Can Being Kind To Others Reduce Social Anxiety? Hypnotherapy Ely and Newmarket
I’ve written before about my own earlier struggles with social anxiety and how it plagued my life for many years before hypnotherapy helped me. It’s something that I often discuss with clients who are seeking help with social anxiety itself or related issues such as low self confidence and low self esteem. It certainly is very possible to end all that anxiety and worry and to feel more relaxed and comfortable in your own skin.
I can still clearly remember how I would initially get excited about an upcoming event when it was first mentioned. Yet then over time, that initial excitement and enthusiasm would get slowly eroded by feelings of worry and nervousness. I would start to think of all the things I could mess up, from what I might say and do, through even to what to wear and what others would think. Every little decision was a potential minefield that could lead to embarrassment, being judged or failing in some way in front of others (and usually others who I would then have to face again afterwards knowing they would know about whatever I’d messed up).
My social anxiety would drive my imagination into all sorts of worst cases and catastrophes. Sometimes I would feel sick beforehand. Many times I would contemplate cancelling plans or not going through with things. Many times I did actively avoid situations. And I would often be hot, sweaty, panicky and tense from the outset.
At work I would avoid presentations, endlessly overthink before meetings, minimise my interactions with senior staff, try and avoid speaking on the phone in front of others and seek to manage my work style to minimise all of these risks and threats. Sometimes out of frustration I would push myself to go outside my comfort zone in the hope that at some point all of the anxiety would vanish, yet it would be there throughout, leave me exhausted afterwards and I’d just end up starting my worry habit about the next hurdle I would be facing.
I proposed on stage in front of five hundred people, made myself join a running club, became a parish councillor and a district councillor so I’d have to speak and do stuff in front of others. Sometimes these steps went ok and I felt good for a while. Other times they were just an ordeal that I would negatively dwell upon afterwards. My own negative beliefs and social anxiety patterns of thoughts and feelings would just rumble onwards relentlessly no matter what I tried to do to overcome it (before hypnotherapy).
Reduce Social Anxiety
Social anxiety can stop you doing the things you want to do and leave you caught up in a seemingly never ending cycle of negative rumination and self-criticism. You want to go and do things but you can get so anxious that you cancel just before. You feel anxious and worried before going to an event to the point where if you go then you don’t really enjoy it because you are so tense and worried about messing up or being judged by others. After being around others you dwell upon everything you said and did and how you perceive others may have responded to you. You can spend your days worrying and worrying about what others think about you or with your fear of failure domineering over you.
Social anxiety can make you feel like there is something wrong with you, that you can’t feel comfortable and do what other people seemingly do with ease, and that you will never fit in. All of this is made worse because there are times when you are totally relaxed in yourself and can just enjoy being yourself. Yet those situations around others where you feel you under the spotlight and judged can leave you so so lost in your own inner dialogue that you struggle to interact with others.
I’ve covered the topic of social anxiety in these previous articles:
No matter how bad your social anxiety feels right now, keep in mind that it is very possible to learn how to feel more calm, confident and comfortable around others. You can overcome and reduce social anxiety. You can then relax and look forward to these sorts of events, as well as enjoying them when you are there and handling things well. And you can certainly curtail that annoying tendency to worry what others may be thinking about you and to develop more reasonable thinking about how much time and focus they are really giving to what you say and do. In short, you can start to relax, enjoy life more and feel more comfortable in your own skin and in just feeling good being yourself around others.
I’ve written before about the benefits of kindness and how performing acts of kindness towards others actually makes you happier.
Kindness involves doing things that benefit others and it can involve some effort on your part in doing this. Some kind acts can happen spontaneously, whereas others require more thought and intention. Research has found that people who perform kind acts report greater satisfaction with life, increased optimism and connectedness with others, and lower anxiety.
I’ve covered the benefits of kindness and the research supporting it here:
All of the evidence about acts of kindness points to a similar conclusion. That is, if you want to be happier then you should work on being kind to others. Paying attention and counting the kind acts you do, as well as just making small gifts to others, can help you to be happier. If you also link in gratitude practices to your kindness actions, you will find yourself feeling happier, experiencing more of a sense of well being and life satisfaction, and experiencing less distress such as anxiety. Perhaps even more positively, the research shows that acts of kindness themselves are the most important thing for happiness rather than who you perform those acts for. And the more acts of kindness you do, the happier you will likely feel.
Kindness and Social Anxiety
Given that kindness can help increase your happiness levels and lower anxiety, it is perhaps no surprise to discover that it can also help you if you are struggling with social anxiety.
One of the main reasons that social anxiety continues to rumble on in the same old way is that you may never put yourself in situations where you have the opportunity to change your perspective and to lower that perceived threat level. You keep avoiding situations as much as possible, thinking the worst and feeling anxious. All the while the same dread, worry and fear gets inadvertently strengthened and re-enforced. You may feel a bit better and experience relief once you’ve dodged or survived a situation with others, yet the pattern just continues to run and strikes in just the same way the next time a similar situation arises.
Avoidance strengthens your anxiety and prevents you from changing how you think and feel. On top of that you may even make yourself feel worse by feeling bad about making excuses for things, or feel low because deep down you want to be social, or you may start to be self critical and think there is something wrong with you (after all, everyone else seems to be able to go to social things, relax and enjoy themselves). There are probably times when you are relaxed around certain others, and that just adds to the stress and frustration that you can’t be comfortable when faced with other situations and experiences.
Your own coping and safety behaviours, such as avoidance, over thinking, preparing for the worst and worrying about what others think, tend to mean you experience more anxiety. Your worries about being judged or rejected stop you relaxing and feeling good just being yourself. Knowing how hard and exhausting it is to live with it all means that helping people overcome social anxiety is one of my favourite things to do.
And could it be that kindness can also help you if you struggle with social anxiety?
A study has examined whether engaging in acts of kindness, a technique designed to increase happiness, reduces social avoidance in socially anxious people (Trew and Alden, 2015). Social anxious people were assigned to a kindness group and acts of kindness were defined as acts that benefit others or make others happy, typically at some cost to oneself. They were tasked to engage in three acts of kindness a day on two days each week over four weeks. Examples of acts of kindness completed by the participants included doing a roommate’s dishes, mowing a neighbour’s lawn, and donating to a charity.
Engaging in acts of kindness led to a greater overall reduction in social avoidance in these socially anxious participants. A group tasked with exposure to social situations also reduced negative avoidance and anxiety yet not as quickly as the kindness group. The findings of the study support the value of acts of kindness as an avoidance reduction strategy that helps with reducing social anxiety.
These results are perhaps unsurprising when linked with other aspects of psychological change to reduce social anxiety. If you are performing an act of kindness for someone else then you are likely to expect the experience to be positive, and so countering socially anxious negative social expectations. You are likely to consider that doing something kind is likely to lead to a positive experience in a social environment. Rather than expecting negative outcomes or judgement you will anticipate positive reactions and an enjoyable interaction in response to your kindness. You learn to reduce the threat and feel more positive.
In addition, an aspect that can sit nicely with some other anxiety psychological approaches is that, in performing acts of kindness, your focus moves from inside your own head and thinking and onto others and things outside of your head. With social anxiety it is very easy to get lost in your imagination and the ceaseless internal chatter that can occur. Instead of that, you essentially move outside of your own head, are able to engage more positively with others and you therefore feel more present, in the moment and comfortable.
Hypnotherapy can work very well in helping you to tackle and reduce social anxiety and change it to something where you feel more calm, confident and comfortable in social environments. This study, the first to demonstrate that engaging in acts of kindness reduces social anxiety, suggests that engaging in acts of kindness can be an effective addition to how you take action to reduce social anxiety.
To your health and happiness,
Award Winning Hypnotherapist in Ely & Newmarket
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Reference: Trew, J.L. and Alden, L.E., 2015. Kindness reduces avoidance goals in socially anxious individuals. Motivation and Emotion, 39, pp.892-907.