Social anxiety can be severe and in itself debilitating, and is quite prevalent in patients with Chronic Lyme disease. It took me years to figure this out, as I suffered from such a severe case of Lyme induced social anxiety that attempting to connect with people who were in situations similar to my own (or with any other human being at all, really) was a laughable idea. I could not walk into a convenient store alone, or 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 various others with Lyme disease who experienced severe social anxiety similar to my own. In order to do find solutions and connect with others like myself, I had to first understand just why exactly 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.
The Link Between Social Anxiety and Lyme Disease
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 disease and social anxiety, as it seems there is actually a scientific explanation regarding how Lyme disease effects the an area of the brain that controls anxiety. What I am saying is, remember when you were told that Lyme disease was all in your head? Well, if you are anything like me, you have likely been told or have thought the same about social anxiety –that it was all in your head and you could will it away with your thoughts. However, this may not be the case at all, and further intervention may be required.
Studies show 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 overstimulated, emotional responses to external situations completely bypass the neo-cortex of the brain and go straight from the thalamus to the amygdala . Typically, emotional response to situations is sent from the thalamus to the part of the brain responsible for conscious thought, the neo-cortex, where it can be analyzed for a rational response before it is sent to the amygdala for us to act upon –both physically and physiologically. 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 with the potential to 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 as I have just explained, logical thinking is literally 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 have proven beneficial for people suffering from social anxiety from Lyme disease, myself included.
Herbal Remedies for Reducing Lyme-Induced Social Anxiety
Subscribe to the World's Most Popular Newsletter (it's free!)
The following herbs may reduce social anxiety from an overactive amygdala by modifying brain chemistry and/or hormone production in a manner that promotes well-balanced amygdala functioning :
· Kava Kava: Kava kava, or Kava, has a long history of use as an herbal remedy for anxiety. According to research, it helps reduce 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.
· St John’s Wort: A research study that was conducted on rats, and published in the “Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Studies” in 2009, 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 related to stress and anxiety. **BONUS: St. John’s wort is also well-known for its ability to serve as a superb antidote for depression in many people, due to the fact that it increases serotonin levels in the brain.
· Adaptogenic Herbs: Adaptogenic herbs may alleviate symptoms of social and generalized anxiety by modifying and balancing amygdala activity . Such herbs include, but are not limited to, ashwagandha, rhodiola, Siberian ginseng, licorice, and valerian root.
· CBD Oil: Research and personal experience prove 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, titled “Cannabidiol Reduces the Anxiety Induced by Simulated Public Speaking in Treatment-Naïve Social Phobia Patients,” 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, which is responsible for the “fight-or-flight” response, produce endocannabinoids -which can be thought of as the body’s naturally occurring cannabinoids- that modify how receptors in the amygdala react to external stimuli, thus modulating 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 prove 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 as it is, much less with social anxiety that prohibits you from leaving the house and engaging in social interactions even on “good” days when your symptoms aren’t as severe as usual. Luckily, there are remedies that have helped people with Lyme-induced social anxiety, such as the herbal ones listed above. However, herbal remedies are only one of many methods people with Lyme-induced social anxiety have found beneficial. If herbal remedies do not work for you, or are not something you would consider, all hope is not lost. There are other avenues to explore that may also help regulate anxiety and/or modify over activity in the amygdala, including but not limited to meditation, cognitive behavioral therapy, 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, whatever the root cause may be, are out there, waiting to be found. Don’t give up.
1) 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
2) Dubois, S. “Amygdala & Herbs”. Livestrong. October 19, 2011. Accessed on October 30, 2015 from www.livestrong.com/article/548130-amygdala-herbs/#page=1
3) Dubois, S. “Amygdala & Herbs”. Livestrong. October 19, 2011. Accessed on October 30, 2015 from www.livestrong.com/article/548130-amygdala-herbsb/#page=2
4) 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
5) Innes, E. (2014, March 7). Cannabis CAN reduce anxiety levels –but only in small doses. Retrieved October 30, 2015 from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2575646/cannabis-CAN-reduce-anxiety-levels-say-doctors-small-doses.htm
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.