Mornings can be tricky. Sometimes you jump out of bed feeling energized and ready to dance your way through your to-do list…and other days you hit the snooze button too many times and cower under the weight of your busy schedule. Waking up in a grumpy, stressed-out mood takes enough of a toll on you emotionally, but according to new research, it can also affect your cognitive performance, totally sabotaging your productivity throughout the day.
In the study published in the Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 240 adults aged 25 to 65 completed seven daily surveys on their smartphone. In the morning, they were asked how stressful they expected their day to be. The next five surveys throughout the day inquired about their current stress levels, and each was accompanied by a memory-related task for the participants to complete. The final questionnaire at night asked them how stressful they thought the following day would be.
After analyzing the data, the researchers found that participants who predicted a stress first thing in the morning didn’t perform well on the memory tasks that day, which suggests that a gloomy a.m. mind-set inhibits your working memory—AKA brain locale where you learn and retain information—and therefore your overall performance. Interestingly, going to bed with trepidation about the next day was not associated with poorer working memory, further emphasizing the importance of waking up with a positive perspective.
“If you think your day is going to be stressful, you’re going to feel those effects even if nothing stressful ends up happening.” —study co-author Dr. Martin Sliwinski
“When you wake up in the morning with a certain outlook for the day, in some sense the die is already cast,” study co-author Martin Sliwinski, PhD, director of Penn State’s Center for Healthy Aging, said in a press release. “If you think your day is going to be stressful, you’re going to feel those effects even if nothing stressful ends up happening.”
However, it is possible to remedy a poor start to the day. According to Dr. Sliwinski, using a mindfulness app can make a big difference. “If you wake up and feel like the day is going to be stressful, maybe your phone can remind you to do some deep breathing relaxation before you start your day,” he says.
So the next time you feel off in the a.m., don’t just write off the next 24 hours as a lost cause. Instead, take some time for your mental health: Recite a mantra, make your favorite smoothie, sit down with a wellness-supplement-infused coffee for a few minutes—whatever you need for a mood boost. That way, you can banish those stressful feelings and ensure your brain is working properly.
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