September is Self-Care Awareness Month. To observe it, every week we’re speaking with experts in mental health and wellness to offer actionable ways to practice self-care that prioritize emotional wellbeing.
I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of it. You wake up in the morning and the first thing you do is pick up your phone. Maybe it starts as a way to check the time, to make sure you haven’t overslept, but then it slowly devolves into you responding to a message, peeking at your emails, checking in with the goings on of social media and the day’s breaking news. Before you know it, whatever energy comes from those spaces impacts your mood. Your day either gets off to a positive start, or a negative one.
As common as that scenario is, it’s not a healthy one for us according to certified life coach Krystal Conner, PhD.
“It’s important to start your morning off the right way, because how you start is going to determine the flow of your day,” she tells ESSENCE. “When you have a morning routine, you can avoid feeling rushed and avoid decision fatigue right from the start of your day.”
Conner says planning in advance, perhaps the night before — from what you will wear to what time you will leave to get to where you need to be on time — allows you to ease into your mornings as opposed to trying to make 100 decisions the moment you wake up.
“The ‘right way’ of starting your day is not in a hurried, frantic, stressful rushed pace,” she says. “Ideally, you want to start a peaceful flow that allows you to check in with where you are mentally, physically, and emotionally. You want to have enough time to readjust, reaffirm, and build momentum into having the best, most productive, peaceful day possible.”
And what better way to start the day in a peaceful place than to start by tapping into something bigger than yourself?
“I recommend that people start their day by quieting their minds in either prayer or meditation. By doing this, you allow yourself to feel rooted and grounded,” says Conner. “This also helps you feel connected to your higher power source, which leads to feeling less anxious, more hopeful, and motivated to take control of your day.”
Journaling is also a great way to go into the morning, as it gives you the chance to put your thoughts out there and figure out why you might feel the way you do.
“Your thoughts create your feelings, so understanding what your thoughts are and allowing yourself the opportunity to redirect them is a powerful start,” she says. It also gives you a chance to write out things you’re grateful for, starting your day in a state of abundance as opposed to a feeling of lacking something.
In addition to those practices, create some affirmations that will empower and motivate you. But Conner doesn’t recommend just saying anything.
“It’s important that you create an affirmation that you can believe now. Repeating affirmations that you don’t really believe are true is not a helpful practice, and is why most people think ‘the power of positive thinking’ is more like being in denial,” she says. So for example, instead of saying “My life is amazing” when you’re in a place where you don’t believe it for whatever reason, try “Today is an opportunity for me to make my life better” and meditate on that throughout the day.
As for what you should bypass first thing in the morning, the life coach says hitting “snooze” when your alarm goes off. You don’t want to run the risk of oversleeping as that can leave you feeling rushed and off-balance. And really, does that extra 10-15 minutes of sleep actually leave you feeling refreshed? Doubt it.
Something that doesn’t leave anyone refreshed is looking at social media and emails the minute you awaken from sleep.
“Watching videos of someone else’s fabulous vacation, or getting an ‘urgent’ email from work before your eyes are fully opened is going to set you on an emotional path that could possibly throw off your day or at least slow down your momentum,” she says.
And if that’s not enough, social media apps and emails may leave you scrambling for time. All of that can wait for after you’ve done your morning routine that provides some tranquility.
Lastly, don’t assume the annoyances of the day before will be the same things to tank the new day before you.
“Whatever happened, happened, and the best thing you can do is focus on how to make today better,” she says. “Replaying yesterday’s bad news will only serve to put you in a worse mood for a new day if you don’t manage your thoughts around it.”
However you choose to start your morning, whether you lift up a prayer of gratitude for a new day, write down your thoughts, or simply sit in stillness before the rat race summons you, go for it. These practices literally put you first.
“So often, we put everyone else’s needs before our own. We make sure everyone else is good before we even consider how we are doing, which leads to us being burnt out, resentful, and tired,” Conner says. “Taking the time to check in with yourself, steady yourself, and prepare for the day helps you feel more emotionally stable and is one of the highest forms of self-care you can participate in.”