As my alarm clock rings, I climb out of bed to get ready for the day. I have my routine down: I get dressed, brush my teeth, wash my face, pull my hair into my classic pig-tails, carefully apply mascara and read my daily inspirational quote. Half an hour later, I head downstairs, spend an hour working on homework, finish a plate of scrambled eggs and head out the door to catch the bus.
It’s a leisurely start to the morning. The reason why it’s possible? I wake up at 5 a.m. every day.
During the first semester of this school year, I put immense pressure on myself to get good grades while keeping up with extracurriculars. Trying to balance all of my seemingly never-ending responsibilities caused me to experience anxiety attacks. I lost faith in myself and began to second guess every decision that I made, both in and out of school. In January, my psychiatrist put me on medication for general anxiety disorder and depression, and I decided I also needed to begin restoring my confidence and happiness.
Earlier in the year, I had developed the habit of procrastinating my homework. When this happened I would end up getting into bed before completing all of my assignments and I lay awake in bed, worrying about my unfinished work. This late-night stress left me tired and irritable the next day.
My psychiatrist told me that working in a different environment would increase my productivity. So, I started going to the library every day after school to do homework. My psychiatrist was right; in this new setting, I felt far more motivated than I did in my basement.
But the library didn’t eliminate my midnight stress. Late into each night, I still felt waves of panic that I may not be participating in enough extracurriculars or focusing enough on my grades, and instead of sleeping, I mentally listed ways to increase my productivity even more. Late night worrying became a part of my routine, and I continued to lose sleep.
One day I felt so overwhelmed that, instead of focusing on the little homework that I had, I spent my afternoon doing mindless tasks such as re-reading old books and scrolling through Instagram. When I headed up to bed, my homework was still unfinished.
As I lied in bed that night, my breathing began to quicken and my thoughts began to race. I recognized the signs of my incoming panic attack, and to get rid of the tension I felt rising in my throat I impulsively set my alarm clock to 5 a.m. I would finish my work the next morning, I told myself.
When I heard my alarm the next day, I moved grudgingly through my morning routine and headed downstairs, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. I pulled out some of the homework I’d neglected the day before and set to finishing it. By 6:30 a.m. — when I’d usually stumble into my kitchen to make breakfast — I had finished all of my assignments. When I walked into school an hour later, I felt more relieved and uplifted than I had all year.
During my classes, I reflected on how productive I had been that morning. When I shared my schedule with my friends, they told me that waking up at 5 a.m. was silly, and that I should sleep in from then on. They sounded reasonable at the moment, but as the sky grew darker that evening, all I could think of was that I didn’t want to experience my usual late-night stress. I got ready for bed at 9 p.m. instead of my normal 10 p.m., and once again, I set my alarm for 5 a.m. When I cracked my eyes open the next morning, I immediately felt calm, knowing that I had enough time ahead to finish my homework.
I continued to wake up at 5 a.m. from then on, which eliminated an hour from my evening along with most of my stress. My friends and family made fun of my strange sleeping schedule, but I reveled in my new productivity; I was finally finishing all of my homework on time while also getting a sufficient amount of sleep.
I won’t pretend that I set my alarm for 5 a.m. every day. Some days, after a late night out, the prospect of waking up before the birds feels more like a chore than a healthy habit. However, since I’ve begun my new routine, I’ve never set my alarm for later than 5:30 a.m. on a school day.
While I sometimes worry that my dependency on this routine may become unhealthy, I’ve become a more confident version of myself ever since I started waking up early. Without the self-doubt that used to fill my mind in the later hours of night, I have more faith in my abilities as a student and a friend.
One day, waking up before the crack of dawn may no longer be necessary for me to feel in control of my anxiety. But for now, getting out of bed at 5 a.m. is one of my favorite parts of the day; I’m proud of myself for finding a unique way to improve my well-being.