This is going to be a depressing article. But if you’re reading this, then chances are you’re already depressed.
Hey, it’s not your fault. Social anxiety gives you a lot to be depressed about.
Scientists have found that SA early in life often leads to depression later on:
A possible link between social anxiety and earlier onset of major depression has been reported in several studies. Furthermore, when comorbidity does occur, social anxiety almost always starts first, often many years prior to the onset of depression.
– From Study: Social Anxiety Disorder and the Risk of Depression
So why do social anxiety and depression often occur together? In this article I’ll list what I believe are the top 10 reasons.
1. Lack of social connections
Did you know there are psychologists out there who also study “happiness,” not just disorders? What they’ve found is that the quality of your close personal relationships is the most important factor in your happiness:
50 years of happiness research shows that the quantity and quality of a person’s social connections—friendships, relationships with family members, closeness to neighbors, etc.—is so closely related to well-being and personal happiness the two can practically be equated.
– Christine Carter, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley
Yes, it’s more important than money, fame, good looks, or even being born in a rich country. Take that, billionaires!
Of course, it does suck to be someone with social anxiety who avoids people and is afraid of closeness or intimacy.
In my experience, depression can make your social avoidance much worse. Why? Because when you feel like crap inside, it totally removes your motivation to socialize. Not only do you feel nervous to talk to people, but now you don’t even have the energy or enthusiasm to even try. Oh, but you still feel that nagging loneliness.
2. People are turned off by your nervous, sad or desperate energy.
Feeling anxious makes it extremely difficult to carry on even a basic conversation. This is why one of the most common problem I hear from my readers is that they “don’t know what to say” or their “mind goes blank” when talking. It’s hard to talk to people when you have alarm bells going off inside your mind, and your heart is racing, sweat is dripping off you, and your hands are trembling.
What’s worse, the sadness and depression you feel from loneliness turns people off even more. It makes you give off this subtle needy and desperate vibe, which to other people feels like a black hole of negative energy. When I was most depressed, I felt like I sucked the fun and energy out of the conversation just by opening my mouth.
3. Feeling “different” instead of belonging to a tribe.
Similar to point #1, it feels great when you feel like you’ve found “your people”:
- People who have similar viewpoints, interests and goals to you.
- People who you can have shared experiences with.
- People who you can totally feel free to be yourself around.
Unfortunately, most people with social anxiety feel “different,” out of place, like you don’t really fit in with any group of people you’ve met.
I know this feeling all too well. While most guys in school were talking about dumb stuff like who their favourite hockey player was… I was wondering why they cared so much about hockey in the first place.
I’m lucky now to have found my own “tribe” of people I can easily connect to (generally people who are interested in psychology, online business, self development, travel.) But it would have been impossible to find them with social anxiety.
Some studies have found that childhood experiences of not fitting in or being excluded can lead to social anxiety, depression and low self esteem. (source)
4. Can’t find a significant other.
Actually, relationships don’t always lead to happiness. They’re not always sunshine and roses. They often include conflict, jealously and heartbreak. And lonely people overlook the fact that the most depressed people in the world are usually the ones who have just broken up… luckily that type of depression lifts within a few weeks normally.
Yet despite the negatives, having someone to share the little moments of life with is something that gives many people a great feeling of being understood, loved and significant. I believe nobody should have to suffer being unwillingly single for years or a lifetime, but many people with social anxiety do.
5. Can’t pursue your desired career.
What’s a good job for someone with social anxiety? Computer programmer? Maybe a video editor? Yet even these jobs nowadays require a lots of collaboration and talking to people. Unless you’re going to be a truck driver or park ranger, you can’t really escape needing conversation skills in most jobs.
It’s simply a fact: If you aren’t confident, if you aren’t assertive, and if even the word “teamwork” makes your heart start to beat a little faster… then you’re probably going to be struggle getting the career you truly deserve.
- From being overlooked at work because you don’t speak up at meetings,
- To not getting the raise or promotion you want because you’re scared to ask for it,
- To being too nervous at the interview to get a job in the first place!
…I would bet social anxiety costs many people tens of thousands of dollars over a lifetime in their professional life.
6. Boredom and nothing to do.
Alone and aimlessly browsing the internet. That describes way too much of my high school and college life. Here’s a fact: when you don’t have friends to do things with, you usually don’t have many interesting things to do.
So you spend a lot of time doing things just to stay busy and distracted, things that ultimately feel unfulfilling and empty. For me this included video games, browsing random websites, etc. Jumping from distraction to distraction fills the time, but it your life doesn’t feel meaningful, and over time this erodes your self esteem even more.
7. Negative thoughts about self.
Feeling insecure about yourself is extremely common for social anxiety sufferers. You may believe that you’re ugly, that you’re secretly a loser, that people closely judge every little thing you say, etc. (This is in fact one of the core causes of social anxiety: you feel like you are “flawed” in some way, so you’re constantly nervous and worried about other people “noticing” this flaw and rejecting you.)
I’m sure it’s easy to see how the same types of thoughts that make you feel socially anxious can also make you feel depressed.
8. Feeling inferior and submissive.
I’ve yet to see another course about shyness or social anxiety talk about this, but I consider it crucially important…
When you perceive your social status or rank to be LOW, that’s when you start being “shy” or “socially anxious.” In psychology this idea is called “social rank theory.”
Let me explain. Take a look at these 3 common symptoms of shyness:
- Weak eye contact,
- Talking quietly and timidly,
- Being afraid to be assertive.
Think about what someone acting this way is really communicating. If a scientist saw a chimpanzee acting this way in the wild, he would label it as… submissive! And that’s where a lot of low social confidence comes from: a deep unconscious belief in other people being higher social status and more socially dominant than you. If you can overcome this feeling of inferiority, then you will find it easy to stop acting submissive & shy.
I talk a lot about this in my System, in the chapter called “Value & The Social Hierarchy”. What I didn’t realize when I created my course was that this same belief of inferiority / low status also leads to depression. That’s what this study found:
This study explores the associations between shame, depression and social anxiety from the perspective of social rank theory. Social rank theory argues that emotions and moods are significantly influenced by the perceptions of one’s social status/rank; that is the degree to which one feels inferior to others and looked down on. A common outcome of such perceptions is submissive behaviour. […]
Results confirm that shame, social anxiety and depression (but not guilt) are highly related to feeling inferior and to submissive behaviour.
– Study by Paul Gilbert: The Relationship of Shame, Social Anxiety and Depression: The Role of the Evaluation of Social Rank
9. Feeling ignored and invisible
Have you ever heard the saying that “you only exist in relationship to other people”? I think there’s some deep truth to it.
There have been periods of my life when I’ve been a huge loner, basically a hermit. I avoided making friends, and rarely talked to family. And it felt really strange. Like my existence felt less real when I didn’t interact with people for a long time. I started to wonder if I was losing my personality the more I stayed alone. I felt like I was fading away.
I can definitely see how some old people who are isolated start to go crazy, because I could feel it happening to me. And maybe this is why people fall in love… they need to feel like at least one other person in the world SEES them fully. Not feeling like other people KNOW and understand you really is depressing.
Loneliness does not come from having no people around you, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to you. – Carl Jung
10. No plan or hope of getting better.
The longer you stay stuck with social anxiety, the less you feel in control of your life. And the longer you are deprived of relationships, the harder it becomes to dig yourself out of the hole. It can feel so comforting to try to push your desires for friends, for a romantic relationship to the back of your mind as you focus on other hobbies.
But every once in a while, maybe on your birthday, you realize that another year of your life slipped by. Without much improvement.
That life event that was supposed to change your life: moving away to college, graduating or getting a job… it came and went and you’re still the same person. And sometimes you lay awake at night feeling like you’re wasting precious time you’ll never ever get back.
Now THAT’S the part of social anxiety which is the most depressing in my opinion.
Yet this type of thinking is also what finally motivated me to overcome my own social anxiety and now teach others as well. If you take one thing away from this article I hope it’s this: You are not alone. The same struggles, challenges and frustrations you face every day are ones common to most people with social anxiety.