How to Find Motivation and Overcome Social Anxiety

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Although social anxiety disorder (SAD) is one of the most common mental disorders, most people live years with symptoms before seeking help and many never receive treatment at all.

There are many potential obstacles to obtaining treatment for those with SAD, including fear of being judged negatively, fear of calling to make appointments, anxiety about talking to a therapist, and not knowing where to go for help.

If you have been suffering from social anxiety but not sought treatment, you may be struggling with motivation to change. The obstacles to getting better probably seem too daunting and the safety and avoidance behaviors that you have developed might be too easy to fall back on.

Research tells us that there are five stages that people go through when contemplating a major life change.

These stages are generally applied to addictions, and health and fitness problems such as losing weight or quitting smoking, but can be applied to any behavior you are trying to change, and are also relevant to social anxiety.

Developing Motivation for Change

Below is a list of the five steps of change. See if any of these stages describe you.

  1. Precontemplation: During precontemplation, you either are not aware that you have a problem with social anxiety or you have no intention of changing your behavior. You either don't want to change or believe that changing would be impossible.
  2. Contemplation: During the contemplation stage, you are thinking about working on your social anxiety sometime in the future (e.g., in a few months time). At this stage, you are aware of the benefits of overcoming social anxiety but are still overwhelmed by what is needed to make a change.
  3. Preparation: During preparation, you are actively planning to work on your social anxiety in the near future (e.g., in a month). At this point, the benefits of being less socially anxious outweigh the costs of making a change for you. During this stage, you might take actions such as finding out about potential treatments or buying self-help materials.
  4. Action: During the action stage, you are taking steps to change your socially anxious behavior. You might be attending therapy, taking medication, or practicing self-help strategies.
  5. Maintenance: Maintenance occurs after you have taken action to change. During the maintenance phase, you are taking steps to prevent your social anxiety from returning. You might be doing things such as periodically reviewing what you learned in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or making sure to regularly expose yourself to feared situations.

Research has also shown that brief therapy specifically designed to increase motivation may help people seek treatment for social anxiety. Motivation enhancement therapy (MET) combines education about social anxiety with interview techniques designed to increase motivation to change. Motivational interviewing is another effective technique that can help increase motivation for behavior change.

Some of the exercises involved in MET are listed below. If you are having trouble with the motivation to overcome your social anxiety, try these out on your own and see how they influence your desire to change.

(Write out your answers to the following questions)

  1. What is a typical day like for you? How does social anxiety impact what you do?
  2. What are the pros and cons of seeking treatment for your social anxiety? What are the cons of not seeking treatment for your social anxiety?
  3. What are your short- and long-term goals? How does your social anxiety affect these goals?
  4. What do you think your life will look like 20 years from now if you don't seek help? What will it look like if you do?

It can be helpful to write out these questions and answers like you would on a decisional balance sheet. This can help you visually see the pros and cons of making the change versus not making the change.

After considering your answers to these questions, create a plan for change. If you are having trouble creating a plan or making a decision, it is important to seek support. Talking to a friend or family member and enlisting their assistance can be helpful.

Your plan can be as simple as the basic steps needed to seek help, such as exploring options for medication or therapy, calling to make an appointment, and planning how to overcome barriers such as determining how to pay for treatment.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Prochaska JO, DiClemente CC. Stages and processes of self-change of smoking: Toward an integrative model of change. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 1983;51(3):390-395. doi:10.1037/0022-006X.51.3.390

  2. Miller WR, Zweben A, DiClemente CC, Rychtarik RG. Motivational enhancement therapy manual: A clinical research guide for therapists treating individuals with alcohol abuse and dependence. Rockville, MD: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism; 1999.

Additional Reading
  • Buckner JD, Schmidt NB. A randomized pilot study of motivation enhancement therapy to increase utilization of cognitive-behavioral therapy for social anxiety. Behaviour Research and Therapy. 2009;47:710-715.
  • Butler, G. (2008). Overcoming Social Anxiety and Shyness. New York: Basic Books.

By Arlin Cuncic, MA
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." She has a Master's degree in psychology.