Why Is My Grief Worse In The Morning?

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. 

  1. Pick your clothes the night before and have them laid out, so you aren’t taxing your brain with decisions in the morning.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Create a morning playlist. Use the songs that bring you joy and get you going. Press play immediately in the morning!
  9. 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.
  10. 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?

November 21, 2019

20 responses on "Why Is My Grief Worse In The Morning?"

  1. This is the first Christmas without my granddaughter who died of a brain tumour, aged 9, in January. As soon as I wake up every morning she is there in my head. I miss her so much. I can’t bear to stay in bed, I can’t bear to get up. I have overwhelming feelings of fear, anxiety and panic – I don’t know why as the worst has already happened. I am so sad, for her, for her parents and for me. I just miss her so much.

  2. I’ve never been a morning person, my dad certainly was though, but I’ve found mornings to be even harder since he died, nearly 5 years ago. I wake up thinking, he’ll never see this day and I won’t be able to tell him about my day. And then I think of all the things I need or should do and all I want to do is pull the blanket over my head and go back to sleep. Some days I do, and this article is helping me to accept those days as and okay thing and I appreciate the tips to overcome it on the days I have to get moving!

  3. My darling daughter died 4 years ago. With Christmas looming, her favourite time of the year, my grief sometimes feels overwhelming. Mornings are more difficult as that is the time I spend alone at home. I sometimes can get through an hour or other times its mere minutes before thinking about her and then the tears flow..I can talk about her quite happily but thinking about her makes me sad…if that makes any sense. I feel very alone in my grief as I feel I can’t talk about it with my husband or my other 3 daughters for fear of upsetting them, so I carry it alone. My 6 year old grand-daughter is my real source of joy and I believe was sent to help me on this journey. My relationship with God and my faith has also been shattered which is an additional loss.

  4. My mornings are hell. An instant after waking I remember that my darling wife is not next to me nor anywhere else in this lonely house. Then GRIEF hits me and the tears flow. My wife died April 16, 2018, four months before our 52nd wedding anniversary. Grief is debilitating. I bear up due to God’s help and mercy, and God’s promise that I will see my wife again in Heaven face to face in the flesh.

  5. My son died in a motorbike accident 16 years ago. He was 17. Next year he will be gone for as long as he was alive. For some reason this scares me so much. Mornings are definitely the hardest for me. I am quite teary and dread getting out of bed. I no longer work. I have lost my passion for life/living. I meditate daily and practice gratitude which does help. I wish I could wake up and feel like I used to. I live on my own. I have a dog thank goodness. She is good company. Christmas is coming. I will be spending the day at my mums with my 2 older brothers. I’m always feeling very emotional on the day and can’t wait for it to be over so I can go home and sleep. No one mentions my sons name anymore and they think I should be over my grief by now but it never goes away. I love you Hayden and I miss you everyday

  6. I think my grief is wo rese in the morning because he was murdered (and we now know he died some time between 9 a.m. and 10:28 in the morning.)
    We DON’T know how long it took, if he suffered and how he felt being trapped inside Tower 1 where worked, with nobody to help him.
    We know he was above the impact point and that every single exit (out of 5 possibilities) was cut off.
    I hate the hours between 9 and 10:28 am. But my mom, who died in 2007 went at 9:15 am.

  7. I so can identify with this article. My mom passed away the day after my birthday, at the end of august of this year. It was under very traumatic circumstances and i was a witness. She was very sick and we knew she would be leaving us soon but not like this. I dream about her then wakeup, unable to move and overwhelmed with grief. I dont know how i will be able to start working again..
    Anyway, i am so sorry for everyone’s loss and grateful for this website. ❤

  8. Thank you for reaching out to those of us trying to find our way through this wilderness of grief. Around each corner is a new experience. I must say that the works and writings of Dr. Alan Wolfelt from the Center for Loss and Transition has been a great help. After a 40 year marriage ending in divorce, I found the love of my life. The loss of my soulmate and partner of thirteen years has been devastating but he has left me with a reservoir of happy memories that I now have learned to tap into each morning and night to feel his love and nearness. I wish this for everyone. It has now been four years since he passed and I am starting to think about starting a new life at my age of 77 years. I have learned that those who love deeply will love again and if not, that is ok too. I feel blessed to have loved and to have been loved so completely.

  9. Thank you for this great article. My grief has been worse in the morning. I lost my husband, soulmate, lover, best friend in May. It was too sudden. I wake up every morning thinking it was just a bad dream. But no, it happened. He had just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and a rare kidney disease. But it was an ulcer that went septic that got him. He lasted only 15 days and I felt like I never had a chance to talk to him and really say goodbye. I say good morning to him every day by ringing a singing bowl and write to him in my journal. Loosing my sweetie has been the hardest thing I have ever endured. This blog helps.

  10. Losing a partner is a devastating experience, where do I go from here,who do I sleep and wake up next to in the morning, no one to hold hands with,go to the beach,the movies or just enjoy sitting outside in the open field and counting the stars together. Years of friendship,bond,memories all blown away due to an untimely exit. I am in pains, my heart bleeds,my soul and my body feels completely empty, there’s a void in my life and I’m still wondering is this pain ever going to STOP!!!

  11. hello i just wanted to reach out and say i am sorry for the brutal pain you are all going through. there really are no words..
    i myself am in incredible pain in grieving over a year now after an excruciating break up
    after 11 years from someone i loved more than i can say, due to his mental illness. my soulmate in every way.
    it’s a very alone time as some of you have said.. pain that is too hard to describe, wanting to end things and just not be around anymore, too hard to be around family gatherings and every moment of the day seems impossible to get through.
    It’s very hard when people also think that because a partner hasn’t actually ‘died’, that the pain and grieving are not the same. but that is not true, loss is loss and in my case it has been horrendous as due to the mental illness, it has not been a closure that allows proper grieving process, and a host of other incredibly hard things to get through on top of everything.
    Having someone out there that is still walking around in the world that you can never be with ever again is a world of haunting pain that just cant be put into words. And feeling his pain too is like a double grieving i am going through as a couple counseling professionals pointed out to me.
    i looked everywhere in my city for a support group for grieving but all they have is for bereavement, and i was told that i wasn’t able to be included when i asked if anyone going through painful grief could join.
    I wish all of us here were in the same city so we could all meet up in person regularly.
    I don’t know where you all are, but i’m in Victoria b.c.
    I guess the only one thing that takes away this acute devastating pain of loss of a loved one, is simply, time…
    As painful and hopeless as that feels.
    Love and healing out to you all,
    Tara

  12. My grief is anytime .. and I don’t really know what are the triggers , my husband died just over a year ago we were together 52 years , he was my soul mate and such a big character , I miss him daily as do my two sons … We knew he was going to die in a few days as he was on dialysis and it was not working and continually falling and he broke his femur bone .. lots of other problems too getting an infection from his dialysis line it went straight into his blood and then spine , he was always in great pain , and to think of him suffering so much is part of my grief … He decided to switch of his dialysis he lasted 4 days after that .. he asked to be forgiven he didn’t want leave us … I told him he had done nothing wrong , nothing to forgive .. he was so brave … but I talk to him every day , it is my comfort , but some times the grief just hits you hard; wham ! And then the sobbing starts .. and I wrote a poem ” I just want one more moment with you “

  13. I sure can relate to this article totally. Lost my best friend of 51 years 8 months ago now. She died alone in her home suddenly and unexpectedly and was not found for weeks after her death. I am so lost without her. I feel like half of me died when she died. Mornings are my hell now. I swear I try so hard not to cry but omg it just seems to sneak in and get me when I least expect it too and I find myself in tears bawling my eyes out almost every morning since she died. I know now my life is changed forever and nothing will ever be the same…grief changes shape but it never goes away. I guess I will cry til the day I die for the emptiness I feel and for the loss of my friend. It is hard to start a new day knowing she will never see it and I guess that is why I end up in tears every morning now. Wonder if it will ever end or shall this be my new normal now in my life? Grief stinks.

  14. Thank You for my therapy of the day’ For giving your time to write and be helpful to your fellow grievers’ though yourself being in a messy transition and going through a rough stretch’
    A widow of a year myself’ my grief is ongoing’ morning ‘ noon and night’ anything at any minute can be a trigger and make me sob and weep profoundly’ Indeed a tough reality to adjust to’ that from now on , no matter what’ I am alone’ I am the odd one everywhere I go’ In any family gathering, I feel my husband’s absence the most’ while the rest of his family casually have gone on ‘busy with their families and daily duties’ I am the one feeling the void’ the emptiness deep in my ruined heart’ . . . . . . . Laura’

  15. My partner died 15 months ago (today would have been his 80th birthday, actually)…I find both morning and nighttime difficult. But lately I’ve been allowing myself after waking to stay in bed for a bit and instead of going into an automatic gloom, I do deep meditation-style breathing right there in bed (no cross-legged seat on the floor, no moving from where I am). After that I tense/relax my muscles (an all-over tense)…this has helped, I must say. If you need it, there are guided morning meditations on a free app called Insight Timer (I think Calm is another good one). I’ve yet to find a good bedtime strategy!

  16. I also experience deep grief in the AM’s and more on Sundays. it has been 2 and a half years now and the pain is just as bad now as it was then. I a not a mornning person so when I lay there and don’t get up, I call it : “going in the weeds”. I do practice gratitude and it usually gets better when I get up and get going. I am so tired of this grief. It really wears on me. I do my best to stay positive but it hits me in waves that take my breath away.

  17. I like you am traumatized by my husbands death.
    My mornings are soent in bed. I do not want to do anything except lay in bed and think about the last week in the hospital of my husband’s life and cry.
    I tell myself every day to het put of bed. that my husband is,really gone forever and I must help myself get through this suffering. But it does not work for me . I will go on trying

  18. I really found this article very helpful. I like the ten things to do list. I am not a morning person even though I have to get up at 5:30 each day. But I never really thought about why my grief is the worse in the morning but now it is a little clearer. I also know that it continues on my ride to work and usually once I get to work and get busy, it lightens. Thank you

  19. Every morning I wake up and start the grieving process all over again. For me its only been since August 9,2018 but already feels so much longer. In the morning I get up and always feels the thought of “why another day for me”? But the fact is its not worse in any breakdown period or morning or night. Its there from morning to sleep. My thoughts are constant all day long and especially at the job I have taken just to get out of the house and away from this tomb. But I dont get away-I merely take them on the road with me working as a school bus attendant. Just to have something -anything even after being retired and now 65. We retired together to enjoy our “time of our life” that we so earned-but she and I were robbed only 2 months into it by shocking horror of cancer we never saw coming. ! Now I await the morning I no longer get up but will I even know?

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