Suffer From Social Anxiety? Doing Something For Others Helps

Learning to "forget" yourself by serving others alleviates social anxiety.

Posted Aug 14, 2015

I came across this recent study about social anxiety and what helps alleviate it, and it strikes me that the findings add to the evidence about the damage that ego fixation – in all its varied forms – does to us. 

Our self-absorption and self-interest in general, whether it’s a heightened focus on our “needs” that ignore our impact on others, especially when our needs cross the border into greed and selfishness; our hurt-ego reactions to personal slights, real or imagined; our trumped-up sense of self-importance; our conscious or unconscious desire to possess and control — all of these are forms of ego, and are the root of many emotional and physical conflicts.

What helps heal is stepping “outside” of yourself, and engaging in some form of positive connection or service to others. This study illustrates that. The researchers examined what might help people who suffer from social anxiety, which can be very debilitating, frustrating, and isolating for people who experience it.

The study found that engaging in acts that help or benefit other people can help reduce your social anxiety. In effect, it found that doing good for others helps socially anxious people become more socially engaged -- in positive, satisfying ways.  

I view this finding as reflecting the healing power of letting go of over-preoccupation with your own self; of focusing on how others will perceive you, think about you, form assumptions about you.  These are all forms of ego. But doing something for others can help pull you out of that kind of anxiety-generating self-absorption.

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University, and published in Motivation and Emotion, The researchers pointed out that performing acts of kindness to the benefit of others has been known to increase happiness, positive interactions and perceptions of the world at large. So they examined if, over time, acts of kindness change the level of anxiety that socially anxious people experience while interacting with others; and helps them to engage more easily.

The results of the study confirmed that. It found that a greater overall reduction in the desire to avoid social situations was found among those who actively lent a helping hand in the experimental situation. That is, acts of kindness helped counter feelings of possible rejection and levels of anxiety and distress. 

According to senior author Jennifer Trew, “Acts of kindness may help to counter negative social expectations by promoting more positive perceptions and expectations of a person’s social environment. It helps to reduce their levels of social anxiety and, in turn, makes them less likely to want to avoid social situations.” 

In other words, if you suffer from social anxiety, doing something for others helps you focus on something outside of and beyond your preoccupations with your anxiety; with yourself. It arouses the emotional experience that flows from something helpful for another person – someone who’s not you.

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© 2015 Douglas LaBier