You Can Fight Anxiety By Helping Others — Really

Photographed by Lani Trock.
All that advice you got growing up may have just been scientifically proven. A recent study found that when people living with social anxiety disorder treated others the way they'd want to be treated, their levels of anxiety actually decreased.

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Described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as "significant distress or impairment that interferes with [a person's] ordinary routine," social anxiety disorder can prevent people from living their fullest lives. This manifests itself differently from person to person, whether in romantic relationships, friendships, or career. And, over time, it can lead people to avoid social interactions altogether. This unfortunate outcome led the study's authors to examine how participating in the very opposite of social avoidance could affect people's anxiety. Would making the active choice to interact with other people make those interactions easier?

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The study participants all received at least moderate scores on the Social Interaction Anxiety Scale-Straightforward (SIA-S), a commonly used questionnaire that gauges social anxiety. Randomly divided into two groups, these participants either acted kindly toward others (by doing a friend's dishes, mowing someone's lawn, donating to a charity, etc.) or went out of their way to speak to people when they normally would not (asking someone for the time, inviting a friend to lunch). Although both groups were asked to go out of their comfort zones, the group that helped other people experienced greatly reduced levels of anxiety. (We're still waiting to find out if the study authors just wanted someone to do their dishes.)

Click through to Shape to learn more about living with and managing your anxiety. (Shape)

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