For anyone who has ever felt the dual sting of both depression and anxiety, you know that there is a link between the two in many instances. It makes sense that, if an individual has experienced the rejection and defeat that contributes to depression, they will ultimately experience anxiety in regards to confronting the sources of that depression. There are many ways to label this connection, but the basic premise is simple – the more severe the depression, the higher level the anxiety ultimately reaches.
There is a difference however in what kinds of depression can cause this sort of reaction. For some people, depression can be caused by their attachments. Having a fight with a loved one or breaking up with a long time partner can be a source of depression that is debilitating but not always in a manner that breeds higher levels of anxiety. However, depression directly attributed to one's perception of social ranking can often be directly tied to the development of anxiety.
What this means is that this high level depression is caused by a feeling of inadequacy and inferiority within a given social environment. The individual is made to feel submissive and defeated in a social competition – whether it is losing a spouse to another man or woman, losing a job to a coworker, or being upstaged by a persistently more successful sibling. This feeling of defeat compounds and, due to the inherent hierarchy that exists in any social interaction, people start to judge or rate each other. Worse yet, those that suffer from depression assume they are being judged and rated, even when they are not, and start to develop high levels of anxiety about what their friends and family think of them and how they will react to almost every decision made.
Recent studies have gone on to show that this form of anxiety is unique in that it is directly related to the way in which you interact with those around you. One in particular – that of David Zuroff from the University of Toronto – states that when people gather in a group of essentially any form an immediate hierarchy develops. This hierarchy and the ranking of each individual within that hierarchy can then be measured based on their level of low positive effect – a term referring to the depression they have experienced as a result of defeat, rejection, or losses in a social setting. The comparison was drawn between this low positive effect level and the ability of the individual to hold attention and attraction in their peers through respect, influence, likeability, and other social prominent factors.
The study went on to show that the lower a person is within the social hierarchy of a given group, the higher the level of depression they may suffer from, and the more anxiety they will develop as a result – feeling trapped within the social environment and overwhelmed by those they feel are better than them. Rather than confronting this perception, they retreat within themselves, hiding from outside sources due to a perceived or very real lack of support from their family, friends, and peers.
Zuroff's study is based upon a theory known as IDS or Involuntary Defeat Strategy (Gilbert, 2000; Sloman, 2000) which basically states that depression is directly caused by an activation of an instinct that keeps defeated individuals from attempting possibly dangerous contests with rivals that are superior. This social rank competition theory means that a great deal of depression is caused by individuals not being able to terminate this IDS reflex in their brains at the end of a social competition. They continue to allow the effects of losing a job or breaking up someone to affect how they perceive and interact with the world.
Millions of people attempt each day to overcome social pressures and be an important part of the social hierarchy. Those that can overcome their depression by working with those around them and terminating the self-defeating behavior our brains attempt to instill when we fail, will not only be able to operate free of much of the social anxiety they experience – they will quickly rise to the top of the social rankings.