The Role of Envy in Depression and Anxiety

It is safe to say that the levels of depression and anxiety in our society have certainly risen to unsustainable proportions over the pandemic. Often people’s anxiety and depression can be justified – related to real circumstances that they find themselves in. However, there is a cohort of people who have struggled with these feelings long before Covid arrived; indeed, some have struggled with these for most of their lives. While there are so many influences and factors in both anxiety and depression, and we have written about some of these in previous blog posts, ENVY is a factor that is not often talked about or examined. It can be a “hidden” influence on our self-esteem and our view on life, that needs to be addressed. Otherwise its toxicity can make any feelings of depression or anxiety that we may be struggling with so much worse. If we examine our subconscious thought life and do the deep work of self reflection, we may be surprised at the freedom it can bring.

envy depression anxiety blog post imageDepression and anxiety can be triggered by a number of different factors. One factor, which we often fail to give much recognition to, is envy. Envy is an interesting emotion. A semi-hybrid of jealousy and anger, envy assumes that others have it better; it covets the lives of others and demotes the positive in one’s own life experience.

Envy lies. It tells us that others have better homes, jobs, partners and personalities.
It casts a long shadow over one’s own accomplishments and tells us that others have done more and better. Envy in and of itself is an unpleasant feeling, but when coupled with depression and anxiety, it can become a toxic combination.

How To Recognise It

Envy can sneak up on us in stealthy ways. What might start as a seemingly innocuous thought about how someone else “has it good,” can morph into “that person has it better than I do.” That simple thought shift seems subtle, but within it lies a lot of implication.

Our minds love categorisation on some deeply rooted level. Even without realising it, we are drawing thousands of conclusions all day long. We are constantly trying to find meaning in everything.

A thought such as “that person has it better than I do” naturally begs the next question, “but why?”
Our answer to that question can either serve us well or can wreak havoc with our self-worth. When depressed or anxious, we are predisposed to low self-worth and excessive self-criticism.

A depressed or anxious person is more likely to respond to the “why” question with self-criticism. A depressed, angry person might also include thoughts about the other person’s undeserved favouritism in the world.

This may be especially true if the person with depression or anxiety also struggles with Cluster B traits (such as the need for excessive admiration and recognition by others, the need for more praise than the average person).

Some telltale signs that you may be experiencing envy that is affecting your depression or anxiety can include:

  • Frequent comparisons between your life and others’ lives
  • Experiencing frustration, jealousy or feelings of inadequacy when good things happen to other people.
  • Frequent feelings of inferiority and at times, feeling the need to prove yourself to others.
  • Unexplained irritation with others, particularly those who seem as if they have it “easy.”

Ask Your Envy Some Questions

If you begin to notice some of the signs of envy impacting your depressive or anxiety symptoms, ask yourself the following questions to get a better understanding:

  • When I think about this other person’s life, what do they possess that I wish I had?
  • Why does it feel important for me to have that in my life?
  • Did I have this in the past? If so, what happened?
  • Am I feeling self-doubt or incompetency along with envy?
  • What do I wish I was more skilled or competent at?
  • In what ways do I compare myself to this person?
  • How does that feel to compare myself to him/her?
  • Are there aspects of my own life that are enviable?
  • What do I have going for me that others may wish they had?

The Big Lie

The big lie that envy tells us is that other people have something better than we do. Whether it is material possessions, coveted looks, personality or relationships; whatever it is we envy in another person creates a false sense of glory. As glittery and marvellous as the other person’s life may seem, they struggle, too.

While that may sound cliché, it’s the truth. If it is material possessions that are the source of envy, rest assured that the other person is no happier than you are. In studies of people with and without money and extraordinary ‘things’, it’s been found time and time again that there is no connection between wealth and happiness.

Happy is where you make it.
It cannot be gained by acquiring a lot of possessions, money or luxury. If you’re miserable while poor, you’ll also be miserable while rich.

Same goes for envied social status or relationships. Perhaps you are envious of a friend’s marriage and how wonderful his/her spouse seems.

Terrific relationships are a true blessing, but do not bring happiness. If you are unhappy alone, you’ll also be unhappy with the best partner in the world. It is the envy that causes unhappiness, not the fact that you don’t have an object of desire. Attainment is irrelevant to your life satisfaction.

Coping With Envy

If envy is worsening your depression or anxiety, consider the following ideas to help manage and reduce it.

Envy causes us to focus on what is missing or deficient in our lives.

Challenge yourself to observe these feelings of envy and examine the underlying thought. Ask yourself “what do I feel is missing?”

  • Explore the positive aspects of your life rather than staying stuck in the murky thoughts about what is lacking. Start a gratitude journal and write at least one entry per day about what you are thankful for about your life.
  • Consider talking with a therapist about your feelings of envy and the ways in which it impacts your depression, anxiety and self-worth. Is this a chronic pattern across your lifespan?
  • In your earlier life, were you raised to examine what you were thankful for in life? Do you recall your early caregivers expressing envy of others and their accomplishments or belongings?

Examining your envy requires a lot of self-reflection and vulnerability.

The end result of improving self-esteem and increasing gratitude will be worth the hard work.

Reducing feelings of depression and anxiety will also be a major benefit as you work through chronic feelings of envy. Be patient with yourself as you sort through your thoughts and feelings, this is not easy work.

You may find that some of the things you value are tied into your feelings of inadequacy and envy. Try to remember that to someone else, your life may seem ideal and what you represent may seem like an enviable position for others.

[This blog post originally appeared on Teyhou’s website ~ some content may have been modified for the UK context.]

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