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As you’ll notice in the list of examples below, defences have good motives, but the reality is that they don’t always work and after a while, they can cause more harm than good when they are not grounded in the current reality of the here-and-now situation you’re in.

As an adult, anxiety can act as a defence in many ways. Here are a few:

  • Health: anxiety can help drive individuals to practice preventive health measures, such as frequent hand washing, and other hygiene practises. It can motivate you to be hyper vigilant the food you eat and the exercise you do in order to ensure you look and feel a certain way that could be deemed as socially acceptable.
  • Academic or professional: Anxiety about academic or professional performance can drive individuals to study diligently, prepare thoroughly, and stay organised, acting as a defence against academic or career-related challenges. This can feel like the only way to ensure you keep up with your colleagues, and are therefore liked, and belong, you are financially secure and feel good enough.
  • Social: you may avoid social situations or act in ways that you feel others want you to be to make sure that you fit in, that you are liked. This reduces the risk of ridicule, rejection, judgement or abandonment.
  • Financial: to prompt you to spend carefully to ensure financial safety. This could help to ensure that you are able to stay independent as it feels scary to risk relying on others. Feeling anxious about financial stability can prompt individuals to budget carefully, save money, and make informed financial decisions, acting as a defence against economic uncertainties. This could help to ensure your independence if relying on and trusting in others, feels scary.
  • Driving: to stop you from making any errors that could be dangerous that might lead to actions deemed as bad that could cause you to be judged and create the threat of rejection or abandonment.
  • Risk Avoidance in Dangerous Environments: Anxiety may lead an individual to avoid potentially dangerous environments, such as dark alleys or isolated areas, as a way to protect themselves from potential harm. When anxiety escalates, and you become hyper vigilant, it can stop you from enjoying places that are infact very low risk such as getting a drink in the café on your lunch break.

 

These are just a handful of ways that anxiety can start our as perfectly helpful and can help you to take preventative action. Each of these examples contains an underlying threat to your sense of self, who are you are as a person. If you get something wrong, make a mistake, are slightly different to others, this can feel like it will result in judgement, perhaps ridicule even. It can feel as if being judged and seen as different will lead you to being rejected or abandoned, pushed away by your friends or others and left alone. This can be really terrifying.

 

Anxiety might be a way for you to exert a sense of control over your environment. By anticipating and preparing for potential threats, both physical and also emotional threats to your sense of identity and belonging, you may feel more in control of situations, offering a defence against the unpredictability of life. Wanting control is very natural and some people feel the need for control more than others. Coming to a deeper awareness of who you are, what you need to feel happy and safe in the world, and feeling able to take steps to attain this, can free you from the need to have control.