For 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.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.
- 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
- 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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