Anx­i­ety is ex­haust­ing. Sim­ply say­ing ‘thank you’ has been shown to re­duce that stress.

The Washington Post - - HEALTH & SCIENCE - —Amy El­lis Nutt From wash­ing­ton­ blogs/ speak­ing-of-sci­ence

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.

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