Performing Acts of Kindness May Help Treat Social Anxiety

Two people moving a sofa togetherFor the 15 million Americans who struggle with social anxiety, interactions that seem mundane to those without anxiety can be a source of significant stress. Some people with social anxiety fear leaving their homes, while others spend hours preparing themselves for the stress of social interactions. Though therapy can help, an individual’s anxiety can be an obstacle to their seeking treatment.

A small new study published in Motivation and Emotion offers hope for a new method of treatment: Researchers found that simply doing kind things for others may help people overcome social anxiety.

Kindness: A Cure for Social Anxiety?

Common wisdom holds that people who help others may end up helping themselves. To test this theory, researchers recruited 115 undergraduate students living with social anxiety. The students were divided into three groups. Researchers instructed the first group to perform acts of kindness, such as donating to charity or doing favors for a friend. The second group was exposed to social interactions and told not to perform acts of kindness. The third group kept a log of daily events but received no further instructions on how to interact with others.

Those who performed acts of kindness reported the highest reduction in avoidance of social interactions, especially in the early days of the four-week study.

According to Barry C. Barmann, PhD, a GoodTherapy.org social anxiety Topic Expert, the results make sense. “In the case of anxiety disorders, a person’s default response concerning perceived threat is avoidance. Regarding social anxiety, the threat involves negative evaluation from others. The result that subjects in this study who performed acts of kindness toward others displayed lower levels of anxiety is not surprising. People who are the recipients of kindness will respond with some form of verbal reinforcement. This reinforcement helps disconfirm anticipated catastrophic predictions related to being judged in a negative manner, which would encourage these subjects to place less meaning on the use of avoidance strategies during future social interactions,” he said.

The study’s authors argue that acts of kindness are especially beneficial when those experiencing anxiety anticipate a positive response. Thus, acts that get an immediate positive result, such as giving money to a stranger or doing a favor for a friend, may be the most beneficial.

References:

  1. Dallas, M. (2015, July 10). For those with social anxiety, acts of kindness may be therapeutic. Retrieved from http://health.usnews.com/health-news/articles/2015/07/10/for-those-with-social-anxiety-acts-of-kindness-may-be-therapeutic
  2. Richards, T. (n.d.). Social Anxiety Fact Sheet: What is social anxiety disorder? Symptoms, treatment, prevalence, medications, insight, prognosis. Retrieved from http://socialphobia.org/social-anxiety-disorder-definition-symptoms-treatment-therapy-medications-insight-prognosis

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  • Whitney

    Whitney

    July 16th, 2015 at 11:55 AM

    Whether or not it can help with social anxiety is beside the point. This is what we should be doing ot help out others anyway- kindness begets kindness, toward ourselves and toward others.

  • Millie

    Millie

    July 16th, 2015 at 3:57 PM

    I guess I am still not really that sure that the two correlate. but hey, if this means random acts of kindness all the way around, then I will definitely take it.

  • Don

    Don

    July 17th, 2015 at 12:57 PM

    I think that acts of kindness can be supportive but a real cure for social anxiety can only be achieved by a solid course or therapy such as the Social Reprogramming Method. People reported to have great results with it. For some a simple CBT Therapy with a psychologist might work as well.

  • sydney

    sydney

    July 17th, 2015 at 2:20 PM

    I have social anxiety and there are times when it seems easier for me to stay home instead of going out and actually dealing with all of those thoughts and emotions that oing out can bring.
    I know how much better it makes me feel when someone goes out of their way to be nice to me so I am wondering if they are getting the same thing out of it, or if maybe they feel the same way that I am and helping another is one of their ways of coping.

  • Lauren

    Lauren

    July 20th, 2015 at 1:59 PM

    Great article about acts of kindness treating social anxiety! I have definitely found that it is easier to talk to a stranger than someone I know at times. Thanks for sharing.

  • wiley

    wiley

    July 22nd, 2015 at 3:27 PM

    I don’t know about addressing anxiety, but i do know that when I am just having an all around bad day doing something nice for someone else, even if I might not much feel like it, that is a sure fire way to help me feel better. It might not make the bad day go completely away, but I know that it always makes me feel better to know that I have lent a helping hand to someone else and that they appreciate that.

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