Doing good deeds helps socially anxious people relax

July 1, 2015

Being busy with acts of kindness can help people who suffer from social anxiety to mingle more easily. This is the opinion of Canadian researchers Jennifer Trew of Simon Fraser University and Lynn Alden of the University of British Columbia, in a study published in Springer's journal Motivation and Emotion.

Sufferers from social anxiety are more than just a little shy. Dealings with others might make them feel so threatened or anxious that they often actively avoid socializing. Although this protects them from angst and possible embarrassment, they lose out on the support and intimacy gained from having relationships with others. They have fewer friends, feel insecure when interacting with others, and often do not experience emotional intimacy even in close relationships.

Performing acts of to the benefit of others is known to increase happiness and may lead to positive interactions and perceptions of the world at large. The present study investigated if, over time, the pro-social nature of kindness changes the level of anxiety that socially anxious people experienced while interacting with others, and helped them to engage more easily. It extends previous findings by Alden and Trew about the value that doing holds to socially anxious people.

Undergraduate students who experience high levels of social anxiety were enrolled in the study. The 115 participants were randomly assigned into three groups for the four-week intervention period. One group performed acts of kindness, such as doing a roommate's dishes, mowing a neighbour's lawn, or donating to a charity. The second group was only exposed to social interactions and was not asked to engage in such deeds, while the third group participated in no specific intervention and simply recorded what happened each day.

A greater overall reduction in patients' desire to avoid social situations was found among the group who actively lent a helping hand. This effect was most notable in the initial phase of the intervention. The findings therefore support the value of acts of kindness as an avoidance reduction strategy. It helps to counter feelings of possible rejection and temporary levels of anxiety and distress. It also does so faster than was the case for the participants who were merely exposed to social interactions without engaging in good deeds.

According to Trew and Alden, interventions involving acts of kindness may over time help socially anxious people lead more satisfying and engaging lives, and see changes in their disposition.

"Acts of kindness may help to counter negative social expectations by promoting more positive perceptions and expectations of a person's social environment," explains Trew. "It helps to reduce their levels of and, in turn, makes them less likely to want to avoid ."

"An intervention using this technique may work especially well early on while participants anticipate positive reactions from others in response to their kindness," adds Alden.

Explore further: Acts of kindness can make you happier

More information: Trew, J.L. & Alden, L.E. (2015). Kindness Reduces Avoidance Goals in Socially Anxious Individuals, Motivation and Emotion. DOI: 10.1007/s11031-015-9499-5

Related Stories

Acts of kindness can make you happier

January 24, 2013
(HealthDay)—Performing small acts of kindness and gratitude can make people happier, researchers believe, but how this occurs is more of a puzzle.

Individuals with social phobia have too much serotonin—not too little

June 17, 2015
Previous studies have led researchers to believe that individuals with social anxiety disorder/ social phobia have too low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. A new study carried out at Uppsala University, however, ...

Meeting face to face vs. meeting on Facebook—new study on social anxiety

March 4, 2014
Nearly a billion people use Facebook, the largest social networking site, but interacting with someone on social media is not the same as meeting them in person. The results of a study to determine whether Facebook exposure ...

Women are slightly more socially anxious than men

April 9, 2014
Many social situations can provoke anxiety. Be it a networking event for work or having unannounced guests, these kinds of interactions can cause even the most outgoing among us to feel unsettled. But do these feelings differ ...

Kindness key to happiness and acceptance for children

December 26, 2012
Children who make an effort to perform acts of kindness are happier and experience greater acceptance from their peers, suggests new research from the University of British Columbia and the University of California, Riverside.

Social anxiety increases the risk of bruxism, tooth erosion, and jaw pain

May 5, 2015
Anxiety disorders affect approximately one in six adult Americans, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The most well-known of these include panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive ...

Recommended for you

Self-harm, suicide attempts climb among US girls, study says

November 21, 2017
Attempted suicides, drug overdoses, cutting and other types of self-injury have increased substantially in U.S. girls, a 15-year study of emergency room visits found.

Car, stroller, juice: Babies understand when words are related

November 20, 2017
The meaning behind infants' screeches, squeals and wails may frustrate and confound sleep-deprived new parents. But at an age when babies cannot yet speak to us in words, they are already avid students of language.

Simple EKG can determine whether patient has depression or bipolar disorder

November 20, 2017
A groundbreaking Loyola Medicine study suggests that a simple 15-minute electrocardiogram could help a physician determine whether a patient has major depression or bipolar disorder.

Non-fearful social withdrawal linked positively to creativity

November 20, 2017
Everyone needs an occasional break from the social ramble, though spending too much time alone can be unhealthy and there is growing evidence that the psychosocial effects of too much solitude can last a lifetime.

Cultural values can be a strong predictor of alcohol consumption

November 20, 2017
Countries with populations that value autonomy and harmony tend to have higher average levels of alcohol consumption than countries with more traditional values, such as hierarchy and being part of a collective. This new ...

A walk at the mall or the park? New study shows, for moms and daughters, a walk in the park is best

November 17, 2017
Spending time together with family may help strengthen the family bond, but new research from the University of Illinois shows that specifically spending time outside in nature—even just a 20-minute walk—together can ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.