Exciting new developments in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), mindfulness, and social anxiety are occurring at a rapid pace. This is great news for those of us who struggle with social anxiety, and those of us trying to make a difference through our work as researchers, therapists, and teachers. The not-so-great news is how difficult it is to keep up with all of the wonderful developments!

With that difficulty in mind, our intention for this blog is for it to play a role (albeit small) in keeping you informed about interesting research findings, studies in progress, new books, and other relevant developments.

To start off, we are sharing some interesting research findings about “acts of kindness” that recently caught our attention. Researchers at the University of British Columbia investigated whether doing kind acts would lead to better mood and more satisfying relationships in socially anxious students. A third of the students were asked to do kinds acts (about 6 times per week for 4 weeks), another third were asked to do behavioral experiments (of the types used in cognitive behavior therapy for social anxiety), and the remaining third were asked to simply record daily events.

At the beginning and end of the study, the students rated their mood and how satisfied they were with their relationships (with acquaintances, coworkers, friends, and close friends), among other things. Two main findings from the study were that positive mood and relationship satisfaction both increased significantly in the acts of kindness group but not in the other two groups. The kind acts included holding the door for someone, picking someone up from work, buying a friend lunch, visiting a sick relative, and thanking the bus driver, to name a few. Just over a third of the kind acts were directed to strangers, about a third to friends, and another third to family members, acquaintances, romantic partners, and others. (Read the full abstract of the study here).

Now, in our experience, most socially anxious individuals identify kindness toward others as one of their values; however, fears of looking foolish or saying/doing the wrong thing can get in the way of acting on this value (and other relationship values). Perhaps the findings from this study might provide some extra motivation for you to incorporate more acts of kindness into your daily routine, if that fits with your values and goals. By doing so, you would of course be engaged in values-based actions (a main goal in ACT) and those actions might lead to more satisfying relationships. As for the possibility of improving your mood by acting with kindness, that would be another bonus!

For those of you who are working through our book (or planning to), we recommend that you consider including a few specific acts of kindness on your goal-stepping worksheets in chapters seven and eight (again, if it fits with your valued goals).

Our blog is also intended as a place for dialogue and discussion, so please share your comments about this post, and future posts too. We welcome suggestions for topics you’d like us to blog about in the future.

from Leslie Hayes on October 16, 2017, 11:46 am

I wonder,though, about the tendency for people with social anxiety to also be 'people pleasers' as a safe way to interact, and how acts of kindness could potentially be in the same vein (i.e. value-based or a safety behaviour?).

from Katie B. on June 18, 2013, 9:04 pm

From personal experience with friends who are socially anxious, I now see that acts of kindness are easy ways to express themselves in social situations. Practicing small acts of kindness could help increase confidence in socially anxious people. In addition to this, I think being on the receiving end of acts of kindness could also help reduce some anxiety in social situations. In a way, having someone express kindness towards you gives you a template/model for you to do it yourself. You could also learn to recognize the feelings associated with receiving acts of kindness, which may help a socially anxious person realize that acting this way isn't always perceived as "foolish" or "wrong". I think this is a very interesting study which gives great ideas for socially anxious people.

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