Staying busy by demonstrating acts of kindness can help socially anxious people mix or integrate into social groups and may lead to a more satisfying and fulfilling life.
In a new study, Canadian researchers Jennifer Trew of Simon Fraser University and Lynn Alden of the University of British Columbia, studied if good deeds would improve the quality of life among socially anxious individuals.
The study results appear in the journal Motivation and Emotion.
As explained by the authors, 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 behavior 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.
Studies have shown that performing acts of kindness to the benefit of others is known to increase happiness and may lead to positive interactions and perceptions of the world at large.
The 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. The research builds upon previous findings by Alden and Trew about the value that doing good deeds 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 neighbor’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.
Investigators discovered that in the group who actively lent a helping hand, participants were more apt to engage in social situations. This effect was most notable in the initial phase of the intervention.
These findings support the value of acts of kindness as an avoidance reduction strategy. The actions help to counter feelings of possible rejection and temporary levels of anxiety and distress. The reduction of feelings of anxiety and distress also occur faster than what was expereinced 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 social anxiety and, in turn, makes them less likely to want to avoid social situations.”
“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.