One type of behavior has been proven to reduce social anxiety, and it’s something you can easily choose to do.
What one type of action can you take to reduce social anxiety, and even make it easier for you to socialize and mingle with people?
According to a new study, performing acts of kindness helps to reduce social anxiety.
Now, let’s be clear. This study was based on diagnosed social anxiety. Not just being a little shy, but social anxiety bordering on the crippling, the type of social anxiety that causes you to avoid social situations to the extent where you’re missing out on life, missing out on career opportunities, and so on.
It is very difficult for people with social anxiety to get close to others. They tend to have few friends and be more isolated.
New research out of Canada was conducted to see if performing acts of kindness would help to reduce social anxiety and help people with this condition to open up more and connect with people in a measurably and significantly better way.
So, they put people with social anxiety into three groups. The study was conducted over four weeks. The three groups were:
- The first group performed acts of kindness (like doing the dishes for their roommates)
- The second group was exposed to a variety of social interactions but with no acts of kindness. (More like traditional exposure therapy or hierarchical desensitization.)
- The third group did nothing at all different from their usual lives (this was the control group).
At the end of the four weeks, the people who had performed acts of kindness felt more comfortable in social interactions overall. The acts of kindness helped to reduce their concerns about social rejection.
“Acts of kindness may help to counter negative social expectations by promoting more positive perceptions and expectations of a person’s social environment. It helps to reduce their levels of social anxiety and, in turn, makes them less likely to want to avoid social situations.” — Dr. Jennifer Trew
Treatment strategies that involve doing good deeds can improve quality of life for people with social anxiety, the study published recently in the journal Motivation and Emotion concluded.
Creating an other-focus, rather than focusing on yourself, reduces anxiety.
Previous research indicated that there is a strong relationship between self-focused attention and social anxiety, in that anxiety makes people more likely to draw their focus inward AND, focusing on yourself seems to increase anxiety. In other words, the neurological path runs both ways, which is usually the case.
This new study may point to a way out of that vicious, anxious circle. Doing small good deeds for other people naturally turns your focus outward, which may leave less room for obsessive self-reflection.
This corresponds to suggestions that I always give to my clients with public speaking anxiety, for instance. When you are anxious, you are inevitably focusing on yourself. When you turn your mind to what does my audience need and focus on meeting their needs, your attention moves outward and away from yourself. This is naturally calming.
My own experience? There are days (yes! believe it or not!) when I’m not in the best mood when I go in to do client sessions. But as soon as I focus 100% on my client, which always happens, I completely “lose myself” in that outward focus and it’s always the best part of any day.
You might try combining this approach with a gratitude practice and see how much better you can feel!
Real friendship is shown in times of trouble; prosperity is full of friends. ~Euripedes Click To Tweet
The study was published in the journal Motivation and Emotion (Trew & Alden, 2015).