How to Relieve Stress and Anxiety: 3 Defense Mechanisms for 2020

How to get through the rest of 2020 with ideas from Freud, who outlined our human defense mechanisms as the behavior we often subconsciously use when we are presented with unwanted or unpleasant emotions, thoughts or rough times.


Is your inbox full of messaging that reminds you how bad 2020 is? We don’t know about you, but hitting the delete button is our immediate response.


We have received dozens of emails from many companies, organizations and subscription services that remind us of how unprecedented and challenging, and awful 2020 has been.


Why do we do this…state the obvious?


When we say or write how bad things are, we only reinforce the “badness” in our brains. Neuroplasticity works that way: whatever we focus on, gets embedded into our memory vaults in our brains. 


In the NFL game of the week, Troy Aikman, will say something that every viewer in America has already realized. For instance, when the quarterback throws 3 incomplete passes, Troy Aikman might say, “He should probably consider running the ball next time.” Yeah, no shit, Troy.


Does not everyone on the planet know that washing hands, social distancing and wearing masks are what is recommended in 2020? Yet billboards, online advertisements, and the stranger at the grocery store still pummel you with caution and even anger, that you need to #Staysafe.






Yes, got it.


Like slowing to take a long look at the wreck on the other side of the highway, we too, have become conditioned to do a slow and detailed daily examination of the wreckage that we have come to know as 2020.


Don’t get us wrong, stating the obvious sometimes has its benefits, especially in a brainstorming sesh where people are not on the same page. “Aha’s” and new ideas are often born from when someone states the obvious.


Yet in 2020, the fear and chaos that is rampant gets us to thinking that stating the obvious is NOT healthy.


Not at all.


If you’ve been wondering how to get through hard times in life at any moment since last March, you’re not alone. The impact of the pandemic on mental health drastic has caused an increase in depression, suicidal ideation, and substance abuse is one of the most compelling fallouts of 2020. Anxiety disorders and depressive disorders were 3 and 4 times higher in 2020 than in 2019, according to the CDC.


Whether it’s Covid, the economy, job loss, businesses having to shut doors, the election, or the media’s high dose of daily fear pushed out to everyone in the world, stressors on everyone is obvious.


As a way to cope with the barrage of fear thrown at us, we can take a peek at Freud, who outlined our human defense mechanisms as the behavior we often subconsciously use when we are presented with unwanted or unpleasant emotions, thoughts or events.


Some of our defense mechanisms are good, some not so good.


Here are a few:


Denial: Avoidance or blocking emotions or events that make one feel badly or that are painful.


 Projection: Misattribution at its core. When someone is either accusing you or criticizing you for behavior that they, themselves are doing, we like to say, “Change the pronoun.”


Sublimation: Redirection of strong feelings and behavior into an appropriate healthy direction.


Regression: Feeling afraid, threatened, or anxious may cause someone to retreat to an earlier stage of human development.


Repression: Undesirable thoughts, feelings or behavior—even trauma—may be repressed or hidden.


Intellectualization: When the sh*t hits the fan, this strategy is useful to take emotion out of decision making and thoughts, and gives one the ability to “be in their head,” to productively move forward.


Displacement: Placing challenging emotions or thoughts onto a “safer” person because it is less threatening to do this than deal with the person or circumstance one is really upset with. (Snapping at your spouse because traffic was horrific and you were late and irritated.)


Rationalization: Justifying controversial thoughts, feelings or events to fit one’s narrative, even though the “facts” are different.


 Reaction Formation: Choosing to respond or react to a situation in the opposite way to how one feels. “I’m fine,” is a classic response when things are not so fine. Or a social media post of a happy family when the family is actually in a great deal of dysfunction.


Compartmentalization: The ability to separate out segments of one’s thoughts, feelings, and events so as not to spill over into other areas.


Here are our top 3 of Freud’s defense mechanisms we recommend you use to cope with the barrage of fear that is coming at you 24/7:


Intellectualization: As Certified Myers Briggs Practitioners who have a preference for Feeling, this is such a valuable defense mechanism to use when you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious. Being in your head at this time in our lives is actually a healthy thing to do when the health of our world is wreaking havoc with our emotions.


3 things to do to embrace intellectualization: Lists. Lists. Lists.


1. Write down the feelings and thoughts you have. When we write out the “scaries,” the fears decrease in their power over us. You do not have to reread these…just get them out.


2. Make a list of the accomplishments and gratitudes you’ve had. Every. Day. It can even be emptying the dishwasher or clearing out your inbox. Gratitudes can be in spite of COVID-19 and other stressors. Think about what good has come about in 2020.


3. List your goals and dreams for today, this week, this month, and beyond, right now. After each goal, make a list of at least 3 things you can control to make it happen, no matter what is happening in the world.


 Compartmentalization: Soooo helpful when we have areas in our life that are chaotic and stressful.



3 things to do to embrace compartmentalization:


“This fear goes in this box. That concern goes in that box. And this schedule goes in the box over there.” This is how you start to process, sort, and bring a sense of control to your life.” You make certain that challenging events, other people, and external influences do not bleed into your new organizational system. And if you are dealing with a Narcissist in your life, this defense mechanism is a Godsend.


You make a conscious decision not to be an “Oversharer.” Often when we start sharing our thoughts and feelings with others, we go down a rabbit hole of sharing everything. Instead of feeling better that we “got it out,” we feel even more discombobulated because we blurted out everything and now it’s a vortex of confusion. Instead, compartmentalize what you share and with whom.


You make a list of the important things you want—and need—to do. Segment this list into 2 categories of Urgent and Important. When you write down the tasks you need to complete, make sure to double the time you think you will need for completion of the task. And if you have a preference for “perception,” on the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, such as an ENFP,recognize that decision making with a quick turnaround does not come naturally to you.


Sublimation: By far, our favorite #COVID-19 and 2020 defense mechanism! If we can redirect our thoughts, emotions and events into a healthy reframe…this is gold.


 3 things to do to embrace sublimation:


1. Pause and reframe. First begin by taking a beat to identify the thoughts and feelings that are undesirable. Even though your kneejerk response might be to avoid the pain and discomfort, (don’t go to the other defense mechanism of repression), staying with the discomfort for a few moments will give you the opportunity to be aware of what those feelings and thoughts actually are. Then, reframe those thoughts and feelings into something that brings about positivity and calm. You can also use compartmentalization or intellectualization in tandem with this sublimation.


2. Meditate.  Yep, we know EVERYBODY is telling you to meditate. But for real…it does work. When we redirect our thoughts and feelings into a healthier space, like meditation, we lower our cortisol levels (stress) and bring clearer focus to our minds.


3. Physical movement. Whether it’s exercise, going for a walk, or literally moving from one room to another in your home, you can redirect unwanted thoughts and feelings by merely getting up from the couch.


While the rest of your external environment continues to state the obvious on all that’s wrong with 2020, you can take December to figuratively download the 3 defense mechanisms into your brain that will boost your spirit. By appreciating what’s right in your world, you will be that much more productive and peaceful.


If you’d like to better manage any stressors you may feel right now, please reach out to us for a free 30-minute consultation. (And join us here if you’d like more support on dealing with a narcissist.)


All blessings to you this season and into the New Year,


Poppy and Geoff



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Poppy and Geoff Spencer