Anxiety is exhausting. Simply saying ‘thank you’ has been shown to reduce that stress.
It isn’t easy being anxious. You can’t sleep, you can’t concentrate, you’re tired and cranky. The good news: Curbing your anxiety may be easier than you think — perhaps as easy as saying “thank you.”
Anxiety tends to turn people inward, make them more introspective and less socially engaged. Previously, scientists have shown that people who are more self-focused experience greater levels of anxiety.
Two psychologists at the University of British Columbia recently decided to test whether acts of kindness, already shown by researchers to increase a person’s happiness, might also help alleviate social anxiety.
Their study used 115 socially anxious college students whom the two researchers divided into three groups. The first group was asked to engage inthree acts of kindness (such as washing a roommate’s dishes, mowing a neighbor’s lawn and donating to charity) a day, two days a week, over a period of four weeks.
The second group was asked to insert themselves into social situations, also over a four-week span. These situations included asking a stranger for the time, talking with a neighbor and asking another person to lunch. Subjects were also instructed to do deep-breathing exercises beforehand to make their tasks easier to perform.
The third group, the control, was asked merely to keep a diary of personal events.
The results: Those in the first group “experienced a greater overall reduction in avoidance goals.” That is, they experienced fewer instances of avoiding social situations because of their fear of rejection or conflict.
The researchers concluded that “acts of kindness may help to strengthen social relationships, increase social engagement, and broaden social networks.”
“We found that any kind act appeared to have the same benefit, even small gestures like opening a door for someone or saying ‘ thanks’ to the bus driver,” psychologist Lynn Alden said in a statement.
Being outwardly directed and engaging in acts of kindness have also been linked to optimism. In another recent study, scientists linked gray matter volume in the left orbitofrontal cortex, to increased optimism and decreased anxiety. The more gray matter, the more optimistic the person. The more optimistic, the less anxious.