Emotional Resilience Blog from The Fear Course

The latest research, realisations and thinking in the world of emotional resilience, anxiety and fear reduction from around the world.

Having a goal can help stress and anxiety, but....

Having a goal can help stress and anxiety, but....

One of the areas researchers are examining in more detail at the moment in the area of anxiety, fear and stress management is that of the role of goals. There is a growing body of evidence that our goals, what we want to achieve and work towards, has a direct and lasting effect on our levels of anxiety and stress. Over the next few posts I will look at some of the latest research evidence about how changing your goals can make a marked impact on your levels of anxiety, fear, stress and even depression.

The first study I will look at was conducted by researchers from the University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry, Seattle Pacific University, and Ohio State University.
This is a rather interesting neurological study looking at the pathway and process ( hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis) that produces cortisol, the stress hormone.

(For more information about cortisol and it's role with stress, anxiety and fear see my article here http://www.fearcourse.com/Th-link-between-anxiety-stress-and-cortisol.html).

As I mentioned, there is a growing body of research which is showing that having goals and a focus helps the alleviate stress, anxiety and even depression.

This study (to be published in June) looked at the ability of two different types of goal to reduce stress (cortisol levels) in 54 subjects.
The subjects had their cortisol levels tested before and after a stress induction process and then again after setting and working towards one of two different types of goal, or not working towards any goal (control group).
The first type of goal was for the subjects to promote themselves and do better than the other subjects in a series of tasks (a competitive self-serving goal).
The second goal was to help the other people (a compassionate, altruistic goal).

The cortisol/stress levels of the control group who didn't have any goal to work towards remained high after the stress induction and did not reduce.
The subjects who worked towards the competitive and self-serving goals actually saw their stress/cortisol levels increase.
However the subjects who were working on compassionate goals of helping someone else, saw significant drops in stress and cortisol levels.

Interestingly, the researchers then got the subjects who were following the competitive, self-serving goal to switch to a compassionate, altruistic goal, their increased stress levels went into reverse and fell significantly. The other subjects were asked to switch goals from their compassionate goal to a more competitive, self-serving goal and they had significant increases in stress.

So if you want to help yourself to reduce stress, help someone else. Helping yourself and competing against others just increases stress.

Do you listen to podcasts? I have just started a weekly podcast called David Wilkinson's Calm, composed & confident. It has a weekly round up of anxiety busting tips, the latest research, tools and techniques.

The podcast is free and available here via iTunes.


Ableson, J.L. etal (2014) Brief cognitive intervention can modulate neuroendocrine stress responses to the Trier Social Stress Test: Buffering effects of a compassionate goal orientation. Psychoneuroendocrinology Volume 44, June 2014, Pages 60–70

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