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How a Strong Life Purpose Prevents Anxiety

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Is a firm sense of life purpose correlated with lower anxiety?

Yes, but how does that work?

A clear sense of your purpose in life may provide a solid foundation that common fears cannot shake so easily. Knowing why you’re here can prevent anxiety from stopping you.

In a study published in the Stress & Health Journal of the Wiley Online Library, researchers Richiro Ishida and Masahiko Okada asked volunteers to quantify both their sense of life purpose and general anxiety using the Purpose In Life (PIL) test and the Manifest Anxiety Scale (MAS), along with other tests that measure overall sympathetic nervous activity.

Responses were noted when analyzing the subjects’ sympathetic nervous system activity before and after viewing a fear-provoking video. Those with a stronger sense of life purpose had less sympathetic activity and therefore lower anxiety.

How does having a life purpose prevent anxiety?

In 2015, Maysville, Kentucky parents Chris Hargis and Lori Doppelheuer famously rushed into a burning home to rescue their five children. They didn’t hesitate when they realized the kids hadn’t followed them out. They just turned around and rushed back into the house. Hargis successfully pulled two of the children from the home, but mother Lori Doppelheuer wasn’t so fortunate. In spite of heroic efforts by firefighters, this mother and three of her children were trapped. All four perished.

A tour of Lori Doppelheuer’s Facebook profile left clues as to her life purpose. Endless photos of her family celebrating holidays. Surely this mom knew the risk of re-entering the all wood home, but her purpose was larger than her fear, even the fear of death couldn’t stop her. She’d rather die in her commitment to motherhood than live knowing she didn’t fulfill it. The anxiety that would have crippled someone without such a purpose didn’t slow this mother down.

An extreme example of courage with a tragic ending, but does the “Doppelheuer effect” apply to everyday situations?

Can you put the life purpose principle to work?

If a strong life purpose can prevent anxiety from crippling a mother whose children are in peril, can it help you overcome everyday fears? It might, but that would require understanding and emotionally connecting with your purpose in life. Do you know your life purpose?

The logic is this: A purpose in life gives you a motivation to act that is stronger than your fear. Imagine you have a fear of speaking in public. You’re afraid of saying the wrong thing and looking like a fool. Then, you connect on the inside to a message you believe everyone must hear. Getting the message out becomes more important than avoiding looking like a fool. In fact, you’re more than willing to look like a fool as long as your message is heard. That’s purpose in action.

A strong sense of purpose prevents fear from blossoming into a crippling condition. That’s the logic. Does it make sense?

If you’re not clear on your life purpose, it may be time for some soul-searching or even some coaching from someone who understands the issue. Life purpose often begins with an assessment of life values, which can be discovered through a life values inventory. The emotional benefits are waiting on the other side.



How a Strong Life Purpose Prevents Anxiety

Mike Bundrant

Mike Bundrant is the author of Your Achilles Eel: Discover and Overcome the Hidden Cause of Negative Emotions, Bad Decisions and Self-Sabotage and co-founder at The iNLP Center which offers online certification in Neuro-Linguistic Programming and life coaching.

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APA Reference
Bundrant, M. (2017). How a Strong Life Purpose Prevents Anxiety. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 22, 2018, from


Last updated: 12 Dec 2017
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 12 Dec 2017
Published on All rights reserved.