When you’re about to do something that makes you nervous – like giving a speech or meeting a blind date – do something nice for a stranger beforehand. That’s because random acts of kindness decrease anxiety.
That’s the take-away message from a study in the journal, Emotion. We all occasionally get nervous in social situations. But people with social anxiety disorder are so afraid of embarrassing themselves in public that even the thought of saying “Hello” can be paralyzing. So, researchers asked volunteers diagnosed with social anxiety to perform simple acts of kindness every other day for a month, like giving a friend a lift to work, or thanking a bus driver for their service. The result? Even for those with extreme social anxiety, performing random acts of kindness made being in public easier. In fact, being nice to strangers was more effective at helping volunteers cope than traditional therapy.
Study co-author Dr. Lynn Alden says being kind boosts confidence. It also shifts our focus away from what we’re feeling to how others are feeling. Which takes us out of our head. Also, good deeds cause changes in brain chemistry that decrease anxiety, and reduce the sting of social rejection. So, remember: The next time you’re facing a situation that makes you sweat, being nice to a stranger will help you keep your cool.