As 13-year-olds, we all want to be part of the popular crowd a la Kate Sanders (you’ve seen Lizzie McGuire, no?). But as semi-functioning adults, we all seem to echo different sentiments: we just want to stay home and avoid social confrontation altogether. If we feel the need to “socialize,” we can always turn on Netflix. Or scroll through Twitter, maybe.
Experiencing life through screens and Instagram screens has become more popular than actually being popular, and being “socially anxious” or an “introvert” is something 20-somethings declare proudly on a regular basis. While I actually don’t believe most of those who say they are socially anxious have anxiety with other people (their unabashed, regular selfie uploads on Instagram prove otherwise), the good news is that there’s new research that can help those who are really struggling with social disorders. And it’s really simple, too: Just be nice.
A smile or simple gesture like holding a door open can go a lot further than you originally thought. Social psychologists at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University recently found that when socially anxious people were encouraged to perform small acts of kindness — think doing a roommate’s dishes, or picking up a coffee for a coworker — they reported less daily social anxiety a month after starting their kind habits when compared to others who never pursued their own personal random acts of kindness.
The experiment split up 115 undergraduates into three groups. The first group performed kind acts, while the second confronted their social anxiety by being bold in their social lives — striking up conversations with their neighbors or inviting an acquaintance for lunch. The third group were told to simply keep a daily journal of their lives for one month. Results proved that the those who had focused on kindness throughout the month experienced the biggest drops in social anxiety, meaning social situations proved less scary and they weren’t as committed to avoiding other people.
We could all stand to be a little nicer. And if your kind acts happen to benefit me, I say, let it happen.