Q: I have terrible social anxiety but can’t turn down every party invitation. How do I get through cocktail chatter?
Saying no to invitations provides a temporary escape but is not the answer. Constantly avoiding social situations will spare you from worry, but you’ll miss out on the support and meaning that comes from having close relationships. Instead of shying away, consider doing something nice. Research published in the journal Motivation and Emotion found that acts of kindness can make socially anxious people less so. In the study, participants who actively and intentionally performed acts of kindness became less fearful and avoidant of social situations. Doing good deeds helped them override the fear of rejection and bolstered their social confidence.
These findings have application for you. RSVP to your next party invitation, and get busy performing small acts of kindness. Picking up a cup of coffee for a coworker, doing your roommate’s dishes, and donating to a charity are all examples. When you arrive at the cocktail party, lend your host a hand. Offer to replenish the platter of pigs in a blanket or put flowers in vases. Such impactful gestures can help you come out of your shell.
Dr. Samantha Boardman is a clinical instructor in psychiatry and an assistant attending psychiatrist at Weil Cornell Medical College in New York and the the founder of positivepercription.com.
This story originally appeared in the April 2019 issue of Marie Claire.