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Are Your Anxiety Defense Mechanisms Actually Hurting You?

Approximately 18.1% of individuals in the United States have a diagnosed Anxiety Disorder every year, with symptoms of anxiety affecting millions of people. With multiple layers of stress due to COVID-19, election season, and racial injustice in 2020, anxiety has skyrocketed to 300% of what the statistics were in 2019.

Anxiety happens because the brain's frontal lobe becomes hyperaware of potential dangers to our body or mind. While humans are mostly no longer in danger or famine or getting eaten by a wild animal, we are still experiencing emotional danger due to the ever changing societal images and expectations, as well as physical danger due to societal unrest and the pandemic.

Here are some sneaky ways that anxiety might affect your life:

  1. You have an ever growing to-do list and feel unsettled even after everything is checked off of it.

  2. You procrastinate completing tasks by mindlessly scrolling on your phone or watching tv.

  3. You constantly attempt to think of ways to control your life, including feeling a constant need to over-perform in multiple aspects.

  4. You struggle to fall asleep or wake up due to avoidance or even feeling unsettled or fearful of the transition process from wakefulness to sleep.

  5. You feel like you have to have a drink after work to relax.

  6. You are hypercritical of your body, relationships, or work performance and believe that this criticalness will help you improve.

Does anything on the previous list sound familiar? While to-do lists can help organize our lives and prioritize what's important, they also can create an unreachable standard. Procrastination is a nod to a deeper issue of perfectionism and avoiding failure. Control can allow for achieving goals, but can also further feelings of shame, guilt, and even anger at self and others. A glass of wine now and again among friends can create bonding but using substances to as a predominant way to cope with feelings of stress or sadness is unsustainable. Operating from a place of shame or guilt often leads to more severe feelings of anxiety or depression.

How can we cope with anxiety without using defense mechanisms?

  1. Notice your emotions without avoiding them. Practice saying "There is a feeling of X," rather than "I'm feeling X."

  2. Think about what your bare minimum is and if that is easily achievable. Motivation only happens after we've accomplished something, so the smaller the goal, the better!

  3. Create alternate coping skills for relaxation. Instead of popping open a beer, take a walk or connect with another human.

When you're feeling like you have to compulsively act even when you know that the behaviors are unsustainable, think about what you really need. It might be a hug, a nap, a day off work, or a good meal.

Pivot Counseling, PLLC offers BCBS covered telehealth and in-person therapy for individuals struggling with Anxiety, Depression, Relationships, and Eating Disorders in Durham, NC. For more information regarding individual counseling, please go to, or follow us at or

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