Tips for having good mornings

Published 12:34 pm Thursday, June 29, 2017

By Erin Smith

I’ve always loved beginnings. Growing up, my two favorite days of the year were the first day of school, with its fresh-eraser smell and the squeak of new shoes, and the first day of summer, with its seemingly endless days to do nothing but read and swim. I grow giddy at the possibility of a blank page in my journal, a new city to visit. I find comfort in the idea that plan A isn’t the only option; plan B, (or C, or D) is simply waiting to begin.

 So it won’t surprise you to learn I love mornings. I believe whatever I focus my heart on first thing in the morning sets the crucial tone for what’s to come. So it’s worth my while to start from a place of peace and gratitude. I like to rise between 4:30 and 5 a.m. while it is still dark.

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As the coffee brews, I stare out the kitchen window at the moon, the stars, the dancing fireflies. Then I take my coffee into the sunroom and sit on the couch, waiting for the sunrise. I spend a few minutes just breathing mindfully, perhaps pausing to sip coffee or pet the sleepy, purring cat that invariably has made her way into my lap. Then I might write for a bit or just list some things I feel grateful for. I’ll go for a walk in the dark if the weather cooperates or do a few yoga stretches to limber up my joints, stiff from sleep.

Do you notice what is missing? Screens. I don’t pick up my phone until I’ve been awake for 45 to 60 minutes. I keep it plugged in another room to avoid the siren call of social media. Then I try to limit myself to 30 minutes of posting and scrolling.

I asked 12 of my closest friends, and they all told me they use their smartphone as an alarm, so the first thing they do each morning is check texts, emails and social media. They are not alone. Research from IDC found 80 percent of smartphone users check their phone within 15 minutes of waking.

 Remember how I said the way we start the day sets the tone for the rest of the day? When we immediately start looking at the thoughts and photos of others, we externalize our existence, sending the message that what happens to other people matters more than what happens to us personally. When we see dozens of texts and notifications, we are immediately thrown into catch-up mode.

Do you want to start your day with the feeling that you are already terribly behind schedule? Tristan Harris, who is a design ethicist at Google (yup, that’s apparently a thing) explains news and social media apps are actually designed to “hijack people’s minds by inducing a 1 percent chance that you could be missing something important.”

This means tech companies are actually cultivating our FOMO, or the fear of missing out. The more we feel left out or left behind, the more we use the app and the more advertising dollars that app racks up.

Too much social media can also unleash your inner critic, that incessant and negative voice in your head that is always criticizing, judging and comparing you to others. These responses release stress hormones into your bloodstream. Who wants to start their day feeling stressed?

 I’m not bashing social media. I love the support of my online community. It has helped me reach a larger audience to grow my business, sell more books and get more subscriptions to my yoga channel. I have received incredible advice from friends across the globe. But I notice the urge to check my phone as soon as I awaken and it frightens me. I want my phone to be an assistant, not a leash. It is easy to fall down the online rabbit hole and lose time. Then I am rushing around like a chicken with my head cut off, late to start my work day and impatiently yelling at my family.

There is science to support avoiding the screen for just a bit longer. When we first awaken, we are in a vulnerable, sleepy state. Our brains need a few minutes to shift from the unconscious, dreaming state to a place where we’re making grounded, conscious decisions.

Research indicates constant phone notifications incite anxiety and stress. A stressed brain is one that is either rehearsing or rehashing. In other words, thinking about the future, like when you start making a mental to-do list based on texts and emails, or thinking about the past, like when you’re reading news that happened while you slept.

Both take you away from the present moment, robbing you of the enjoyment of the morning, scattering your focus from one stimulus to the other. We’re all too quick to Facebook and too slow to mindful awareness.

Here are five morning habits to try for a great start to your day:

1. Breathe. Take three to five minutes to simply sit up in bed and breathe. Feel your body move from horizontal to vertical in the bed. Notice the sensations of your body without judging them. Nothing you notice is good or bad, right or wrong. When we breathe through our noses, our body creates a gas in the nasal passages called nitric oxide (NO2). This miracle drug expands our blood vessels to improve the oxygen saturation in our blood.

2. Go analog. In an increasingly digital world, the act of writing and drawing is becoming increasingly rare. Take a few minutes to journal. Write down what you remember about your dream, make a list of things you are grateful for, set your goals for the day or simply doodle. This act uses a region near the front of your brain that correlates to creativity and speech (as opposed to regions connected to the visual, as when using your phone). Journaling leaves you feeling grounded and grateful.

3. Say it is so, Joe. Coffee contains caffeine to help our sleepy brains wake up and antioxidants that prevent tissue damage. As a matter of fact, Americans get more antioxidants from coffee than anything else. While fruits and vegetables contain tons of antioxidants, our bodies absorb the most from coffee.

Nothing comforts me like the smell of brewing coffee first thing in the morning. And that is no accident. Researchers at Seoul National University found that simply smelling coffee changes brain proteins to lower stress levels.

4. Stretch. A little bit of movement goes a long way. Your body has been on standby mode while you slept. Reboot and energize it by moving your joints and muscles a bit.

Take a short 5 to 15 minute walk or try some gentle yoga stretches. I have an easy yoga video called “Rise and Shine Flow” available on It lasts less than 15 minutes and does not require you to even stand up (though it does involve a screen).

5. Get blinded by the light. Being exposed to the early-morning blue light is associated with a lower BMI (body mass index) because early-morning light regulates your body’s circadian clock, meaning you sleep better at night and have a more efficient metabolism when you’re awake. Full-spectrum sunlight helps boost our moods.

Try these tips for a good start to a great day!

Erin Smith is the owner of the OM place in Winchester, the author of “Sensible Wellness for Women” and the online host of a yoga and mindfulness channel for Eppic Films. She wants everyone to make friends with meditation, eat real food, move their bodies and hit the pillow a little earlier. When she’s not standing on her head, she enjoys being a wife, mother, dancer, flower sniffer, reader, guitar player and wine drinker. Send her a shout out at or play along at