You’re reading First Thing, a weekly series on HuffPost UK helping to make your mornings happier and healthier.
Mornings can feel tough when you’ve got a mammoth day to get through – whether it’s work-related or just general life admin. There are lots of things you can do to keep yourself energised, but you might find these tips helpful if you need to hype yourself up for a busy day.
1. Work with your ‘hypnopompic’ state
This is a natural state of hypnosis you experience just before you wake fully, explains Leah Larwood, a clinical hypnotherapist. During the hypnopompic, your brain creates alpha waves, making it a good place to explore the mind in a relaxed state. “Once you have an inkling that you are surfacing from sleep, try to hang onto the thread that connects you to sleep and wakefulness,” she says.
“When you wake just roll back into the position you were in and try to re-enter the relaxed sleepy state you were in – at this point, use it to explore what comes up for you on that day.”
Larwood says this state is good for discovering new insights, finding clarity or inspiration for creative projects. So if you wanted, you could drop in a burning question that’s been on your mind: How should I approach this work meeting? The idea is that you’re more connected to your unconscious mind and more likely to have those beneficial lightbulb moments.
2. Open the curtains – no seriously, straight away
Dr Lindsay Browning, chartered psychologist, neuroscientist and sleep ambassador for And So To Bed, says as soon as you wake up, open the curtains wide to let light into your bedroom.
“Bright sunlight will help your circadian rhythm know that it is morning and make you feel more alert and ready for the day,” she says.
3. Write down what you’re worried about
Dreading certain things about the day, like a big meeting, hard task or difficult conversation? The first 20 mins after you wake are a window of opportunity, says Larwood. “You’re still experiencing the relaxing world of alpha waves and you have a strong connection with your subconscious. Try writing it down.
“Start with something specific. Write your question or statement at the top of the page and use that as a springboard for exploring what’s on your mind. At the end, make a note of any findings or insights. Try some free-writing around how you’re feeling. Simply write unedited for 15 minutes. Often you can start to unravel what’s going on, and sometimes, discover the final piece to the puzzle.”
4. Or make a to-do list for the day
Don’t fancy journalling? Get productive instead. “Prioritise things based on whether they are time critical, important, or nice to do,” says Dr Browning. “Start with tasks that are time critical and important, then important then time critical, and then get to the rest.”
Another method is to make ‘4D decisions’ with your to-do list, says Dr Alkta Patel, a lifestyle physician and GP. “I look at my to-do list every morning and convert this into a 2-by-2 matrix to make 4D decisions. Write your tasks in the best quadrant: Do – Defer – Delegate – Delete.”
5. Organise the day depending on if you’re a ‘lark’ or ‘owl’
If you’re a “lark” who tends to be early to bed and early to rise, then tackle the most difficult tasks of the day in the morning, when you will be at your peak functioning, says Dr Browning. Leave the more mundane tasks for later in the day when you will be starting to feel tired.
If you’re an “owl” who tends to want to go to bed later and get up later, then your peak work time will likely be later in the day. Start your working day by tackling tasks that do not require much brain power (like email checking) and leave the difficult jobs for later in the day when you will be more alert.
6. Slow down your breathing before you start work
Dr Patel says before she turns on her computer, she takes 60 seconds to slow down her breathing. “Slowing down your breath rate to six or less breaths a minute activates your parasympathetic nervous system, giving you calm and control for the rest of the days decision making,” she says.
“The simplest way is to breathe in for a count of four and out for a count of six and repeating this six times. It’s a great technique to use through the day when you notice the day’s stresses mounting.”
7. Take a late morning break
Dr Browning says it’s a good idea to take a break around late morning by getting outside and having a brisk walk around the block. You may feel like this is a waste of time, but the natural daylight will help you to feel more alert, plus the exercise from the walk will also help to energise you.
First Thing is a weekly series on HuffPost UK Life giving you tips and advice on how to enjoy your mornings. Whether you’re an early bird or night owl, starting your day off right will make for a happier and healthier day. We’ll be sharing exercise advice, nutrition guidance, as well as ideas on forming new habits. (And no, the answer to a productive morning isn’t just setting an alarm for 5am!)