The Early Morning Panic Spiral (Trust Me, It’s Going to Be Ok)

By Sean Ogle •  Updated: 09/20/18 •  4 min read

The Early Morning Panic SpiralIt usually hits around 3:30 or 4 in the morning.

There’s no telling when it’s going to come, but when it does, it can make small problems feel like the world is collapsing down on top of your bed.

I’m talking about the early morning panic spiral.

I have no idea if this is a thing others deal with or not, but usually once or twice a month this early morning anxiety will hit me from out of nowhere.

What happens is early in the morning, something will jostle me awake. Maybe it was a bad dream, a noise, or in the summer, the crack of sunlight beginning to creep in through the window.

And then out of nowhere, the panic will set in.

Sometimes it’s for legitimate reasons, but usually it’s about nothing that important. Yet somehow it feels like the most painful and urgent situation imaginable.

That email is still sitting in my inbox, I was supposed to respond 4 days ago!

Did I ever pay that bill?

I’ve got an Eighty Club event in less than two months and I still haven’t got the itinerary together!

Usually it’s stuff like that.

Important? Sure.

Sky-falling-down-at-5am-important? Hardly.

The worst is when it hits even earlier, like at say 3am, and it’s something that legitimately is a big issue.

Like when you jolt awake wondering if your decision to start trying to have kids was the right one…

Then you wonder if it’s too late…

Then you wonder if you’re life is ever going to be the same…

And then….

You see where this spiral goes. Nowhere good.

And yet, if you were to have these thoughts over an afternoon coffee, none of it feels daunting or scary. And certainly not panic inducing.

I’ve had these moments of early morning anxiety on and off over the last decade or so, and there are a few things I’ve learned to do to minimize and cope with them.

First, alcohol makes it much worse.

So if things are stressful? While your tendency may be to have an extra couple cocktails or glasses of wine at night, don’t do it.

By far the worse panic spirals are when I’ve had even a moderate amount to drink and my sleep has been restless.

Two, recognize that you’re feeling anxious.

After this had happened a number of times, you can feel it coming on as soon as you’re woken up.

So I’ll actually say to myself:

“You’ve been through this before, you know you’re thinking illogically, this will pass when you wake up.”

When I’m able to recognize exactly what’s happening, it’s easier to allow logic to win over and realize that I’m being irrational.

Third, have a distraction handy.

If I can’t use logic to talk myself off the ledge, then having a lighthearted distraction is always what helps. I keep an iPad by my bed, and I’ll either go to Netflix to watch something as far from stressful as possible (like a cooking show or re-runs of friends), or I’ll read a book.

Finally, Listen to the Panic

Even if the thing I’m freaking out about in the middle of the night isn’t as a big of a deal as it feels, there obviously is something that is causing that stress.

The next day once you’ve woken up, had some coffee and maybe gotten some exercise, address whatever it is that got you worked up. The sooner you do that, the less likely you are to wake up the next night with crippling anxiety.

So is this just me? I’m I the only person who has these occasional early morning panic spirals? Let me know if you’ve ever dealt with anything similar.

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Sean Ogle

Sean Ogle is the Founder of Location Rebel where he has spent the last 12+ years teaching people how to build online businesses that give them the freedom to do more of the things they like to do in life. When he's not in the coffee shops of Portland, or the beaches of Bali, he's probably sneaking into some other high-class establishment where he most certainly doesn't belong.
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2 comments on "The Early Morning Panic Spiral (Trust Me, It’s Going to Be Ok)"

  1. Tonja says:

    I literally woke up in one of those panics this morning, about my exciting but hectic schedule this weekend, and how I’m ever going to find a nice jacket in time for my friend’s wedding this afternoon.
    (I took the day off to get some errands done and out to the venue in time, so I KNOW, now that I’m awake and caffeinated, I’ll be fine.)

    But like you, I have these early morning’s panic about 2-3 times a month as well. If it’s REALLY early, Netflix is my go-to also (love a good classic rom-com to ease my mind). But if it’s time to get up for the day anyway, I’ll make some coffee and start making lists. To-do’s, goals, schedules, anything that’ll help me feel more organized and that I’m ahead, at least mentally, of where I need to be. I keep a pad of yellow post-it’s next to me bed, so as I remember something in these panics (ie. call doctor to make appt for kid to test for asthma), I write it down and stick it on my wall, in plain sight, so I won’t forget. My walls currently have my week’s to-do’s posted all over them.

  2. LOL Sean. This one is maddening sometimes. Drives ya batty. 4:18 AM here and not panicking per se but focused on getting to the grocery store at 6 to grab some nutritious fare. Although a few biz thoughts are racking my mind too buddy. Meditation helps. So does deep yin yoga. Both expand your awareness, helping you feel the feelings charging these thoughts, to release the feelings.

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