When we are kind to others or when other people are kind to us our bodies release serotonin, a chemical released by the pleasure center of the brain. Serotonin contributes to feelings of well-being and happiness. Additionally, these acts produce oxytocin, which helps dilate blood vessels and increase blood circulation.
Why is this important? Because when we have anxiety, our sympathetic nervous system takes over (the nervous system that drives the “fight or flight” response), preparing us for an imminent threat. But unlike fear, with anxiety, there is no real imminent danger. Your thinking brain has checked offline, and your emotional brain that works by association is saying "something looks familiar to me," and "I don't like it." Your parasympathetic nervous system is activated, your blood vessels dilate, and your heart rate increases to get oxygenated blood to your body organs and extremities. It is an adaptive response meant to protect you, and some of us are more prone to anxiety due to past experiences and biology. Being kind ultimately helps engage the parasympathetic nervous system, which, when activated, slows the heart rate, breathing rate, and lowers blood pressure, allowing our body to enter into a state of relaxation.
People who suffer from social anxiety are not just a little shy. Being around others may make them feel so threatened or anxious that they actively avoid social interactions.
While this keeps them from feeling overwhelmed and possible embarrassment, relationships with others enable them to gain necessary support and secure attachments. Those with social anxiety also have a smaller social circle, and they feel insecure, even in close relationships. Kindness which is known to increase happiness can increase positive interactions helping others engage more easily.
It also has the effect of getting you outside of yourself. When you have anxiety, you tend to focus on nothing other than what you are feeling in the moment. Being kind to others has you focus on others while also giving you the radical ability to experience true goodness within yourself see things truly as they are, which will render you free of anxiety and free to act, further loosening the hold anxiety has on you.
When I have a new client with severe social anxiety, the first thing I have them to work on is saying hey to people, smiling, and build up the habit of kindness and generosity. All three are necessary for positive interpersonal relationship skills and essential before progressing into deeper social situations.
"Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see." Mark Twain
Odell Terrell is a mental health counselor in Greensboro, NC. He graduated with a MS in Counseling from Divine Mercy University in Arlington, VA, and places an emphasis on working with spiritual integration, adults and adolescents, trauma, family and children, and grief and loss. Odell received his undergraduate degree from the University of St. Leo's in St. Leo Florida, with a degree in Psychology. He has spent his last 15 years working in the field of emergency services. It is in working with people in emergency situations, both patients and first responders, that Odell has learned how to deal respectively with people in crises mode, helping instill a sense of hope and healing. Odell is happily married, for 17 years, and is the father of 9 children and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to his family and child therapy practice.