Herbs for Social Anxiety
People who struggle with social anxiety often find that it significantly impacts their quality of life. Despite the effects of social anxiety, if this describes you, you may not want to take traditional medicine for various reasons. For example, the side effects may be problematic. There are other solutions, including psychotherapy. Some people also integrate natural remedies into their treatment plan, such as herbs. The following provides an overview of social anxiety and covers 7 of the best herbs for social anxiety.
Of course, always speak with a health care professional before taking any herbs or utilizing natural remedies for social anxiety.
What Is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety disorder was previously referred to as social phobia. It’s estimated that millions of people throughout the world struggle with social anxiety. Key symptoms include an extreme and irrational fear of being judged or viewed negatively by others.
Someone with social anxiety will often feel very uncomfortable in social situations, but they won’t experience symptoms when they’re alone unless they’re preparing to be in a social environment.
Some researchers believe social anxiety is the third most common mental health disorder in the United States, after depression and alcoholism. An estimated 7 percent of the population in the U.S. may have some form of social anxiety during their lifetime.
Situations that may trigger symptoms of social anxiety and emotional distress include:
- Being introduced to other people
- Being the center of attention
- Having someone watch them while they perform an activity
- Meeting people they see as important or as being authority figures
- The majority of social encounters, particularly when they involve unfamiliar people
- Having to go around and say something in a room of people
- Any kind of interpersonal relationships which can include friendships as well as romantic relationships
Symptoms of Social Anxiety
Social anxiety can include physical and mental side effects. Some of the possible symptoms of social anxiety include:
- Intense psychological anxiety
- Irrational fear
- Racing heart
- Excessive sweating
- Muscle twitching
- Dry mouth
As with other anxiety disorders, when someone has social anxiety, they realize their fear is irrational, but they don’t have control over it.
Researchers believe social anxiety disorder occurs because of a combination of factors. Some causes that may be part of someone developing this anxiety disorder include:
- Family traits: Most anxiety disorders do tend to have a genetic component and run in families. However, it may not be only because of genetics that there is a family link to anxiety disorders. It may also be related to learned behavior.
- Brain structure: The part of the brain responsible for controlling fear response is called the amygdala. Someone with an overactive amygdala may have problems when it comes to their fear response. This can lead to an increased fear response, and in the case of social anxiety, it’s the fear related to the social situation.
- Environment: Most anxiety disorders are probably also linked to learned behaviors and the environment. For example, if someone has a family member who displayed anxiety in social situations, they may be more likely to have the symptoms themselves.
How Is Social Anxiety Treated?
Social anxiety is considered a chronic mental health disorder. However, symptoms can be reduced or alleviated with coping skills which can be learned in psychotherapy. Medication may also be used to help treat social anxiety.
Some of the medications that are used to treat symptoms of social anxiety include:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and specifically Paxil and Zoloft.
- Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) like Effexor XR.
- Other types of antidepressants
- Benzodiazepines (these are only intended to be short-term treatments for anxiety and are habit-forming)
- Beta blockers which deal primarily with physical symptoms of social anxiety
Some people also use natural and holistic medicine for social anxiety. Options include herbal supplements, mindfulness techniques, yoga or other ways to learn how to cope with anxiety. These might be used with medication or instead of medication depending on the recommendations of a health care professional.
The 7 Best Herbs for Social Anxiety
The following is an overview of some of the herbs for social anxiety that people often have good results with, although you should speak to your health care provider before taking anything.
If you are looking for the best herbs for social anxiety, chamomile can be a good place to start because it’s fairly mild in its effects and tends to have minimal side effects. Chamomile comes from a flower that’s similar to a daisy. People often consume it in tea form, but there are other ways to use it such as capsule forms.
Studies have shown chamomile can help with symptoms of anxiety and also promote better sleep, which is why people often drink it in the evening. Chamomile contains something called apigenin, which binds to receptors in the brain that promote sleepiness, and this compound is why it can help with insomnia.
One study conducted in 2016 and cited in the Phytomedicine journal found long-term chamomile use can significantly reduce moderate-to-severe anxiety symptoms.
Along with being one of the best herbs for social anxiety, chamomile may have other health benefits aside from promoting sleep and reducing anxiety. It has been shown to improve digestive health and may help prevent some types of cancer as well.
Kava kava is one of the best herbs for social anxiety. Kava kava is a plant that grows natively in the South Asia Pacific region. The root has been used for centuries by people indigenous to the area. In more recent years it’s made its way west. There has been some limited research showing kava may help alleviate symptoms of anxiety including social anxiety.
Kava is available in many different forms. For example, you can find it in teas and beverages, tablets, capsules and more.
There are certain warnings to be aware of with kava, however. In some rare cases, it has led to liver toxicity and liver damage. This risk goes up if you combine it with alcohol.
As with most herbal supplements, it shouldn’t be used by pregnant women.
Before taking this herb for social anxiety, speak with a health professional.
Passionflower is a somewhat commonly used herbal supplement that is relied upon to help with symptoms of anxiety and social anxiety as well as insomnia. It’s native to the southeastern part of North America, and in herbal supplement form the flowers, leaves, and stems are used.
Passionflower is available as infusions, tinctures, teas, and liquid extracts. There are some research and evidence showing the ability of passionflower to help with symptoms of anxiety as well as insomnia and certain nervous disorders, which is why it’s also considered one of the best herbs for social anxiety.
It is important to speak with your doctor about the use of passionflower as is the case with all herbs for anxiety because it may interact with certain medications including narcotics, antihistamines, and benzodiazepines.
Valerian root is an herb that grows in many places throughout the world including North America, Europe and certain areas of Asia. It’s most frequently used to help to help with sleep disorders, but may also be helpful to treat anxiety symptoms and psychological stress.
Valerian root appears to have a sedative effect on the brain and the nervous system when used.
Some early research indicates valerian combined with St. John’s Wort may be useful to help with symptoms of depression also. This may be particularly true when higher doses are used.
Side effects of valerian are fairly mild for the most part. These mild side effects may include headache and an upset stomach.
Ashwagandha is also known as winter cherry, and some believe that it’s one of the best herbs for social anxiety and other types of anxiety.
Ashwagandha is a name derived from Sanskrit. Along with winter cherry, it’s also sometimes called Indian ginseng.
It’s an important part of Ayurvedic medicine, having been used for centuries to help improve energy levels, reduce the effects of aging and help with anxiety. In Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha is believed to help with overall health and well-being too.
It’s believed this herb for social anxiety helps by balancing hormones related to anxiety. It can also help provide energy when someone is feeling fatigued, but at the same time, it can have a depressant effect on the nervous system, promoting sleep and relaxation. It’s a good herb for combating anxiety as well as adrenal fatigue.
Studies have shown that it can lower cortisol, which is known as the stress hormone and it seems to clinically show benefits for anxiety, beyond a placebo effect.
Rhodiola rosea is an herb native to certain areas of Europe and Asia. The roots of the plant are considered adaptogens, meaning they help the body deal with stress when used.
Of the 140 active ingredients in the Rhodiola rosea root, the two most powerful are called rosavin and salidroside. The herb has a long history throughout Scandinavia and Russia in helping treat anxiety as well as fatigue and depression.
Along with being a natural herb that helps with stress and anxiety, it may have other health benefits as well. Rhodiola rosea may help fight fatigue and symptoms of chronic fatigue. In some research, it’s been shown to help reduce depression symptoms, and it may help improve mental fatigue and improve work-related performance.
The final herb for social anxiety we’re including on this list is lemon balm. Lemon balm is in the mint family, and this herb for social anxiety can be found in tea form, as an extract, an oil, a salve, and a tincture.
Lemon balm is believed to help with anxiety because a certain compound found in it called rosmarinic acid might increase the availability of the brain neurotransmitter GABA.
Along with possibly helping reduce anxiety symptoms and stress, lemon balm has antioxidant properties. It may also help with insomnia, heartburn, and even high cholesterol.
Some preliminary studies have looked at the potential for lemon balm to help people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease, although it’s in the early stages.
Herbs for social anxiety aren’t approved or controlled by the FDA, so as has been touched on throughout this guide, do make sure you consult a health care provider before trying any new herbs. This is especially true if you use any medications because even herbs with few known side effects may interact with certain prescription and even OTC medicines.
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