Use anxiety as a motivator

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We’ve all felt it before, that nervous feeling that seems to drop your brain down into the middle of your stomach. It can make you feel pukey, uncomfortable, sad, and generally preoccupied with your feelings. In dealing with muscular dystrophy, disability, or life in general, I have experienced these anxious periods many times over the years. It can come from external pressures like bills and responsibilities, but often it comes from a place of uncertainty, like that “last day of school feeling” when you don’t know what the next step is going to be.

Recently, however, I finally came to learn what this anxiety has done for me — it has been a motivator. It has been that “thing” that has taken me up a notch, either to perform or to succeed or to just get through whatever I was experiencing. In each and every memorable experience with anxiety I unwittingly responded with a big push — a determined effort to move to the next thing. Some people don’t respond that way, however. It’s how you decide to deal with anxiety can either make or break you. Anxiety can be leveraged to achieve great things or it can take you out of the game.

Anxiety is not a pleasant feeling. It’s extremely uncomfortable. My immediate response to anxiety is “I just need to get rid of this!” But how? I know people who medicate for anxiety. They pop pills or drink alcohol or eat. While I am not against medication, I think you need to medicate and make an effort to change at the same time. If you take pills for anxiety but don’t simultaneously try to deal with your anxiety then you’re just prolonging and deferring that uncomfortable feeling. If you simply drink away your anxiety, you don’t deal with it either. It comes back, you drink more, and pretty soon you’re not just suffering from anxiety, you’re suffering from depression and alcoholism.

I prefer not to medicate anxiety. For me, anxiety is now a powerful motivator. Just the fact that it makes you physically uncomfortable signifies that you need to get off your butt and do something different. It is so easy to become mentally complacent with a situation — both bad and good — such that your brain adapts and gets you into a comfort zone. If you are in a negative situation, you might decide to ignore the anxiety and accept the negative job, relationship, or living situation. But even when you are in a good situation — making good money, dating a great person, or otherwise feeling satisfied — you get comfortable and forget that you need to do something to maintain that situation.

I had the opportunity to go through what I call an “highly aware anxious experience” where I felt like I was able to step back from the anxiety and see the way it was impacting me. I discovered that in the moment of feeling anxious, my energy level was much higher than when I was not anxious. The anxiety kicked me back up a notch. Then the anxiety left me and I felt like I slid back down into a lull that I wasn’t happy with. I consciously decided to kick it back up a notch, and although it took a bit of energy, when I did return to the higher energy level, I didn’t feel anxious anymore. I felt in control.

It is being up that notch that I know leads to bigger and better things. Why get sucked into a lull, or artificial comfort zone when you could advance to the next big thing whether it’s a new life experience or a better contribution to the world? I now feel that when my body makes me feel anxious, it’s telling me “Kick it up a notch or I am going to make you feel like shit until you do!” It’s a very empowering feeling to understand this.

Think about it from a historical perspective for a moment. When humans had to hunt for their own food in order to survive, they couldn’t just sit around and be complacent with an immediate kill. Perhaps they took time to enjoy them meal, but at some point soon, they had to think about where the next meal was going to come from or they would starve. I believe that at its core, anxiety is a survival instinct and a free, motivating leftover from our ancestors which clearly has very relevant importance in today’s world.

Anxiety is definitely a mixed blessing. But if you can gain control of it, or at least understand it, it can be an amazing asset. ┬áNow I try to kick it up a notch on my own, but when I don’t, I have something ready to crack the whip for me — anxiety — which I now recognize as that self-motivating factor that money cannot buy.

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