Social anxiety can be severe and debilitating; it’s quite prevalent in patients with chronic Lyme disease. It took me years to figure this out I suffered from a severe case of Lyme-induced social anxiety, and attempting to connect with people who were in situations similar to my own (or with any other human being at all, really) was a challenge. I could not walk into a convenient store alone, check my email, or make phone calls without having major panic attacks that left me paralyzed with fear. Eventually, I began using various herbal remedies to help me gain control over my social anxiety, and with time, I met others with Lyme who experienced severe social anxiety similar as well. To find solutions and connect with others like myself, I had to first understand why I went from a social butterfly to a vehemently devoted hermit seemingly overnight, and how this radical transformation was related to the effects of Lyme disease on the brain.
Social Anxiety and The Lyme Disease Connection
Sure, anyone can develop social anxiety after being locked up in the same four walls and alienated from others for an extended amount of time, as is the case for the large majority of people with chronic Lyme disease. However, there may be more to the story when it comes to Lyme and social anxiety. There is actually a scientific explanation regarding how the tick-borne illness effects the area of the brain that controls anxiety.
Social anxiety is often linked to an overactive amygdala, a part of the brain which is commonly overstimulated in patients with chronic Lyme disease.
When the amygdala is on high alert, emotional responses to external situations completely bypass the neo-cortex of the brain (the part of the brain responsible for conscious thought) and go straight from the thalamus to the amygdala. Typically, emotional responses to situations are sent from the thalamus to the the neo-cortex, where it can be analyzed for a rational response before it is sent to the amygdala for us to act upon.
However, in people with Lyme disease, emotional responses take a shortcut from the thalamus straight to the amygdala, which is dubbed the “fear center” of the brain for a very good reason. Naturally, when we feel fear that seems both beyond our control and comprehension, our fear is only amplified ten-fold. As a result, we begin to completely alienate ourselves from all activities and social interactions that could cause anxiety because we feel powerless to control it should it arise.
Many people think social anxiety is a character weakness, one easily remedied with a strong dose of logical thinking. But logical thinking is not an immediate option for those with severely overstimulated amygdalas due to Lyme disease. Fortunately, there are methods aside from sheer will alone, such as certain herbal remedies, which are beneficial for people suffering from social anxiety from Lyme disease, myself included.
4 Herbs to Help You Cope with Social Anxiety
The following herbs may reduce social anxiety from an overactive amygdala by modifying brain chemistry and hormone production in a manner that promotes well-balanced amygdala functioning:
1. Kave Kava
Kava kava, or Kava, has a long history of use as an herbal remedy for anxiety. It helps mitigate anxiety by reducing over activity in the amygdala. As previously covered, this is the part of the brain responsible for the manifestation of social anxiety in many cases of chronic Lyme disease.
2. St. Johns Wort
A 2008 research study that was conducted on rats and published in the Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Studies indicated that St. John’s wort alleviates social anxiety by impacting hormones and neurotransmitters related to stress, as well as by reducing the effects of stress on the amygdala and other areas of the brain. Additionally, St. John’s wort is also well-known for its ability to serve as a superb antidote for mild to moderate depression due to the fact that it increases serotonin levels in the brain.
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Adaptogenic herbs may alleviate symptoms of social and generalized anxiety by modifying and balancing amygdala activity. Such herbs include (but are not limited to)
- Siberian ginseng
- Licorice root
- Valerian root.
4. CBD Oil
Research and personal experience point to CBD oil, an isolated extract of a non-psychoactive cannabinoid in the cannabis plant called cannabidiol, is an excellent contender for remedying symptoms of social anxiety. Results of a study published in the Neuropsychology Journal, suggest that a single dose of CBD can combat social anxiety and related symptoms, including but not limited to cognitive impairment and excitatory thoughts and speech. The study demonstrated how nerve cells in the amygdala produce endocannabinoids, the body’s naturally-occurring cannabinoids, that modify how receptors in the amygdala react to external stimuli and modulate spikes in anxiety level. Cannabinoids like CBD, which are unique to the cannabis plant alone, bind to these receptors to produce the same anxiety-reducing mechanism.
Of course, there are other herbs not mentioned here that may be beneficial for social anxiety in patients with chronic Lyme disease. Also, always consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new herbal remedies.
In short, social anxiety from Lyme disease can be severe and debilitating, compromising every aspect of your life. It is hard enough to deal with the darkness and loneliness of Lyme disease symptoms as it is, much less with social anxiety. Additionally, there are other avenues to explore that may also help regulate anxiety and modify over activity in the amygdala, including but not limited to meditation, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and emotional freedom technique (EFT). If social anxiety is hindering your quality of life, it is imperative to remember that the answers to gaining control over your specific case of social anxiety are out there, just waiting to be found. Don’t give up!
This article was first published on ProHealth.com on November 12, 2015 and was updated on September 1, 2020.
Shelley is the author of ‘Cannabis for Lyme Disease and Related Conditions: Scientific Basis and Anecdotal Evidence for Medicinal Use.’ She writes for various websites, including Collective Evolution, Natural News, the Mind Unleashed, and the Examiner, and is trained in herbalism and diet and nutrition.
Bano S, Dawood S. Serotonergic mediation effects of St John’s wort in rats subjected to swim stress. Pak J Pharm Sci. 2008;21(1):63-69.
Bergamaschi M., et al. (2011). Cannabidiol Reduces the Anxiety Induced by Simulated Public Speaking in Treatment-Naïve Social Phobia Patients. Neuropsychopharmacology 36(6),1219-1226. Published online Feb 9, 2011. doi:10.1038/npp.2011.6
Handel, S. “Social Anxiety and the Amygdala”. The Emotion Machine. July 21, 2011. Accessed on October 30, 2015 from www.theemotionmachine.com/social-anxiety-and-the-amygdala