As someone who spends loads of time on Pinterest, you would think that the entire blogosphere is waking up at 5 AM and drinking a glass of hot lemon water before reciting their mantras.
Morning routines are the “it” thing in health and wellness right now, but it’s not all hype. There are good benefits to establishing a morning routine, especially for people who want to quit drinking.
In the book Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss, a recurring trend among all the experts he interviews is a set morning routine that mentally and physically prepares them for the day ahead.
Intuitively, this makes a lot of sense.
Waking up and hitting the snooze button a million times before rolling out of bed at the last minute and scrambling to get around in a frantic rush is a horrible way to start your day, and yet many of us routinely do.
Enter the magical morning routine.
The Importance of Routines in Sobriety
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of what a good morning routine looks like, let’s look at why people in sobriety benefit from routines.
1. You need structure.
For the vast majority of us, early sobriety is a confusing, frustrating time.
Chances are your life has primarily consisted of trying to fight past the hangover in the morning enough to function, followed by work, and then more drinking and shenanigans. Repeat.
You’re going to have to consciously schedule your day in ways that promote healthier habits.
It will keep you busy and focused on making positive changes while also helping you heal from the damage alcohol has done to your mental and physical well-being.
To be frank, boredom and too much “thinking time” is one of the biggest killers of sobriety. You have to actively work against both.
Our brains love patterns and habits, and so far, your patterns and habits of been pretty horrible. A thoughtful routine geared towards health is how you start to change all that.
2. You need new habits.
To piggyback off the previous section, routines help you adopt new habits which you (we) DESPERATELY need.
Without clear routines, we jeopardize our ability to make these new habits stick. When we stop actively working towards creating structure and positive habits in our life, we risk a relapse.
Think about it.
If your normal routine is to come home from work and crack open a beer to decompress, what do you think will happen if you come home straight after work with no plan?
You will either drink or drive yourself nuts, maybe both.
Routines allow you to create a new normal, and by slowly integrating new habits into your daily routine, especially your mornings, you’re building a foundation for long-term change.
And honestly, isn’t that the goal?
3. Routines help you stay busy
As I mentioned before, one of the biggest killers of sobriety is excessive downtime.
The more opportunity you give your mind to ruminate idly, the likelier you are to start listening to the inner voice that tells you to have a drink and live a little.
If your life revolves around hanging with your drinking buddies, sobriety can feel a bit lonely.
You need to actively decide how you will fill your day now that you’re not getting wasted. It also adds much-needed stability to your life and helps you gain a sense of achievement.
Oh, you woke up and made breakfast every day this week? Look at you kicking ass!
4. Routines promote accountability.
Routines can help you stay accountable to yourself and others and achieve your recovery goals by providing a framework for healthy habits and behaviors.
These are measurable things you can track.
Plus, it helps you get into a goal-setting mindset. Do you want to wake up and eat breakfast every day this week? You can track that and celebrate the win. The same is true of waking up and doing a short yoga routine or going for a walk.
Morning routines are a great way to start holding yourself accountable.
5. Routines help reduce stress and anxiety.
Routines can be an excellent tool to reduce stress and anxiety in your daily life, especially during times of uncertainty or transition. When you have a routine in place, you know what to expect, and you can plan accordingly, which can provide a sense of control and reduce feelings of uncertainty.
By establishing a consistent routine, you can create a structure that allows you to prioritize important tasks and self-care practices. This can reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed by providing a clear plan for the day ahead. When you have a plan, you can feel more in control, which can reduce stress and anxiety levels.
Drinking is chaos. This is your time to bring stability and peace to your life.
6. Routines Improve Sleep:
Establishing a regular routine can be an excellent tool to improve the quality and quantity of your sleep. When you have a consistent routine in place, your body can regulate its natural sleep-wake cycle, which can lead to better sleep.
A consistent routine can include waking up and going to bed at the same time every day. This can help regulate your body’s internal clock, making it easier to fall asleep at night and wake up feeling rested in the morning.
This one might take some time to get used to, especially if you’re accustomed to drinking late into the night and dragging yourself out of bed to function the next day, but you can do it!
Why Morning Routines Are Especially Key In Sobriety
Mornings set the tone for your entire day, so it is critically important that you establish a routine that will energize you and get you in the right mindset to tackle the day.
What’s that? You HATE mornings? The snooze button is your friend?
Not anymore, champ!
The Snooze Button Is THE WORST
Listen, I totally get it.
I am a reformed snooze button junkie. I used to hit that thing five or six times every morning and had to set my alarm about 45 minutes ahead of my scheduled wake-up time to protect myself from myself.
Let’s talk about sleep inertia.
Sleep inertia is that groggy “don’t make me do this” feeling you get when you wake up in the morning. It lasts anywhere from 15-30 minutes.
However, if you wake up too early in a sleep cycle or in the middle of a deep sleep cycle, that grogginess can last between two to four hours. That’s your entire morning shot to shit.
Guess what happens to your body when you hit snooze.
It thinks you’re going back to sleep, and so hormones get released to help you drift off into a blissfully deep rest. This is why when your alarm goes off again in ten or fifteen minutes, you can barely remember your name.
Stop doing that to yourself.
Components of a Good Morning Routine
A solid morning routine needs to get your mind and body ready for the day.
There are a bazillion articles on the web with great (or weird) ideas on what your morning routine should have in it. For our purposes, I will focus on key areas where you’ll get more bang for your buck.
Of course, you can add to and personalize this to your heart’s content.
Here we go.
1. Give yourself at least an hour before you need to be anywhere.
That means setting a consistent bedtime that gives you the proper amount of sleep. YOU WILL BE FINE. (I can hear you complaining about getting up an hour earlier from here).
Why the hour when you’re so accustomed to waking up at the last possible minute?
Well, so you can actually make it through a routine that will have you feeling ready to tackle your day as opposed to a crazy person flailing for their keys.
Let’s talk about this hour and what you should be doing with it.
2. Move Your Body
It is so important to get the juices flowing in the morning (is that gross to say?).
Getting your heart rate up (even a tiny bit) is the perfect way to wake up your brain and body while eliminating all that grogginess.
If fitness is something you’re trying to get into, working out in the morning is the BEST way to ensure it gets done.
Waiting until later in the day means setting yourself up for excuses not to do it. Something will come up, you’ll be too tired, whatever the case may be.
Plus, if you’ve been drinking heavily in the past, chances are your physical health has been neglected. Exercise will help.
Am I suggesting you run a 5K every morning? I mean, you can if you want to.
When I say move your body, it can be as simple as completing a 10-minute YouTube workout in whatever fitness genre you prefer.
By adding exercise to your routine every morning, you’re laying the groundwork for establishing a fitness habit, which is important for everyone, but especially those in sobriety.
I promise you that no matter how bad it sounds to work out in the morning, you WILL feel amazing afterward.
And that’s with doing something gentle, quick, or whatever you’re into. Even a gentle yoga routine that just gets you to stretch and wake up a bit can be a total game-changer.
Here are a few sites that I personally use and enjoy:
Personally, I wake up every day and go for a 20-30 minute walk while listening to a podcast. It’s great “me” time and helps my energy levels throughout the rest of the day.
3. Meditate or practice some form of mindfulness
You all know I’m a big fan of meditation and its benefits, particularly for people in sobriety. Honestly, though, everyone needs a meditation or mindfulness practice added to their morning routine, and here’s why:
- It helps you start your day on a focused, clear-headed, calm note.
- Much like exercise, meditating in the morning means you’ve got it done. One less thing to forget to do later on.
- It’s an easier time to focus. Meditation can be a bit trickier when you’ve had a long day and a million things to think about, especially if you’re a newbie to the practice.
- It’s an excellent tool for battling anxiety and depression.
You don’t have to sit in meditation for an extended period of time to reap the benefits.
Ten mindful minutes can help set the tone for the rest of your day in profoundly impactful ways. Do whatever practice works for you. You can use apps, guided meditations, timers, or even use the time for prayer.
All of it is a form of mindfulness.
For those in sobriety, our brains have been through a lot.
Meditation helps to heal a lot of the damage we’ve done to our brain and body through excessive drinking.
It will help you manage anxiety and depression, focus more, and restore cognitive functions.
You’ll also get the added benefit of creating new neural pathways, which is critical in forming new habits and thought patterns.
4. Drink an enormous amount of water.
Assuming you went to bed at a reasonable hour because, eh hem, see point #1, you’ve got about eight hours of dehydration to combat.
Alcohol makes you dehydrated, so in early sobriety, this is an especially important thing to do.
Drink as much water as you can first thing in the morning. It makes doing all this other stuff infinitely easier.
Then continue to drink throughout the day. Flush out your system, my friend!
I personally like the water bottles with a clear indication of how much you’re consuming so you can keep track. I aim to drink anywhere from 1-1.5 gallons per day.
You might be thinking, “yikes,” and I admit it’s more than other people drink. I’m unusually thirsty.
5. Do some self-improvement work
Choose whatever works best for you.
Some people like to do stream-of-consciousness writing in a journal, while others do more traditional journaling or even work through shadow work prompts.
Read a book that will help you improve some aspect of your life.
Give yourself some space to do a bit of visualizing if you’re into that.
The WHAT is not nearly as important as ensuring you take the time to do it.
Taking 10-15 minutes daily to do something that helps you work on yourself is critically important. This is especially true for those of us who are trying to rebuild a healthier life while working through some “stuff.”
I also think journaling has a lot of benefits for everyone, but especially those in recovery. Give yourself space to dump all your stuff on a page so that you can carry on with your day without bringing it with you.
It’s incredibly liberating.
Read books or listen to audiobooks:
Another incredible resource, which I currently use, is the Blinkist app. I switch between Blinks and podcasts, depending on how much time I have.
It is an enormous library of nonfiction texts paired down into 10-15 summaries that give you the key takeaways and most important insights. You can read or listen, which makes it a pretty good option for multitasking.
You can try a 7-day free trial and see if it’s helpful for you.
I use it every night before bed. I’ve got a list of books I want to read that’s a mile long. This is a pretty sweet workaround.
Also, I consider it a kind of test drive for books. If I’m really into it and want to read more, I can buy the entire book or borrow it from the library.
Otherwise, if I’m satisfied with the summary, it’s all good!
For those of you who prefer complete audiobooks, you can get an Audible account and integrate that into your routine as well.
6. Eat breakfast
Slightly controversial take. Intermittent fasting fans will say that’s not necessary, and for many people that’s probably true!
But you are likely not at a place in your health or recovery right now to do that.
By breakfast, I do NOT mean a couple of donuts from Krispy Kreme.
I highly recommend visiting your doctor to ask about supplements. After I got sober, I had some bloodwork done and found out I was iron and vitamin D deficient. Former drinkers are notoriously deficient in thiamine, so it’s essential to get checked.
At the very least, get yourself a good multivitamin.
Additionally, I like to take a good probiotic with food. Lately, I’ve been enjoying this one from Clear 360 (affiliate). It’s formulated to aid in digestion, something I struggle with, but I’ve actually found that it has helped a lot with energy and mood stability.
Healthy Breakfast Short-Cut Tips
1. Make a few batches of overnight oats to have on hand in your fridge.
There are a million different iterations of overnight oats on the internet. Choose one that suits you (though be careful you aren’t making an oatmeal dessert).
My favorite is pretty basic:
- 1/2 cup of old-fashioned oats
- 1/4 cup of full fat greek yogurt
- 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
- a tbsp of peanut butter, a tsp of maple syrup
- A teaspoon of ground flaxseed.
Mix it all together and let it sit overnight.
Delicious breakfast ready to go in the morning. Feeling extra fancy? Put some blueberries and strawberries in your bowl.
Smoothies can be easily thrown together in single batches, placed into a freezer, and ready to go. I’ll go to Sam’s and get an enormous tub of spinach and frozen fruit, place all my smoothie ingredients in a reusable freezer bags, and then be done with it.
It takes all of five minutes to open one of those bags, place everything into a blender, add your liquid, seeds, and powders, and hit blend.
I like to toss in some protein powders and various accouterments. Generally speaking, I don’t enjoy eating leafy greens, so smoothies are an excellent opportunity to hide them inside some blended berries and peanut butter.
My go-to smoothie recipe is:
- 1 cup of baby spinach
- 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
- 1 tbsp ground flaxseed
- 1 banana
- 1 cup of frozen strawberries or blueberries (or both)
- Two scoops of Orgain Organic Protein Powder (Creamy Chocolate Fudge)
Despite all the extra stuff, it mostly tastes like a Wendy’s Frostee and keeps me full for several hours.
How Should You Organize Your Morning Routine?
It’s honestly up to you. The order you do things and the percentage of time you devote to each component depends on your personal preferences and needs.
If you’re feeling particularly anxious or unsettled, add more time to your exercise or meditation practice – whatever activity helps you manage that feeling.
Start with what works for you and experiment with the order until you find the right combination.
Some people recommend beginning the day with meditation. I’m too groggy for that, so I like to drink water and brush my teeth first, followed by a morning walk.
Once I feel awake, I’m better able to meditate and read or write. Otherwise, I risk falling asleep on myself.
In the immortal words of the Isley Brothers, “It’s your thing. Do what you wanna do.”
What To Avoid In the Morning
Do NOT roll over and check your emails or social media first thing.
You’re setting yourself up for all sorts of anxiety and hectic vibes. In fact, unless it’s to use a meditation app, don’t even touch your phone until you’ve gone through your routine.
Do not allow your brain to start running through your “to-do” list or get swept up in daydreams about this or that.
When I first got sober, I devoted a lot of “zoning out” time in the morning to replaying some of my greatest, most shameful drunk hits in my brain.
Don’t do that.
The point of your morning routine is to create a sense of calm and alertness for your day AND to help you form better habits for your life. If it doesn’t contribute to either goal, don’t even consider giving it attention in the morning.
Helpful Tips For Creating Your Morning Routine In Early Sobriety
You need a routine, and you need to set yourself up for success.
Sometimes one can negatively impact the other. If you’re anything like me, once you get it in your head to do something, you Google the living daylights out of it and create a plan that you’re definitely not ready for.
What ends up happening?
You quit on your new routine, habit, or plan.
I don’t want that for you. It’s too important. So here’s what I suggest.
1. Start small.
If you’re not ready for an entire hour-long morning routine, begin with thirty minutes (I wouldn’t do any less than that). Gradually increase the time. Do thirty minutes this week, forty-five next week, and so on until you’ve got your hour.
2. Make sure you’re choosing things you actually enjoy doing.
If you hate yoga, don’t do yoga in the morning. Even if you’re just dancing around to music – so long as you’re getting your heart rate up, you’re doing something that counts as exercise.
3. Make sleep a priority.
The biggest killer of morning routines is an inconsistent sleep schedule.
Make your bedtime a non-negotiable (to the greatest extent possible). Also, be reasonable. If you’ve been getting up at 8 AM, setting the alarm for 5 AM starting tomorrow will shock your system.
Pick a realistic time and work on moving it back progressively (if that’s what you want to do).
4. Speaking of non-negotiable things
For many folks in early sobriety, insomnia makes quality sleep nearly impossible. If you’ve spent several hours tossing and turning, you may find your morning routine hard to manage.
Commit to at least two non-negotiable things that you will do every morning, no matter what.
Is it meditation and some exercise? Fantastic. Journaling and exercise? Beauty. Until you get your sleep sorted, this is a great alternative.
Give Yourself (And Your Morning Routine) Time
As with all new things, morning routines take some getting used to. Don’t give up on it. Experiment with what works and commit to doing it every day, INCLUDING the weekends. (Yes, you heard me.)
Consistency is the key to making anything work, as people in sobriety especially know. Developing a morning routine will add some much-needed structure to your life and help keep you on the path to recovery, health, and wellness.