self care

The persistent demands of early morning self-care: what to do?

I used to hate challenges; you know, those 7-day/30-day-read-a-book-a-day-type challenges. I’ve written here about my problems with them. But in the past couple of years I’ve found some ways they work for me. The 220 workouts in 2020 group has taught me a lot about how to use the experience of being in a challenge to examine, motivate, question and reshape how I do physical activity. A bunch of our bloggers are in this or similar groups and have written about challenges (most recently Martha’s post here).

My friend the New York Times has talked me into trying yet another challenge– their new new 30 Day Healthy Habits Challenge. It’s a combo of advice bits about movement, eating, social connection and mindfulness. (CW: it also suggests a form of dieting that may trigger some with a history of eating disorders, so do be warned).

One thing that keeps tripping me up with this challenge (and other such general self-care advice) is this: I’m supposed to do a whole bunch of things, many of them FIRST THING IN THE MORNING.

Challenges are big on doing things in the early morning. It appears that, upon waking (or in my case, being lurched into consciousness by my loud alarm), I’m supposed to

  • meditate while sipping my coffee
  • use my newly-selected mantra for said meditation (which, if I had one, would be “I just need coffee now”)
  • do gentle yoga
  • do a short workout
  • take some time to plan my day, arranging periods of quiet and reflection and physical activity and eating nourishing food in a mindful way and connecting with friends and family and taking a self-compassion break and developing a gratitude practice and reading a novel and taking a bath before getting in bed at 9:30pm

First of all, I am not a morning person. This is not me:

Drawing of person doing impossible yoga position while smiling in bed.

I’m more like this:

Silly but true-to-life meme of animal in bed, with words “when your alarm goes off and you’re deciding whether to go to work or fake your own death”

But seriously folks: self-care regimens are very heavy on first-thing-in-the-morning activity. But even for those who ARE morning people, there’s a limit to the amount of time we can devote to early-morning self-care. For one thing, there’s a limited amount of early-morning time, and we all have to get a lot done before heading to work, school, and other important things we do during our busy days. For another, we have other priorities– like writing or reading or housework or other important tasks that have to be done sometime as well.

So I’m asking you, dear readers: how do you decide what to prioritize in that precious period (whenever it is), first thing in your morning? I’d love to hear from you,

13 thoughts on “The persistent demands of early morning self-care: what to do?

  1. These days I prioritize sleep! I always eat breakfast before I go to work. Most days I pack lunch but I often do that the night before. And I often commute by bike which means being organized about what I take with me and what I wear. I do look at my schedule over breakfast. But there’s no early morning exercise for me these days. That’s either at lunch or after work or in the evening. And I’m a morning person.

  2. I totally agree with Sam! Giving up on running first thing in the morning (and the getting up at 4:30 that made that possible) was a very healthy choice for me. Even though I am a morning person, running immediately after work has (in the month since I’ve made that change) been better.

  3. I use ‘challenges’ to do something, squeeze something in like meditation on my timetable; a 15 minute meditation is probably best done in the middle of the day to destress…why in the morning?

    1. I totally agree with you, KC. Meditation when I first get up is going to result in my falling asleep again… And meditation for de-stressing would be great in the middle of or later in the day.

  4. I find morning people always vastly underestimate how bad many of us feel first thing in the morning, and sometimes also see it as a moral failing. I’ve seen this in many contexts, and this is one of them. It’s the same philosophy behind “don’t check your email until noon so you can get big tasks done while you’re fresh” that an old boss of mine used to really push.

    1. Boy, I agree with you 100%! I always feel either bad or confused or unprepared for consciousness when I get up. And it’s not “bad” sleep hygiene. It’s just the wiring. And wiring varies, so there are lots of ways to approach morning…

  5. I hate getting up and have been looking for some thing to do in the morning to make a habit that might make the rest of the getting up easier.
    Sure, exercise works. I feel great when I exercise in the morning. But I hate it. I enjoy exercising later in the day, and I think it’s important that I enjoy my exercise. Also, I don’t want to do that every single morning.
    I’ve been meaning to start a meditation practice: I subscribed to a yoga app, and I even bought a pillow I really like. And I took a workshop from a yogi that suggested morning is the best time for meditation. So maybe that is the key. Also, it can be flexible: 5 min, or 30. So, that is probably the key.
    Maybe this will help get me to do it!

    1. HI Cate– I’m with you on approaches to the morning. Honestly, what I like to do first thing depends on what I feel like I need to do. Sometimes it’s writing if I have a deadline or work backup (of course when does one not have a backup?). Other times it’s some gentle movement/yoga. I keep my mat on my living room floor, so it’s always set up in case I’m feeling moved. Other types of exercise (e.g. cycling) I only do if there’s some planned event with others, and still I really really don’t like it. Morning meditation– hmmmm. Let us know if you try it. Maybe a blog post?

  6. Great post. So much “you’re not doing it right” stuff out there these days. It’s as if “self-improvement” has become an imperative. And everything is to be done first! I also have been advised to write first thing and journal first thing. But you can only do one thing as your first thing. I have become much more easy going about this and change up with that thing will be. That said, I try to make sure I have at least two hours from the time I wake up to the time I get out the door. Last year that sometimes meant making overnight oatmeal and taking it to work or keeping a box of instant oatmeal in my office. That took the pressure off the mornings too. Now I have pretty leisurely mornings for the most part, even if I need to be at work for 8 am.

  7. I do have a routine after waking up. But it’s evolved slowly over the years as becoming self-care for myself and don’t think of it as a “routine”. It’s just things I like to do: get up, have breakfast, log into computer to check email/daily news for about 15 min. or so., change, brush teeth, etc. Then if it’s ok weather, make sure have right clothing, bike to work or on weekends some shopping destination/just a long ride. Then at work, after changing into work /business clothing. I have coffee, fruit. I actually do this at work about half an hr. or more before my official work start time. I don’t like jumping into my office chair and bang start work. I go somewhere else to have coffee first to chill, brain wander before my official start time. It relaxes me in anticipation of work.

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