What Is a ‘Slow Morning’? Here’s How To Have One

Is "rise and grind" culture making your days start off stressful? Here's why experts say you should embrace a slow morning—and how to do it in three simple steps.

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Waking up on the wrong side of the bed can truly make or break your day, according to research. A 2018 study published in The Journals of Gerontology found that when we start the morning already believing the day is going to be stressful, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy—we often wind up feeling bad all day, even if nothing distressing actually happens. Plus, the researchers found that our morning mindset greatly impacts things like our focus, memory, and creativity throughout the day.

Having a morning routine is a powerful way to start your day out on the right foot (read more about the power of routines here). And it doesn’t have to be complicated. Sure, CEOs and celebrity influencers may insist you wake up at 5 a.m., go for a five-mile run, read a chapter of a book, and cook a perfectly nutritionally-balanced breakfast all before work begins as the keys to success. But 2023 data from Pinterest recently revealed not all of us want to start the day so aggressively—in fact, Pinterest searches around the term “slow morning” had increased 60%.

Experts say having a great morning mindset is way simpler than you think—if we all just slow…things…down a little.

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What is a slow morning?

A slow morning is an element of a slow-living lifestyle—a growing trend that aims to counter today’s fast-paced, high-consumption society. “[Slow living] looks different for everyone, but at its heart, it’s about creating space in your life for things that are important to you,” says Brooke McAlary, author of Slow: Simple Living for a Frantic World and host of the award-winning podcast The Slow Home. It can relate to the pace at which we live—but really comes down to the depth and quality of the things we do. “Learning how to pay attention, to find contentment in everyday moments, and questioning why we constantly rush from one thing to the next. That’s what slow living means to me.”

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How can having a slow morning improve your day?

Starting your day with this slow-living mindset helps us not get caught up in the what-ifs and anxieties of the day ahead, says Daniel Wysocki, a board-certified psychologist with a private practice in Arkansas. “Slowness refers to a shift in our perception of time rather than actually [expecting] it to pass more slowly,” he explains. And setting this tempo first thing in the morning helps you more easily align your decisions with your values and needs all day long.

McAlary suggests you think of it like this: The world is so busy and we’re bombarded with so much information, it’s easy to see why so many of us go through our days teetering on the edge of overwhelm. As a result, when something inconvenient or annoying happens—your kid spills something, you sleep through your alarm, you stain your shirt—it can tip us over the edge. “By creating little pockets of slowness in the morning, we give ourselves some buffer to protect against the stress and overwhelm. If something frustrating or unexpected happens, we have room to deal with it,” she says. “And while it sounds like a small change, it makes a huge difference to how we move through the rest of our day.”

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How to have a slow morning

“I used to think that I needed a big, impressive routine to start the day well,” McAlary says. “But now I aim for small acts of care instead.”

Wysocki agrees that keeping things simple is the key to a slow morning. “One of the great advantages of slow living is that people do not need drastic personal changes in order to enjoy its benefits,” he says.

To simplify it even more, McAlary recommends three foundational principles to start having slower mornings—and making them a daily habit:

A good morning starts the night before

Whether that means getting your clothes and work bag ready before bed or turning the TV off earlier so you get a bit more sleep, just try adding a couple of tasks to your evening that will make your mornings that little bit smoother, she says.

Don’t reach for a screen first thing

“It really is one of the best ways to change how your morning feels,” she says. “If we dive head-first into emails, social media, news, and notifications first thing, we don’t give ourselves the chance to meet the day with intention. We just start reacting.” Instead, spend a minute lying in bed and take a few deep breaths. “Pay attention to how you’re feeling, the thoughts that are coming and going, and then get into your morning—you’ll probably find that you have more time too!”

Add a tiny moment of self-care to your morning

Take a moment to do something nice in your morning, a small moment of self-care that’s just for you. “It can be really small, like doing some stretches while you [make breakfast] or letting the sunlight fall on your face while you wait for the bus,” she says. “Or you can give yourself five minutes and treat your first cup of coffee as a daily ritual. Choose a mug you like, take a deep breath, and smell the coffee as it’s brewing, feel the warmth of the cup in your hands, and use those few quiet moments as a springboard to start your day.” Her tip: keep a list of tiny acts of self-care that you can pick and choose from based on how you’re feeling that day.

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People:

Brooke McAlary, author of Slow: Simple Living for a Frantic World and host of the award-winning podcast The Slow Home

Daniel Wysocki, a board-certified psychologist with a private practice in Arkansas

Journals:

The Journals of Gerontology: "Waking Up on the Wrong Side of the Bed: The Effects of Stress Anticipation on Working Memory in Daily Life"

Leslie Finlay
In addition to The Healthy, Leslie has written for outlets such as WebMd.com, Fodors.com, LiveFit.com, and more, specializing in content related to healthcare, nutrition, mental health and wellness, and environmental conservation and sustainability. She holds a master's degree in Public Policy focused on the intersection between public health and environmental conservation, and an undergraduate degree in journalism. Leslie is based in Thailand, where she is a marine conservation and scuba diving instructor. In her spare time you'll find her up in the air on the flying trapeze or underwater, diving coral reefs.