The 7 habits of slightly‑less‑anxious people

Last month was mental health awareness month, but mental health isn’t just for one month, or one single day – it’s every day all year round. And looking after it can be easier said than done.

We all know we SHOULD be practising self-care. We all know we SHOULD be cutting down on cake and alcohol, taking more exercise, being ‘mindful’ and finding ‘work/life balance’ – but it’s hard to know where to start, and how to keep it up. It’s even harder if you’re already stressed, anxious or depressed…

So, we’ve teamed up with our partners Health Assured, who provide our stress support line, to look at what people who look after their mental health well are actually doing, on a day-to-day basis. What ARE the habits of slightly less anxious and slightly more resilient people, and how can we start to adopt them?

1. They give up on the superman/woman act

You – Cannot – Do – Everything. Truly resilient people don’t expect too much of themselves, or of others.

Many of us fall into the trap of Super-manning our way through life tackling everything at once and blaming ourselves if we can’t save the day. The trouble is that Superman ends up taking on far too much, and eventually becoming a martyr to it. All superheroes deserve Clark Kent days, too.

Setting realistic goals for your day is a great place to start, because there really is nothing worse than constantly falling short of your own expectations and exhausting yourself in the process. On high energy days your goals might be to finish or start a project, on low energy days you might just congratulate yourself on getting out of bed and making some toast.

2. They say NO

Setting boundaries is one of the key habits of slightly less anxious people. It’s part of not doing everything for everyone and not Super-manning, but it’s also about setting expectations for how you want to be treated and how you value yourself and your time.

It’s okay to say no I can’t do that, no I don’t have the capacity for that right now, no I’m not the right person to help with this, no let’s do it next week instead. And we need to normalise cutting out the people and the activities that are draining us of energy and contributing to feelings of anxiety and overwhelm.

3. They reach out and ask for help

Connecting with others lowers rates of anxiety and depression, boosts self-esteem and even increases life expectancy. People who prioritise their time with friends and family and reach out to talk and share when they are under pressure are better equipped to face serious issues and serious stress.

Scheduling in time for the people that support you and feed your energy is something we all lose sight of when life takes us over. If you do nothing else today, think about the individuals who care about you, listen to you, boost you up and make you feel understood. And then call them. Or text. Just to say hi!

4. They look for humour - and go with the flow

Sometimes the best thing you can do is try and change how you’re reacting to situations or stressors in your life. People who have less anxiety are often choosing to laugh at or learn from adverse or stressful things that happen to them. Diffusing some of that high emotion can help you find distance and develop your coping capacity and strategies.

It might not be easy, but a good place to start is to think how your favourite comedian would react in a situation, or how you’d tell the story to entertain your friends down the pub later. Let go of your expectations, go with the flow, be flexible, and be ready to be amused/pleased by the people, places and events around you.

5. They prioritise (off screen) relaxation

When you’re overwhelmed and there’s too much to do and think, stopping and resting feels really difficult, and even uncomfortable. People who are building resilience are almost always building in time to relax and giving themselves permission to just do nothing. What’s more, doing nothing DOESN’T involve wiling away time scrolling through a newsfeed…

While social media does help people stay in touch, it can also reduce wellbeing over time by encouraging you to compare your life with others and discouraging the sort of concentration and disconnection that can actually give your brain a rest. Start with one night. Turn off your social media apps, and do something else...

6. They find an outlet

Excessive stress and overwhelming emotions can leave you feeling drained and exhausted. Slightly less anxious people find ways to release these emotions, and re-channel the energy behind them. Activities that involve your hands can often help bring your attention to the now and stop your mind churning on future disasters and past disappointments. For those of us struggling to find ‘mindfulness’ in an app or a recording of whale songs, hobbies are a great way to switch off and just BE.

It might take some time to find out what works for you – it could be gardening, cooking, colouring in, model-boat making, even running. Think about what you enjoyed doing most as a child and try doing more of it.

7. They do the physical stuff

Gah. It’s so boring. But the physical stuff actually really does matter. And if you’re in the right frame of mind (see 1-6) you can create the reserves and willpower you need to eat better, drink more water and less alcohol, and move your body a little bit more, too.

The people that are good at this start small. They don’t cut out all food groups, go tee-total or join a gym. Instead, they set a weekend-only rule for alcohol. They park further away to do the school run. They walk round the block during their lunch break or a meeting. They choose the peppermint tea every now and again instead of the latte.

Small physical health changes can lead to big mental health gains – and could help YOU be slightly less anxious, too.

If you’ve been struggling with anxiety, or any kind of mental health issue, then Health Assured can help. If stress support is part of your Equipsme plan, please don’t hesitate to use it. Health Assured’s friendly, BACP accredited counsellors are there for you 24/7, 365 days a year. Simply visit your Members portal to obtain all the details you need to call the Stress Support helpline.