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The majority of my eating dysregulated clients have social anxiety and many have Generalized Anxiety Disorder as well. While curbing anxiety can seem like a daunting endeavor, here’s one strategy that’s easy to implement and gets results. It’s described in “Brain changer: using kindness to trump anxiety” by Amy Ellis Nutt (http://health.heraldtribune.com/2016/05/03/brain-changer-using-kindness-to-trump-anxiety/).
Nutt says that “anxiety tends to turn people inward, make them more introspective and therefore, less socially engaged. Previously, scientists have shown that people who are more self-focused do in fact experience greater levels of anxiety.” She goes on to report on a study published in the journal Motivation and Emotion in which two University of British Columbia scientists tested out the idea of “whether acts of kindness, already shown by researchers to increase a person’s happiness, might also help alleviate social anxiety.” One group was instructed to perform three acts of kindness per day, twice a week for four weeks. A second group was told to do deep breathing exercises before engaging in social situations like talking with a neighbor or inviting a friend out to lunch, for four weeks. A third group was asked to simply keep a diary of personal events.
The results showed that the group which engaged in kind acts “experienced fewer instances of avoiding social situations due to fear of rejection or conflict.” Study leaders reported that “any kind act appeared to have the same benefit, even small gestures like opening a door for someone or saying ‘thanks’.” They speculated that the reason these gestures helped reduce social anxiety is that they were outwardly directed.
Scientists noted that other studies on acts of kindness have been linked to optimism, and that brain research tells us that “brain anatomy can change in response to pessimism.” This is really big, wonderful news for those of you who worry a lot and fearfully view life through a “glass-is-half-empty” lens. The article goes on to explain how the brain changes when people are optimistic or pessimistic and more and less anxious. Once again, behavior (even simple behaviors) can change brain anatomy and, therefore, spin behavioral patterns in a positive, rather than a negative, loop.
So, if you’re someone who tends to worry a great deal, try doing nice things for other people. You’ll probably get some positive responses, will feel better about yourself, are likely to feel less anxious, and may even decrease mindless eating.
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