Morning routines can be a struggle even for those who are naturally “morning people.” If you’re facing a busy schedule and/or managing a family, the impetus to get up and get going stat can be extreme — but for an optimal day of productivity and positivity, it’s best that we take some time to ground ourselves and start the day on a good note.
How much time? While it does depend on how early you rise and what sort of relaxation methods you prefer, we’ve determined, through conversing with mental health experts and life coaches, that a half-hour should do the trick.
We’ve broken this 30-minute routine into two, five- and 10-minute intervals. Here’s what to do, starting with the moment you open your eyes to get your day on the best possible track. You can do this all before a workout, shower and breakfast, or build these activities around those essentials.
First 2 minutes
Many of us use our phones as our alarms. That’s fine — so long as you can resist the urge to read any missed messages or emails once you’re awake. If not, get an old-school alarm and keep your phone elsewhere. It’s critical that you’re not distracted at all during this routine.
“That split second when you wake up counts the most, because right then and there you can set the tone of your new day for how you want it to be,” says Jacqueline Pirtle, an energy healer, mindfulness-happiness coach, and author of “365 Days of Happiness: Because Happiness Is a Piece of Cake.” “Your first thought should be something like, ‘this will be and is already the best day ever,’ or ‘I am healthy, abundant, successful and happy,’ or ‘life loves me,’ and so on.”
These thoughts may not come automatically to you in the morning, so try rehearsing them while falling asleep the night before.
5 minutes: Mindfulness techniques and deep breathing
“I recommend that all my patients engage in some sort of meditation or prayer first thing in the morning,” says Dr. Nicole Bernard Washington, a board certified psychiatrist and the chief medical officer at Elocin Psychiatric Services. “The benefit is to clear your thoughts and allow you to start the day with a clear mind.”
“Gratitude affirmations are a great way to start the day as well,” Washington says. “By starting the day making gratitude statements you allow yourself to focus on the positive things in your life. In a world that tends to highlight the negative, starting your day off on a positive note can have positive effects on your mood.”
You can also incorporate breathing exercises to help achieve clarity.
“While laying in bed, breath in through your nose, hold it for five seconds and then release the air through your mouth,” instructs Dr. Erlanger ‘Earl’ Turner, a licensed clinical psychologist and assistant professor of psychology at the University of Houston-Downtown. “Repeat these steps several times. It should help to relax the mind and body.”
5 minutes: Journaling, which can also be done in bed
The urge to pick up your phone or laptop is probably powerful now, but hold off for just another five minutes and instead take to pen and paper (ideally you should keep a journal on your nightstand).
Christie Tcharkhoutian, M.A., MFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist finds “writing upon waking” to be beneficial.
“Some brain research suggests that this practice is helpful for brain integration because it helps to integrate parts of the brain that involve linguistic and creative capabilities, setting a tone of creativity and balance for the rest of the day,” she says. “Writing something positive — such as three things you are grateful for or a positive intention for the day — can help to improve mood throughout the day. Our dream life and subconscious work overtime in our sleep and channeling that stream of consciousness as soon as you wake up into writing helps to feel more connected and mindful throughout your day. Writing continues that creative flow from your dream life into your day as opposed to automatically waking up and looking at your phone, reading and consuming information which can put a creative block and interfere with your ability to stay present throughout the day.”
If journaling isn’t your thing, listen to positive messages you recorded
Journaling may be a practice you’re not into, or prefer to do at night. If either is the case, consider making a recording of yourself reading daily affirmations aloud and listen to them instead.
“To implement daily affirmations into your morning and set an intention by reading them aloud to yourself, or listening to a recording of yourself reading them every morning,” says Tcharkhoutian. “If positive statements about your identity are replaying like a broken record, they will combat the negative beliefs that can creep in and sabotage your day.”
5 minutes: Write down essential tasks for the day
Once you do the aforementioned practices, you can get down to the business of the day — but before your mind starts buzzing with to-dos, use these five minutes to itemize, prioritize and be super specific with what you want to achieve today in list form.
“Don’t just [write] ‘check emails.’ Write down, ‘check 20 emails in 30 minutes from x to x time,” says Stephanie Lincoln, a licensed mental health counselor, certified fitness trainer and the Founder/CEO of Fire Team Whiskey. “We all have hundreds of items on our to-do lists, and this helps us prioritize just five essentials for that day to not feel so overwhelmed.”
“Make sure your essential tasks are focused on your current priorities,” adds Lincoln. “We all suffer from ‘shiny object syndrome’; the thing that is the loudest and most flashy is the thing we will focus our attention on, but step back and ask yourself, ‘Is this really a priority, or is it just the most appealing one I want to work on because its shiny?’ Identify the one task you are dreading the most and make that #1 on your list. Get that done first because most likely, the most dreaded task is usually the most important one.”
Check off each item as you go through the day so that later you, you can relish the accomplishments.
10 minutes: Time with family (including pets)
You’ve now devoted 17 minutes to grounding yourself, meaning you have 12 minutes left. Now is the time to enjoy quality time with family.
“Set aside ten minutes for family,” advises Forrest Talley, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist. “Parents with young children will find this challenging in that they are busy getting them into their school clothes, organizing school lunch bags, etc. But for those with teens, or empty nesters, this can be a great time to connect before the business and stress of the day take on a momentum of their own.”
If you have pets, make them a part of this time.
“The bond between [pet] owners and their pets is often very strong, and a source of significant happiness,” says Talley. “Including a little quality time in the morning insures this bond is not neglected.”
What to do with those two extra minutes? You shouldn’t have a problem using them now that you can get your phone back.
The article “A 30-Minute Routine That Will Clear Your Mind and Banish Stress” originally published on NBC News’ BETTER.