7 things I do each morning before I go online
My mornings used to belong to other people. These people lived on my screens — in my inboxes, in my social media feeds, and on the news sites I visited. I was in “reactive mode.”
A morning in 2015, half awake and answering emails, a year before my health unraveled.
I believed morning routines were aspirational luxuries for people without serious jobs or for mythical “morning people,” until I got seriously ill and could no longer function at my serious job.
I now start my days feeling peaceful and calm. Here is my morning routine that has been helpful for restoring and maintaining my health.
But first, two things had to happen for me to make this routine stick. One, deciding to put my health first. And two, fixing my sleep, which involved getting on a much earlier schedule. Today, I’m already finished with my 75-minute morning routine by the time I used to begin work.
Disclaimer: This post is for anyone looking to live a healthier life and those on the road to recovery from moderate or mild myalgic encephalomyelitis (also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or ME/CFS). We are working on a special morning routine post adapted for those currently with severe ME/CFS and those recovering from a post-exertional crash.
0. (The night before) Make devices sleep on the couch
Your smartphone is not a stuffed animal. Screen light and electromagnetic radiation can interfere with your sleep, making mornings more difficult.
My Routine: Before I go to bed, I plug in my smartphone and computer in my living room. My devices and I awake with a fuller charge. I also keep my phone on airplane mode, so I don’t spot any cues to react when I enter the living room. If you have limited mobility, you can turn your phone off.
1. Hydrate with warm purified water
Imagine you are a plant. It is important to water yourself before you check to see what other plants are doing. Before you reach for your phone in the morning, reach for a nice glass of warm water.
Warm vs cold water: Cold water consumes energy to heat up and constricts your digestive organs. Warm water does just the opposite (wink, wink) and is easier to absorb.
A morning in January 2020, feeling wonderful.
My routine: I pour a 12 ounces of water from my ZeroWater filter into my glass tea kettle and remove it before it reaches a boil. I add a tiny sprinkle of Himalayan salt for absorption. I usually stop drinking at least 15 minutes before breakfast to not “water down” my digestive juices.
Meditation has been a key part of my health recovery and is a great way to set the tone for the day. Several of my busy-professional friends have also recently embraced meditation to sharpen their focus.
Science shows daily meditation strengthens the hippocampus, the center of our brains responsible for learning and memory, and decreases the volume of the amygdala, a part of our limbic system which controls our “fight or flight” response.
If you meditate before you check the news, react to social media, or respond to emails, you will find yourself more focused throughout the day. Furthermore, by the time a difficult email lands in your inbox, you will find yourself in a calmer headspace.
My routine: Each morning, I get into a comfortable, upright position on my couch, placing a pillow against my back for support and meditate for 10 to 15 minutes. I do a guided meditation that focuses on breathing through my stomach.
Any meditation is a good meditation, whether you’re just breathing into your stomach for 3 minutes, or you’re doing a longer, guided meditation. (I’ll share my favorite meditation resources in an upcoming post.)
3. Write down what I’m grateful for and my goals for the day
After meditating, my mind is in a clear and creative state. Journaling helps me start my day on the right page, get my creative juices flowing, and helps me focus on my priorities.
My routine: I take a few moments to sit with my journal on my couch and sip my warm water, as I write down what and who I’m thankful for, my goals for the day, and any ideas that come to mind.
Finding gratitude on my toughest days wasn’t always easy, but it was surprisingly helpful. Studies show that expressing gratitude can wire our brains for happiness and increase activity in the part of our brains associated with learning and reasoning.
Many very low capacity days during my health recovery, my goals were very simple and focused on self-care. Relax. Meditate. Write a thank you note from myself in the future. Sometimes doing nothing is something, when it comes to allowing our bodies to heal.
Now that I’m back in full health, I do not make long to-do lists, which can create stress and disappointment, nor I do I try to shoot for the moon each day. I keep it attainable. My spirit animal is the turtle. The turtles win the race.
4. State an affirmation
To my knowledge, only entrepreneurs, celebrities, and people recovering their health say affirmations, but anyone can probably benefit from this simple practice. Jennifer Lopez says, “I am youthful and timeless” to herself every morning. My best friend alternates between a few, including, “I am love.”
I gave myself the gift of these Well-Being Cards, which contain health and happiness focused affirmations. Each day I’ll pull one out of the stack for inspiration.
One of my favorite affirmations, though, is one that I came up with myself: “My body is in harmony. A perfect state of health and calm is within me, and I can always come back to it.”
Stating this health affirmation is one of 10 steps in a self-directed neuroplasticity program I do each morning that takes me about six minutes per round.
Our lymphatics are the highways of our immune system and rely on contractions or compression to flow.
For people recovering their health, there are ways to move your lymph fluid without exertion or a costly contraption. When my energy levels were significantly reduced, I did relaxing deep breathing exercises in bed, which facilitates drainage of lymph fluid. On better days, I used a dry brush on the couch, brushing in circles from my extremities towards my heart to activate my lymphatic system and boost circulation. On even better days, I did gentle restorative spinal stretches. (I’ll share this stuff in a future post.)
It’s important to keep one’s heart rate calm during ME/CFS recovery, which means pulling back and resting if needed and/or getting assistance if applicable.
Now that I’m back to full health, I typically walk for about a half-hour each morning. I will occasionally raise my arms up and down as I walk through my neighborhood (“hands in the air like you don’t care”) to get things pumping.
6. Splash cold water on face
I don’t drink cold water, but I splash it on my face. Studies show that immersing yourself in cold water can boost white blood cell activity and facilitate a parasympathetic “rest and digest” response by stimulating the Vagus nerve.
I received this little tip from a new friend who recovered from ME/CFS. I then found out my Belgian husband’s dad has done this every morning since his childhood on the farm.
It’s a refreshing way to start the day. Do what feels good for you.
7. Enjoy an uninterrupted healthy breakfast
The more we chew, the easier it is for our bodies to break down food. If we’re checking social media or our emails, we’re probably not chewing as much.
Reading chaotic Internet news in the morning can also trigger a stress response from your neuroendocrine system, which can direct blood from your digestive system into your muscles.
When the urge to check my devices comes up during breakfast, I try not to fight it off. Rather I question it, and tell myself it will be O.K. (It’s now something I don’t even have to think about.)
“What’s more important: Facebook or my health?”
My routine: I make sure I’m relaxed when I eat. And to chew and savor each bite! (This is more of a reminder for me, than advice for you. Chew your food, Liz!)
My morning routine is sacred.
If I read the above words on a health blog five years ago, I would have rolled my eyes and gone back to my inbox to see if an email awaited my response. Today, I am putting them down here, heart to keyboard.
Prioritizing my morning routine has been a staple to my recovery from ME/CFS, to each day, help nudge my body back into “rest and digest mode” that’s necessary for healing.
These healthy rituals have bolstered my energy, mental clarity, and sense of calm throughout the day and have positively impacted my overall life. As I now have reclaimed my health, I have no plans to go back to “reactive mode” chasing pixels.
The world can wait for you to arrive! Unless, perhaps, you have little kids. However, the world that awaits you on the other side of your screens can.
Do you have a favorite morning ritual? Our community would love to hear.
Do you have a favorite morning meditation? I’m compiling good resources to share with our community.
Do you currently have severe ME/CFS? I’m collecting input for a special restorative morning rituals post for those currently with significant mobility issues. There were a couple things I found to be restorative during severe times. We’d value your insights.
Are you a parent with ME/CFS? Having quiet time in the morning isn’t easy with little kids running around. We would love to hear any insights from parents recovering from ME/CFS for creating calm in the morning to share with our community. Please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.