A Morning Routine That’s Helping Improve my Mental Health

Stress, anxiety and PTSD… These are things I wake up with every morning. But they don’t have to follow me into my day. Here’s a wake-up routine that’s been working for me.

anxiety | journaling | nadya okamoto
Photo: Artem Kovalev

When I started my first diary in fourth grade, I filled its pages with rankings of the cute boys in my class, and with obligatory entries about my emotions (homework from the school counselor). Twelve years later, at age 22, journaling has become a lifesaving way of pushing me to pause and be present and has been a way to savor my memories.

This year I took a deep dive into really focusing on my mental health and found that I couldn’t recall many memories before age ten, and the ones that I could remember felt more like terrifying flashbacks – a product of my complex PTSD. It’s as if I forced myself to sort of “check out” from the present moment as a survival tactic to stay in denial that whatever abuse had happened with my dad or later assault, didn’t really happen to ME and MY body. I trained my brain to not be present, to literally be dissociated. I trained myself to distract my mind when flashbacks flooded in.

Now, as a young adult who wants to experience, be present in, and REMEMBER the life I am living, I am having to rewire my brain through therapy and with new mindfulness habits. I know that therapy can be incredibly expensive, and I feel very fortunate to be in a place now where I can afford access to it, so I wanted to share a game-changing practice that has helped me on a daily basis and is rather low-cost: a morning routine.

anxiety | journaling | nadya okamoto
Photo: John Towner

Every day for the last few months, I aim to go to bed around midnight and wake up at 7:30 am. This is a big change from the insomniac life I have led for the last several years. In the morning, I make coffee for the house, and try to journal at least for a few minutes. That’s the crazy thing…I feel like when I say, “Oh yeah, I journal,” people assume that means I take hours each day or week to sit down and write. Nope, I aim to just sit at least for a few minutes (maybe fifteen, max) to journal – and then I am ready to start my workday by 8 am. These 30 minutes are blocked in my calendar every single day. I’m a recovering workaholic, which means that even getting myself to take some time in the morning just for myself and no professional obligation, feels like dramatic progress for me!

My morning journal prompts:

(and feel free to adapt any of these that might be helpful)

  1. My dreams: This summer I started taking prescribed sleeping meds to counter my anxiety and insomnia at night, and while it works wonders for myself, it does cause vivid dreams. I believe that all of our dreams tell us something, and so I like to write them down, no matter how crazy they sound, to look back on.
  2. A quick check-in: How am I feeling? For the several months, I have had more panic attacks in the early morning right when I wake up. They’ve gotten much better in the last couple months, but it’s important for me to name the anxiety so then I can truly focus on calming my body and mind down.
  3. What I’m grateful for: Writing a few words, people, or experiences that I feel grateful for – these are things that I write down and can’t help smiling about.
  4. My goals for the day: Ambitious but also realistic goals that I want to focus on. I try to make these a mix of personal and professional goals.
  5. An affirmation: what’s something you really need to hear today? For the last two weeks, my daily affirmation has been: “You are safe, you are going to be ok.” Right now, that’s what I need to hear – and apparently, what I need to hear everyday – and that’s ok. Baby steps.
anxiety | journaling | nadya okamoto

I started really feeling the positive impacts of this morning routine in my mental health throughout the day after I took the pressure off of myself of needing to journal for a certain amount of time. Yes, OF COURSE, I miss some days, and my friends/housemates have to remind me to take my morning break – but, if I do forget or avoid taking that pause, I forgive myself and recommit to doing it the next morning.

So, good morning to you all, and I hope this might brighten up some of your mornings! And for anyone who needs to hear it:

You are safe. You are loved. And you’re going to be okay.

I’ve also put together a good morning playlist that’s helped me start the day in an energy that’s right for me. Give it a listen:

anxiety | journaling | nadya okamoto

Nadya Okamoto is a 22-year-old Harvard student. She is the Founder of PERIOD (period.org), an organization fighting to end period poverty and stigma that she founded at the age of 16. Under her leadership as Executive Director for five years, PERIOD addressed over 1.5 million periods and registered over 800 campus chapters in all 50 states and 50 other countries. In 2017, Nadya ran for public office in Cambridge, MA at age 19 — at the time, becoming the youngest Asian American to run. In 2018, Nadya published her debut book, Period Power: A Manifesto for the Menstrual Movement with publisher Simon & Schuster, which made the Kirkus Reviews list for Best Young Adult Nonfiction of 2018. Nadya is also the former Chief Brand Officer and current Board Member of JUV Consulting, a Generation Z marketing agency based in NYC. She is included in the latest cohorts of Forbes 30 under 30Bloomberg 50 “Ones to Watch”People Magazine’s Women Changing the World, and InStyle Magazine’s 2018 The Badass 50.


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