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4 mood-boosting mental health tips to start your day
Good morning habits can set you up for a better day. These simple strategies can help you feel your best inside and out.
A smooth start to your day can make everything else feel a little easier. But if you don’t stick to a consistent bedtime, you may have tougher mornings than usual. That’s because lack of sleep can cause you to have trouble thinking or paying attention. You may take longer to step on the brake when the light turns red. And it could even lead to symptoms of depression.1,2
Not everyone has control over their schedule. But if you’re able to spend your nights in bed instead of at work, a few simple changes can help you feel your best. The first step? Be honest with yourself, says Lynn Bufka, PhD, of the American Psychological Association. “If you know that mornings are a struggle, look for things that can help.” Make a plan. Then jump into your new day. Here are some simple strategies to try.
Build a routine
Even if you’re not a morning fan, you still have things to do. You may have kids that need breakfast made and lunches packed. Your dog still has to go out.
None of that can happen without a morning routine. But it can be hard to start. Research shows that it can take 66 days to form a simple habit, such as eating fruit or taking a walk.3 And combining habits into a routine can take even longer.
Set yourself up for success, says Bufka. “Ask what you need to make your mornings better. The answer will be different for everyone.” Then try to follow the same plan every day. Some tips:
- Get ready before you go to sleep. Stay away from a last-minute search for clean socks or car keys. “Lay out your clothes and set up your breakfast,” suggests Bufka. “And have your bag ready to go. That way, you can sleep longer.”
- Add extra time to your wake-up routine. Feeling stressed as you dash out the door? Aim to get up 20 minutes earlier.
Love the light
Bright light therapy can lift your mood and make you more alert. When you raise the light a little at a time, you tell your brain that it’s time to get moving. Try these tips:
- Use a timer. Get a timer or use an alarm app that lights up slowly, just as the sun does.
- Eat breakfast by the window. Sit in the sunshine while you drink your coffee.
- Lower the lights at night. Mornings are hard when you haven’t slept well. For better sleep, dim the lights in the evening. And stay away from using electronic devices before bedtime.
Move in the morning
Morning exercise can boost your mood and give you more energy.4 It raises your levels of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). That’s a brain chemical that helps you learn new skills and stay sharp. If you feel foggy when you wake up, get moving to feel more alert. Some tips:
- Take a walk. A quick walk can lower your levels of cortisol, a chemical your body releases when you’re stressed. That’s a recipe for a better day. Plus, being outside gets you more light. Stroll around the block or take the dog for a morning walk.
- Try yoga. Yoga is a gentle way to wake up. Even doing yoga just 3 times a week can lower anxiety, depression and stress, according to one study.5 No time for a class? Try an easy online video.
Surround yourself with happiness
Try to fill your space with energy and joy in the morning. This can put you in a positive mindset for the day.6 Some strategies:
- Listen to upbeat music. Make a playlist of songs that make you happy. Then play it each morning. Use your music to keep you on track. For example, when the Beatles comes on, it’s time for your shower.
- Go easy on the news. It’s great to be well-informed. Bad news can put you in a bad mood. Sound familiar? Just tune in for the traffic and weather reports.
- Be thankful. Look at photos of loved ones, suggests Bufka. Think about happy memories. That can help you feel grateful. And that feeling is tied to better mental health.
- Talk to yourself. Try a morning motto, such as “I’m ready for a new day.” Or jot down a quote that inspires you. It can make you feel happier and more confident. A note on your mirror could remind you to slow down and be thankful for ordinary things.
Finally, go easy on yourself. If you’re not a morning person, that’s okay. You may just be wired that way. But you can still find ways to make your morning — and your day — a little better.
Learn more about resources for mental health on our Until It’s Fixed podcast
- Sleep. Circadian phenotype impacts the brain's resting state functional connectivity, attentional performance and sleepiness. Published February 15, 2019. Accessed February 13, 2023.
- Journal of the American Medical Association. Genetically Proxied Diurnal Preference, Sleep Timing, and Risk of Major Depressive Disorder. Published May 26, 2021. Accessed February 13, 2023.
- American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. The importance of creating habits and routine. Published December 2018. Accessed January 25, 2023.
- Sleep Foundation. What’s the best time of day to exercise for sleep? Last updated April 5, 2022. Accessed January 25, 2023.
- International Journal of Preventive Medicine. The effect of yoga on stress, anxiety, and depression in women. Published February 2018. Accessed January 25, 2023.
- Sleep Foundation. How to become a morning person. Last updated December 16, 2022. Accessed January 25, 2023.
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