According to studies, 1 in 13 people is suffering from anxiety globally.
If you’re a victim of this unseen illness, new research shows there may be a simple way to beat it:
Be kind to others.
A study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies suggests that spreading kindness can lower anxiety.
Douglas Gentile, the study’s co-writer and a professor of psychology at Iowa State University says:
“Walking around and offering kindness to others in the world reduces anxiety and increases happiness and feelings of social connection.
“It’s a simple strategy that doesn’t take a lot of time that you can incorporate into your daily activities.”
Not only that, but people who wish others well tend to have “lower anxiety, greater happiness, greater empathy, and higher feelings of caring and connectedness.”
3 techniques to reduce anxiety and improve happiness
The researchers experimented with 3 particular techniques intended to reduce anxiety. To do this, they made college students walk around a building for 12 minutes, practicing one of the following techniques:
Wishing something positive for other people. Students were asked to look at people passing them by, and thinking to themselves, “I wish for this person to have happiness.” They were encouraged to really mean what they say.
Trying to establish interconnectedness with others. Students were asked to think about how they are connected to the people they see. Researchers suggested thinking about the same feelings and hopes they may share, or even the same classes they might be taking.
Downward Social Comparison
Students were asked to look at other people, and think about how they may be better off than them. Downward Social Comparison is about making comparisons with others who might be inferior or less fortunate.
Researchers also conducted a control group, asking students to observe particular outward elements of people they encounter – their clothing, accessories, make-up. The researchers surveyed all students before and after their “walk” in terms of anxiety, happiness, stress, correctness, and empathy.
Which strategy worked best?
The researchers found that those who practiced loving-kindness, or acts of wishing others well were happier, caring, emphatic, more connected to others – and yes, less anxious.
But what if your personality doesn’t match the strategy? Narcissistic people, for example, may have a hard time wishing others to be happy.
It turns out it doesn’t really matter all that much.
Coauthor Lanmiao He says:
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“This simple practice is valuable regardless of your personality type. Extending loving-kindness to others worked equally well to reduce anxiety, increase happiness, empathy, and feelings of social connection.”
Another 2016 study suggests that kindness helps with social anxiety. They found that performing acts of kindness gave positive reactions from people. Being kind lowers social expectations and decreases an individual’s need to avoid social interactions due to fear or anxiety.
Social comparison leads to more anxiety
On the other hand, students who compared themselves to others were unhappier and more anxious. Not only that, but it increases stress, too.
Dawn Sweet, the study’s co-author elaborates:
“At its core, downward social comparison is a competitive strategy. That’s not to say it can’t have some benefit, but competitive mindsets have been linked to stress, anxiety, and depression.”
But that news isn’t surprising. Various studies about social comparison, or the constant comparing of ourselves to others, showed how it contributes to unhappiness and low feelings of self-worth.
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Furthermore, the negative effects of social comparison are amplified with social media use.
“It is almost impossible not to make comparisons on social media. Our study didn’t test this, but we often feel envy, jealousy, anger, or disappointment in response to what we see on social media, and those emotions disrupt our sense of well-being.”
Being kind to others doesn’t cost anything. And if it helps beat anxiety, what’s the harm in trying?
You’ll bring happiness to yourself and to the world, and we all know the world could use more kindness.
Furthermore, creating positivity within yourself stops you from constantly comparing yourself to others.
Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of California, agrees, saying:
“People who engage in kind acts become happier over time. When you are kind to others, you feel good as a person — more moral, optimistic, and positive.”
Being kind improves your mood, has a positive effect on your heart and gives you happiness that might just be the key to battling your anxiety.
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