November 23, 2021

Dear Colleagues,

The National Social Anxiety Center (NSAC) provides information about relevant and current research in service of disseminating and promoting evidence-based treatment. This month’s research summary is written by Constance Salhany, PhD, A-CBT, representing NSAC Staten Island, and examines the article, The Grass is Always Greener: Envy in Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD).

The authors, Oren-Yagoda, Schwartz, and Aderka (2021), attempted to address this gap in the literature by examining levels of envy in people with SAD in contrast to those who do not have SAD. Further, they were interested in differences in levels between these groups following a social encounter, and in modes of communication, for example visual, voice, or texting. They sought to investigate if there is a temporal relationship between envy and anxiety for predicting subsequent anxiety among participants with SAD.

The participants included 88 people, half of whom met the criteria for SAD and half of whom did not. Experience samplings for emotions and interactions were performed for three weeks via daily text messaging with links to questionnaires. Analysis of data was performed using multilevel linear modeling. Those with SAD had higher levels of envy than those who did not have SAD.

The authors compared visual, voice and texting modes of communication. The visual modes included face to face interactions or video communications. People with SAD were more likely to focus on visual communication cues, have misattributions about themselves and/or others, and think of themselves as inferior. They experienced heightened envy following interactions in the visual, as compared to voice/text mode.

For those with SAD, the emotions of envy and anxiety on a given day predicted anxiety on the subsequent day above baseline anxiety. Further, envy predicted subsequent anxiety beyond the effect of anxiety. Results were not accounted for by other emotions, such as sadness or guilt. For those without SAD, neither anxiety nor envy predicted subsequent anxiety. The authors described this as the spillover effect, and they found that anxiety/envy experienced on a given day spilled over to anxiety on the following day in the participants with SAD.

The authors suggested that envy and anxiety may have cognitive factors in common. Such may include upward social comparison and the view of self as inferior, concerns about problems handing social interactions, worries about negative responses from others, and rumination. Attempts to hide envy may lead to increase in anxiety, since it could be unfavorable. The authors hypothesized that the observed spillover effect may be involved in maintaining or worsening social anxiety.

Have you considered the impact of envy on your clients with social anxiety disorder? What are questions one can ask about envy to aid conceptualization while minimizing stigma? What specific CBT techniques have you found helpful in dealing with envy?

Roni Oren-Yagoda, Maya Schwartz and Idan M..Aderka. The grass is always greener: Envy in social anxiety disorder. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, volume 82, August 2021.

Constance J. Salhany Ph.D., A-CBT
Board member representing NSAC Staten Island
Director, Cognitive Therapy of Staten Island
Diplomate, Fellow, Certified Trainer Consultant, Academy of Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies