Social anxiety affects millions of people every day, with effects ranging from slight nervousness to a paralysing fear that keeps the sufferer at home. A recent study, published in Motivation and Emotion and cited by Teen Vogue, reveals that kindness goes a long way towards improving a person’s social anxiety.

The Beginnings of Social Anxiety

Social anxiety stems from fear— fear of embarrassment, fear of censure and judgement, fear of mockery and ridicule. Sometimes, the social anxiety disorder is rooted in past experiences, specific traumatic events that affected the person emotionally and conditioned the brain to respond a certain way.

For example, imagine that a young girl is entering a new school. Perhaps something embarrassing occurs at school, and the girl is ridiculed and judged by her peers. The mockery continues for weeks or months. Even when the ridicule stops, the girl dreads going to school because she is afraid of doing something else to embarrass herself and bring on the ridicule. Her brain is conditioned for a response of anxiety and fear every time she attends school.

The Importance of Kindness

Psychologists in Singapore and around the world have long known that fear conditioning can be gradually modified and sometimes even reversed with therapy. However, a pair of Canadian psychologists took that theory to the next level in a new study.

The participants were all sufferers from social anxiety. They were split into three groups. One group did nothing to improve their anxiety, while another practised exposure therapy by entering new social situations. The third group performed various kind actions for others, such as friends, roommates, family members, or strangers.

A New Way to Modify the Fear Response

The researchers discovered that doing something nice for another person immediately lowers an individual’s social anxiety. By the end of the study, the group that spent time doing random acts of kindness enjoyed significant improvement and felt more at ease in social situations than the other two groups of participants.

Consider an example. Jing Yi suffers from social anxiety, which is affecting her connection with clients at work. To counteract her anxiety, Jing Yi could start thinking of nice things to do for people around the office or at home. Being more thoughtful takes her mind off her anxiety, promotes a more positive view of the people around her, and triggers happy, grateful responses from the people she helps. Instead of being negatively affected by a social situation, she receives a positive experience— a reward that begins to counteract the anxiety and fear response. Of course, the response of the other people is key to the effectiveness of this therapy.

The Next Step to Mental Health

Doing nice things for other people is an excellent way to jump-start your recovery from social anxiety; but you may need to take it a step further. Visit Adelphi Psych Medicine Clinic, one of the top destinations for mental health in Singapore. Our caring psychologists and psychiatrists can evaluate your social anxiety disorder and determine the course of treatment that best fits with your current mental health and your lifestyle.

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Source: Teen Vogue, 2 December, 2016