Why is it so hard to stick “the plan” when we’re stressed?

Posted on Fri, Jul 27, 2012

Stress, Depression, Anxiety, Couples Counselling, Yaletown CounsellingWhy is it so hard to stick “the plan” when we’re stressed?  Researchers from Ruhr-Universität in Germany believe they have discovered a key component for why we may fall back on on previously ingrained (sometimes negative or self-defeating) habits in spite of our desire to follow our new more highly valued goals.

Using fMRI scanning, they were able to identify that the areas of the brain responsible for goal directed behaviour (orbitofrontal and medial prefrontal cortex) begin to shut down when impacted by stress hormones.  Conversely, these same stress hormones do not impact the brain regions responsible for habitual behavior.

You may be saying big deal, I would have figured something like that was happening in our brains.  But I do think it is a big deal, and here’s why.

Everyone struggles to some degree.  But some people struggle not only with their individual issues, but also with a horrific self-narrative that attacks the core at every turn.  For people who believe poorly about themselves, any slip-up or mistake can compound the pre-existing stress while simultaneously discouraging them from pursuing their goals.   Sounds familiar.  It’s like double the obstacles in your path! 

Having the knowledge that stress is playing an impact on our ability to stay the course can dramatically change our process.  Instead of talk of poor will-power and weak self-discipline and ultimately self-degredation, we can include elements in our planning process that deal with the identificaion AND management of stressors.  

Jeff Ross, MA RCC

Resonate Wellness



Jeff is a Registered Clinical Counsellor and sees clients in Vancouver (Yaletown) and North Vancouver, BC, Canada.  He supports individuals with such issues as depression, anxiety, stress management, relationship issues, grief and bereavement, career and educational issues as well as growth and development.  In addition he also does couples counselling / marriage counselling.

If you have a comment or question about this post or any other, please feel free to join the discussion or send him a private and confidential email.  Let us know what Resonates with you!

Topics: Anxiety, Goals, Stress, Depression