe even prepare) your breakfast the night before. Know what you are going to have and put together what you’ll need to make it the night before. If you are struggling to make decisions and function, the fewer you have to make the better.
- Find a gentle alarm. If you’re like me and hate mornings in general, you might have one of those alarms that sounds like a foghorn to make sure you wake up. Needless to say, those might wake you up but they don’t promote warm-fuzzies in the morning. Instead, consider a gentle ringer, a song you love, or a sunrise light alarm clocks. (I have never tried one so I can’t vouch for it personally, but I have two friends who swear by this one).
- Gratitude journal in the morning. If your brain goes to that dark place in the morning, take five minutes to write down three things you are grateful for. I know seeking gratitude can feel hokey and annoying when you’re down. But it isn’t just touchy-feely-woo-woo stuff. There is real research showing it can help boost mood. We’ve written lots more about gratitude here.
- Stick to a sleep schedule. Ugh, I know. I hate this one. But I know what the research shows – trying to go to sleep and get up at around the same time helps.
- Stick to a morning routine. Two in a row that I hate. Don’t worry – I believe in keeping this one manageable. This does not have to be one of those annoying 2.5 hour morning routines that involve yoga and journaling and quiet reflection and a four-course breakfast. A very simple routine can just help your brain have to do less work if it doesn’t have to decide what it is doing next. Pick the things you want/need to do, set an order to them, set a timeframe for them, and do your best to make that your routine.
- Don’t fight your chronotype. If you are a night person, it is okay to accept that. Just don’t force yourself to be a morning person too. That can result in reducing your overall sleep too much. If you go to bed later, give yourself permission to sleep later. This can be a luxury you don’t have, I know. If you have a job with a prompt 8 am start time there might not be much you can do. But if you can ask your boss about coming in later and staying later, or changing to a later shift, it can help. Just keep an eye on it and make sure you don’t use sleeping late as an excuse for sleeping too much.
- Create a morning playlist. Use the songs that bring you joy and get you going. Press play immediately in the morning!
- Stretch, walk up and down the stairs a few times, just move. I am not going to tell you to do a full work out, because who are we kidding? If you feel this morning grief the way that I do, that is just not happening first thing. I need at least two hours of being awake before I can really exercise. But just get your body lightly moving when you get out of bed. It will reduce the temptation to crawl back in bed after you get dressed, or to lay down on the sofa for a quick ‘rest’ before you walk out the door.
- If you find your morning grief has you stuck to your bed, sleeping too late, try an alarm clock app like Alarmy. Apps like this one force you to get out of bed by requiring you to take a photo of something in your house that is NOT near your bed. This one I have used myself, so I can vouch for it. I suggest taking a photo of your coffee pot.
Relate to the idea of morning-grief? Leave a comment! How do you cope?