By Nashia Baker (marthastewart.com)
After the sun rises and your alarm clock sounds, the morning often feels like it slips away. However, there are several ways to ensure this part of your day is utilized to the fullest. "Studies show that a positive start can significantly impact overall happiness levels and enhance productivity," Kayote Joseph, a therapist, says, noting that it only takes 10 minutes to jumpstart your morning. The reason? "How you begin your day impacts your reticular activating system, which sifts and sorts external information," she says, and helps you identify "more things to be grateful for or feel positively about." Creating a habitual routine specific to your morning can ultimately help you have better days. "The science of habit creation looks like this: A behavior needs to be easily repeatable and followed by reward," Andrea Marcellus, a wellness expert, shares. "Pick just one adjustment to focus on at a time, and be as consistent as possible for at least a week before adding another element to the [morning] routine." Here, discover some of the best changes to make to your morning routine to maximize your wellness and efficiency throughout the remainder of the day. Understand your body. "A healthy and productive morning routine is one that sets you up for a positive mindset coupled with an energized body," Marcellus says, something that might look very different from person to person. She recommends checking in with yourself to determine what makes you feel inspired mentally and physically; consider which foods, practices, and movements contribute to this. Then, instill "four or five activities that stimulate and empower you emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually" into your regimen, adds Marcellus. Get moving. Exercising, even for a short period of time, is part of a productive, healthy morning routine. "Movement combined with breath oxygenates every cell in the body, enlivening you both physically and mentally," shares Marcellus, noting that intentional workouts and mindful breathing shuts down the brain's amygdala—its fear and anxiety center—and activates the pathways that bolster problem solving and creativity. Adding gentle, impactful motion into your morning regimen, then, can empower your body and mind.
Eat a healthy breakfast. According to Marcellus, eating one or two superfoods at breakfast each morning (or during a mid-morning snack if you wait over four hours between breakfast and lunch) will boost brain and body health and amplify dopamine (the happy hormone). "The key is to figure out which foods make you feel most energetic," she says. "Many of my clients do better with yogurt or egg-based breakfasts and save grains for later in the day." Start the morning device-free. Don't begin your day by reaching for your devices—yes, this includes your cell phone. "Research shows that the first 10 minutes of one's morning set the tone for one's entire day, and checking emails and social media produce stress hormones in the brain, like adrenaline and cortisol," Joseph explains.
Practice self-care techniques. There are two main self-care practices Joseph says make for a better morning: meditating and writing in a gratitude journal. She guides beginners towards the former by way of YouTube (simply research guided morning meditations to get started). For the latter, Joseph likes to "wake up and write down all the good things I can remember from the day before." However, any form of self-care—like making your favorite drink or visualizing your day ahead—works. "The goal here is to ease your brain out of theta (the brain wave state you're in during sleep) and keep it out of high-beta (the brain wave state of stress) for as long as possible at the beginning of the day," Joseph says.
Get dressed every day. "I encourage people to get dressed and [look] put together, no matter what. It's not about vanity—it's about energy," Marcellus says. This is particularly salient if you work from home. Practice "morning renewal" by putting on an outfit that fits well, arranging your hair, and applying a few makeup products, she shares. Feeling put together on the outside, Marcellus continues, gives us a mental and emotional boost on the inside.
Be consistent. You'll know if the changes in your morning routine are making a difference based on your response to the first challenge of the day, Marcellus notes. "If your knee-jerk response is to immediately shift to dread or anger that doesn't quickly move to possibility, your morning routine can still use some work," she says. "Once you start to notice that challenges don't penetrate so deeply, and that you are able to see solutions relatively quickly and without a huge emotional response, you know that you are well set up for success each day."