Social anxiety can be a motivator to avoid situations you find uncomfortable. At its core, anxiety is a gripping, all-consuming feeling that can feel impossible to overcome.
Accepting that anxiety is part of your life and turning it on its head to become a motivator to do the very things you find uncomfortable is a valid coping strategy that some people find effective.
Why Can Some People Use Anxiety as Motivation?
Not all people can use motivation to push forward through the very discomfort that the anxiety causes. The reason for this may be a genetic variant.
A 2006 study published in the journal “CNS Spectrum” explains that there are two basic types of people: those who adopt a “warrior” strategy and those who adopt a “worrier” strategy when coping with anxiety.
Those with the “warrior” genetic variant don’t just push through when stress is present: they need it to thrive. For example, if you do your best work when you have a deadline looming over your head, you probably have the “warrior” variant in your genetics.
“Worriers”, on the other hand, shut down when confronted with stress. Those with the “worrier” genetic variant find stress unbearable and can’t cope with it, nor can they be productive or make anything productive out of it when it is present. If you need time to plan out your projects and must have them done well before the deadline, your genetics may have the “worrier” variant.
The “worrier” or “warrior” explanation of genetic variants is extremely simplified; however, it may account for the reason some people are able to use social anxiety to their advantage.
Variables that Affect the Ability to Use Anxiety Effectively
The type of anxiety you experience, as well as the anxiety intensity, can affect your ability to use social anxiety as a motivator. For example, if your anxiety intensity is so great that you can’t even pick up the phone for fear of something horrific happening and you feel sick to your stomach every time it rings, the chances that you’ll be able to use your anxiety as a motivator without intensive cognitive behavioral therapy are slim.
If your social anxiety is mild and you are still able to get out and about – if you want to bolt when shopping at a crowded supermarket but don’t – you might be able to start viewing and using your anxiety as a motivator.
Your therapist can help you sort out the type of social anxiety you’re experiencing and how best to use it to your advantage. It’s worth talking about in order to figure out if using your anxiety as a motivator is a valid coping strategy for you at this point in time.
Using Fear to Your Advantage
When you’re anxious, you’re afraid. When you’re constantly afraid, you start fearing the fear, so you avoid things that make you afraid.
By using the very thing that’s holding you back in order to motivate you, you can earn a great sense of accomplishment and start beating the disorder little by little. While social anxiety might never totally go away, turning it into a tool in your life arsenal can be a powerful thing.
By taking little steps toward doing the things that make you afraid (and having positive experiences that refute the notion that it’ll be horrible), you gradually become less afraid. A good therapist can walk you through the process of exposure and re-exposure or tell you if this is the right course of action for you and your individual anxiety.
Anxiety and fear are subjective – and so are coping mechanisms. What works for one person might not work for another. You may find that trying to use your social anxiety as motivation creates another type of anxiety, making it nigh impossible to try again. Don’t get discouraged.
Anxiety as a Path to Success
Harnessing your anxiety can be a direct path to success. When feeling anxiety, you overcompensate and do your best work and try your hardest to overcome it. By trying hard, you gain successes in various areas of your life. By having successes, you gain confidence to keep trying. As you keep trying, you gain more success and confidence.
Just like the fear cycle of having a bad experience after a bad experience reaffirms your anxiety, having good experiences as the direct result of working with your anxiety can push you to keep going, keep trying and to try harder, leading to positive experience after positive experience. Once you have a few positive experiences under your belt, the negative ones might (not always, but might) not feel so negative.
Anxiety is Highly Individual
Social anxiety is very personal. What works for you might not work for others, just like the level of feelings you experience may be very different. You may find that you’re able to use your anxiety as a motivator to succeed or even to overcome the anxiety itself – it’s dependent on the type of anxiety you experience, what caused it, its intensity, genetics and many other variables in your life.
Working with your therapist, you can determine whether it’s possible or even advisable to try using social anxiety as a motivator and how best to go about doing so.