The best solutions create positive feedback loops. You lack confidence at work so you sign up for training to gain new skills, for instance. With those skills you manage a few big professional wins, which boost your confidence and create opportunities to build your skills further. And like that, a negative loop of fear and failure is turned into a beneficial cycle of success and confidence.
According to new research something similar can happen when it comes to social anxiety. A simple intervention sets off a positive feedback loop, strengthening the shy person’s confidence interacting with others and building experience with positive social interactions that can further decrease social anxiety over time.
What is this wonder intervention? Simply doing good deeds.
Do Good, Feel Less Anxious
A pair of Canadian researchers assigned 115 students with social anxiety to three groups. One was instructed to interact with others by performing small acts of kindness like donating to charity or mowing a neighbor’s lawn. Another was simply told to engage in more social activity, while members of the control group did nothing but record their feelings.
“A greater overall reduction in patients’ desire to avoid social situations was found among the group who actively lent a helping hand,” the research release concludes.
Why was everyday kindness such a powerful antidote to shyness? The researchers suggest that being nice initially takes the edge off the fear of others—it is less likely that people will be mean to you if you’re doing their chores for them—and that kindness creates opportunities for positive social experiences that help reduce social anxiety over time.
“Acts of kindness may help to counter negative social expectations by promoting more positive perceptions and expectations of a person’s social environment,” explains co-author Jennifer Trew. “It helps to reduce their levels of social anxiety and, in turn, makes them less likely to want to avoid social situations.”
Being kind to others also requires you focus on others and therefore less on yourself, which can calm self-consciousness. It’s a technique that often comes up in relation to public speaking. Focusing on helping your audience as opposed to your own performance is touted as a surefire way to begin to beat your nerves.
The takeaway for the painfully shy is simple and sweet—to keep stress levels under control, try focusing on being of service to others. Not only is your anxiety likely to decrease as you have more positive experiences, you’ll also probably enjoy helping others. It’s a win-win.
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