Many who struggle with social anxiety can tell you that anxiety creates a vicious cycle. The mere thought of interacting with others and imagining how others might negatively judge or evaluate them creates often overwhelming anxiety. If they enter a social interaction in this anxious state they may find themselves more likely to have difficulty joining conversation or interacting comfortably with others. This may bring about uncomfortable social interactions and real or perceived negative evaluations by others, which serves to confirm their fears and may lead them to withdraw from this and future social interactions.
While a reported 7% of the population struggles with social anxiety, the anxiety and fear of judgement often prevents people from reaching out for help. This is particularly a shame as social anxiety responds well to a variety of therapeutic interventions.
But new research by Jennifer Trew and Lynn Alden published in the journal Motivation and Emotion suggests that acts of kindness may effectively break the cycle of social anxiety. In this study, socially anxious participants focused on their own active positive role in a social interaction (performing an act of kindness) and on the other as someone in need, rather than on how they imagined others might respond to or judge them. This led to positive reinforcement in the interaction during which others responded positively to the participants with gratitude, which in turn challenged the participants' negative expectations for this and future social interactions. The participants who engaged in positive social interactions related to their acts of kindness were significantly less likely to avoid social interactions in the weeks that followed. It's a win-win!
Read more about Trew and Alden's study here.
Learn more about social anxiety and social phobia here.
About the Author
Clinical psychologist Dr. Kristy Novinski contributes insights, book and film reviews, discussions of pop culture, and exploration of news and research in the field of psychology.