Social anxiety and depression are mental health disorders that commonly co-occur. Social anxiety and depression each play a role in intensifying the other, but keep in mind there are several treatment options that can help those experiencing these symptoms cope in healthy ways.
Link Between Social Anxiety and Depression
Regardless of which disorder is present first, combined they can have a severe impact on the person experiencing them. A meta-analysis of 66 studies uncovered that symptoms of anxiety tend to predict depression later on in life, and symptoms of depression tend to predict anxiety. This was true for all types of depressive disorders as well as all types of anxiety disorders.
How Depression Affects Social Anxiety
Social anxiety typically presents during adolescence and commonly stems from negative experiences or beliefs about oneself that have to do with rejection. One of the biggest predictors for developing social anxiety comes from having an insecure parent-child relationship. An insecure attachment style means the child does not feel as if he can rely on his parent for security and comfort at all times. Most parents are unaware this type of attachment is developing and may just be anxious parents who aren't sure what to do.
People with symptoms of social anxiety are typically hard on themselves and are extremely nervous about being judged. This causes many people to avoid social situations at all costs, which can lead to intense isolation. Depression can develop from feeling extremely socially isolated and disconnected. Those who are isolating may feel rejected by society or peers and loved ones, which can increase the intensity of both social anxiety and depression.
How Social Anxiety Affects Depression
Depression can develop in childhood, adolescence or adulthood. Similar to social anxiety, those who have depression often experience childhood trauma and early attachment issues. People who are depressed tend to view the world in a skewed way where seemingly neutral experiences invoke feelings of hopelessness and pessimism.
If someone is feeling depressed, common negative beliefs include "I'm not good enough," "No one likes me," "I'm worthless," and "I'm unlovable." These beliefs can directly impact how one interacts socially, which can eventually lead to symptoms of social anxiety. The more one isolates, the more one may feel socially rejected, unloved, and worthless. This can create a real phobia around social situations while increasing depressive symptoms.
Symptoms of Social Anxiety and Depression
With both disorders, physical symptoms are often present such as pain, stomach issues, chest discomfort, and general bodily discomfort, but those with depression tend to report more somatic symptoms in comparison to social anxiety. Although there are some similar symptoms present, social anxiety and depression are distinctly different.
Social anxiety, otherwise known as social phobia is the fear of social situations where there is a possibility of being judged by others. Other symptoms include:
- Fear of exposing anxious symptoms to others
- Fear of being rejected and humiliated by others
- Social situations are avoided
- Social situations cause high levels of distress that negatively impact others areas of life
- Fear is out proportion to the situation
- Symptoms are persistent and last for at least six months
Major depressive disorder is marked by persistent symptoms that last for a two week period. Other symptoms include:
- Depressed mood that lasts the majority of the day
- Feeling sad, hopeless, and empty
- Loss of pleasure in typically enjoyable activities that lasts most of the day for all two weeks
- Weight changes
- Difficulty falling asleep and sleeping
- Feeling restless or slowed down
- Feeling worthless
- Difficulty concentrating
- Thoughts of death, suicidal ideation
Finding Appropriate Treatment
There are many types of treatments that can help alleviate some of the symptoms you are experiencing. Keep in mind that in most cases, these disorders develop out of childhood trauma or insecure attachments, so it can take some time before you experience complete relief.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Retraining (EMDR)
EMDR is a trauma based technique that has been proven to treat depression and anxiety by helping people process distressing negative beliefs, memories, and attachment based issues. When people experience trauma or attachment based issues, memories are not typically stored appropriately, often because people dissociate during high levels of distress. EMDR helps people reprocess these memories so they can be stored appropriately and subsequently, uncomfortable symptoms tend to decrease significantly.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT works by addressing how thoughts impact emotions and behaviors in a logical, straightforward way. This treatment method has shown clinically significant, long term improvements in the treatment of depression and anxiety.
Connecting with a therapist and establishing trust has been proven to be just as effective as other specialized treatment methods. It is believed that being heard, understanding your symptoms, and developing healthy coping skills are highly effective in treating depression and social anxiety.
Taking Care of Yourself
Dealing with both social anxiety and depression can completely drain you. Prioritize taking care of yourself and seeking treatment if you are experiencing these distressing symptoms.