A recent paper published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders argues that individuals who struggle with social anxiety actually get pleasure from being around others and meeting new people—and that any treatment for social anxiety problems should focus on ways to encourage social engagement among those who try avoiding it.
“Quality contact with other people can serve as a dependable mood enhancement strategy,” said the researchers, who were led by Fallon Goodman from the University of South Florida. “We were wondering if the emotional benefits of socializing are present in those who have a social anxiety disorder.”
Researchers tested their hypothesis by recruiting 87 American adults, 42 of whom met the criteria for social anxiety disorder, to take part in a two-week research study. Over the course of this study, the researchers had asked participants at different points during the day to indicate (1) their current happiness level and (2) whether they were around other people at the time. Responses were collected by participants’ smartphones.
The researchers had predicted that those with a social anxiety disorder would report a lower level of happiness on average because of their disorder but that they wouldn’t necessarily feel worse when they were in the company of other people.
This is precisely what they found. The authors stated, “We discovered that individuals with social anxiety disorder tend to be happier when they were with other people. Feeling concerned or anxious about socializing doesn’t preclude experiencing some pleasure while socializing.”
A follow-up study looked at whether specific types of social interactions were more likely to make some people feel happier than others. The researchers used a study design similar to the one in their earlier study, but this time they also asked participants who they were with when answering the questions. The categories were: close friend, romantic partner, alone, family member, coworker/neighbor, superior, acquaintance, or stranger.
The researchers discovered that people reported a higher level of happiness when in they were in the presence of close friends and romantic partners than when they were around superiors, neighbors and coworkers. This was true of both non-socially anxious and socially anxious people. And, replicating their result from before, they discovered that both non-socially anxious and socially anxious individuals were usually happier when they were in the presence of other people.
The authors hope their research will help encourage new lines of treatment for the approximately 300 million people worldwide who are struggling with social anxiety.
Author: Scott Dowdy