Anxiety – Lifestyle Choices

Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie,

Which we ascribe to heaven.”

William Shakespeare, All’s Well That Ends Well, Act 1 Scene 1

In 1965, a research study began in the Californian urban community of Alameda County. Its aim was to explore the links between lifestyle and longevity, and 7,000 residents were involved. The longitudinal study gave rise to a list of ‘seven health habits’ that were shown to be positively correlated with living longer (see below).

The study found that a 45-year-old man following six or seven of the health habits had a 1-in-2 chance of living to age 78, whereas those following between zero and four habits had an expected mortality age of 67. For 45-year-old females, the difference was around four years less ((Breslow, L. and Enstrom, J.E. “Persistence of health habits and their relationship to mortality.” Preventive Medicine 1980; 9: 469-483).

Here’s the list of seven health habits:

  • Never smoking cigarettes: smoking actually triggers a stress response and heightens alertness. Any relaxing effect felt is due to relief from withdrawal from nicotine addiction.
  • Regular physical activity: this has been shown to relieve anxiety symptoms as well as aid physical health.
  • Moderate or no use of alcohol: alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. The stimulating effect of drinking happens when alcohol depresses the natural inhibitory processes in the brain, making you less afraid of doing something with a social consequence attached to it. Alcohol also disrupts our sleep patterns.
  • Seven to eight hours of sleep a night: in addition to the physical rest that sleep allows us, it’s also a rest and tidy-up time for the brain.
  • Maintaining proper body weight: stress can make us store more energy in the form of fat, as well as prompt us to eat more, particularly when food is seen as a comfort. Losing weight usually is achieved through a gradual process of eating fewer calories and exercising more.
  • Eating breakfast: people in the study who ate breakfast and avoided eating between meals reported better health than those who skipped breakfast or ate between meals.
  • Not eating between meals: several small meals have been found to be better than one or two heavy ones, but don’t mistake a small meal for snacking.


In addition to these seven healthy habits, we recommend reducing caffeine intake (it stimulates the heart and brain and can cause sleep disturbances as well as dehydration – best avoid having any after 12-noon), and getting out into nature regularly (the colour green is associated with calm, and the randomness and unpredictability of the wide outdoors helps our pattern-seeking brain eventually to calm down).

Successful lifestyle changes take time to become habits. Don’t try to change drastically what you are already doing: we are creatures of habit and there is reward to be had from carrying out your habitual behaviours (i.e. comfort from something pleasurable, or reassurance from avoiding something unpleasant). Take it one step at a time and be easy on yourself.

In the next and final post, we’ll look at how you can reframe your challenges and manage anxiety for the long term.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash.

Sign me up to 'Success in Mind' - the weekly newsletter from Face Value