Social Anxiety & CBD: How to make the Cringe Go Away
I was 8 years old the first time someone called me “shy”.
A childhood full of physical and emotional abuse made me create my entire identity around this small word.
What started as mere shyness turned into a list of psychological challenges I have lived through most of my life, the most inhibiting of them has been my social anxiety disorder. It really escalated and affected my life in significant ways.
After years of self-help books and therapy that helped to some degree and different antidepressant protocols that didn’t help at all, I found CBD a natural alternative to calm the dreaded cringe, and my symptoms began to improve.
Now, let me ask you…
Does this hit home for you? Is social anxiety holding you back in life and you’re open-minded to the better way of life that CBD may provide? If the answer is yes, stay with me.
In this article, I will show you the gritty truth of social anxiety and all you need to know to decide if CBD is worth a try.
Let’s start at the beginning..
Table of Contents
What Is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety is basically an intense fear of possibly being judged, scrutinized or embarrassed when you face any social or performance situation.
We all feel social anxiety in certain circumstances of life and that’s fine. But when your social anxiety becomes a persistent and pervasive script of toxic thoughts about yourself and how people see you, we’re talking about something more serious, a social anxiety disorder (SAD).
Many confuse it with shyness, however, social anxiety goes far deeper. It leaves you with an internal suffering that makes you create all kinds of behaviors to use as the rules you live by to feel safe.
Unfortunately, those behaviors are usually a complete misunderstanding of how you need to live your life. They don’t just prevent you from taking the opportunities of life—but they become your life.
Social anxiety affects your ability to socialize and communicate with other people, and it can truly hold you back in life. Odds are, you’re probably pushing people away without even realizing it.
Putting walls up and not letting anyone in to protect yourself, to feel safe.
But we humans are social beings; we evolved as the dominant species of the planet because of our ability to communicate.
Not being able to do so is very damaging to the individual, and I know it firsthand.
Every day feels like life is just passing by, and every day you put off living it. You’re perceived as distant, aloof, or even cold-hearted.
SAD is a global epidemic happening behind closed doors. Asking for help might be as frightening as giving a speech for a thousand people. You’re probably suffering in solitude, thinking no one else can understand what you’re going through.
The truth is, we social misfits are not unicorns, SAD is pretty common even if we don’t talk about it enough.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, social anxiety disorders affect 15 million adults, or 6.8% of the US population.
It’s equally common among men and women and typically manifests during teenage years.
What Are the Symptoms of Social Anxiety?
Important note: The information I provide on this site is for information resources only. This post is NOT to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes and should NOT be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment.
That being said, let’s get into those undesirable SAD symptoms.
If you live with social anxiety, you probably don’t need me to tell you how it feels. But it’s important to break it down to the basics.
There are a lot of different symptoms that may accompany SAD. They’re classified as physical and psychological.
- Rapid heartbeat.
- Tense muscles.
- Surge of blood sugar levels.
- Feeling dizzy in social situations.
- Gastric problems and ulcers.
- Inability to catch
- breath/feeling of panic.
- Sweating and blushing.
- Loss of Libido.
- Fear and nervousness at high levels when entering rooms.
- Severe fear of speaking in public.
- Negative emotional cycles and depression.
- Severe low self-esteem and self-worth.
- Fear of judgment or criticism.
- Obsession over being watched, scrutinized, or judged by strangers.
- Facial dysmorphia or distorted perception of your facial appearance.
- Do you avoid strangers?
- Do you get tongue-tied when trying to introduce yourself?
- Does the fear of being judged stop you from being yourself around other people?
- Do you fear being rejected for your ideas?
- Are you constantly worrying about what people think of you?
- Do you deflect every compliment you get and hate to be the center of attention?
- Do you feel that others are always judging you?
- Do you avoid going places in public, back out events at the last minute or put off making phone calls?
While only medical and psychological professionals can give you an accurate SAD diagnosis, you should seek help if you answered yes to most of the questions.
You can take a two minutest test for social anxiety here.
Now it’s time to understand the roots of your SAD.
What Causes Social Anxiety?
Knowing the causes of your social anxiety is key to exploring the treatment options. A single test can’t diagnose your anxiety, it requires a process with a professional, your personal and completely honest history is necessary along with a physical examination.
Only after an accurate diagnosis, your doctor can determine the course of action. Childhood traumas are the root of my SAD, so my treatment may differ for someone with genetic causes.
A confluence of several factors play a role in people with SAD, they include:
Research has confirmed a connection between negative parenting styles and SAD. Constantly yelling at a child that she’s not good enough or she’s not deserving can be very detrimental to her self-image.
I know this very well; I grew up being put down.
If one of your parents has lived with SAD, you have a 30-40% greater likelihood of suffering from this same condition. A gene called SLCGA4 is involved in carrying the neurotransmitter serotonin, the hormone of happiness, a chemical that can help soothe nerves and stabilize moods.
Abnormalities in the performance of this gene causes fluctuations of serotonin levels. Both shortages and excesses of this neurotransmitter are linked to social anxiety symptoms.
TRAUMATIC LIFE EXPERIENCES
Trauma during childhood can influence the development of social anxiety issues. Some of these experiences could be:
- Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.
- Domestic violence.
- Death of a parent.
UNUSUAL BRAIN FUNCTIONING
This is a complex topic and deserves its own chapter.
Here, I’ll catch you up…
The Brain of a Social Misfit
Thought we still don’t have the whole picture of how a social anxiety disorder stems, understanding its basic mechanism in the brain can provide you with a framework to realize it can be managed.
Feel free to skip this part if science is not your thing.
From a neuroscience perspective two small areas of the brain are highly implicated in the development of social anxiety, the amygdala and the hippocampus.
Your social phobia is the response of a hectic amygdala, a teeny-tiny organ that acts as a fear barometer and rules our fight-or-flight responses. Brain scans have revealed that people with social anxiety disorder suffer from hyperactivity in this area of the brain.
The amygdala is the reason you’re afraid of things outside your control. The brain wasn’t built to relax, and the amygdala plays a key role in keeping it ready to solve immediate problems.
The amygdala evaluates the emotional value of situations—like happy, sad, scary—and it’s also responsible for many of our judgments, such as discerning between safe and threatening, good and bad, a friend and a foe.
It can help you identify facial expressions too, so if you get antsy over someone giving you the stink eye, the amygdala is the culprit.
The amygdala is directly implicated in both general anxiety and social anxiety disorders.
The amygdala’s purpose is not just to freak you out. It also works in collaboration with your fight-and-flight response when you face a real threat.
Experts believe this little anxiety-meter evolved mostly to help us connect the events and situations of life with appropriate emotional reactions.
In this light, the amygdala was critical for our ancestors to survive. It made them concerned of being a saber-toothed tiger’s meal, for example. Our brain is wired to remember these scary situations so it can anticipate the worst case scenario to avoid them in the future.
But today, we’re constantly exposed to fears that not necessarily mean physical danger. As social misfits, our inaccurate self-perception and the stories we tell ourselves about it are the tiger.
These irrational thoughts help us make sense of the uncertain world we live in. We give them meaning and make them our lives’ narrative; we use them in anticipation of any social situation and can even give them a lifetime prevalence if they persist untreated.
It’s like spending our lives running from tigers that only exist in our heads.
The amygdala is blind; it can’t see if what is causing you fear is real or just a thought, so it only has one way to respond: Anxiety.
As a one-trick pony, the amygdala makes your fight-or-flight survival mechanism kick into high gear as a response for fear.
An avalanche of physical symptoms are unleashed, some of them leave sufferers unable to think normally. Sweaty palms, red face and racing heartbeat? Well, once again, the amygdala is the culprit.
The hippocampus is essential to form your memories. This seahorse shaped organ is deeply connected with the amygdala. They together are involved in how you store memories in the brain. The hippocampus store memories and the amygdala determines their strength, whereby emotional laden memories tend to stick.
Thus, when any bullshitty thought you have about a social situation is followed by a strong emotional arousal, you’ll have a greater retention of that thought, making it a long-lasting memory.
These memories contribute to negative beliefs about yourself. So, when you experience intense social or performance anxiety, what you’re actually doing is bringing up memories from the past that influence how you feel right now.
The amygdala and the hippocampus process your social signals, but are also interconnected with the area of the brain that make decisions. This area is also involved in your social anxiety.
Let’s learn how.
THE PREFRONTAL CORTEX (PFC)
Also known as the logic brain, the PFC is a master at organizing, evaluating and selecting all the behaviors we use when responding to stress.
When you experience a surge of anxiety, your mental focus shifts to the prefrontal cortex. Its job is to calm those reactions by evaluating them with logic and ease. If no real threat is present, the PFC signals the amygdala to calm it down.
But in people like you and me that suffer from SAD, the prefrontal cortex circuits are dysregulated. They collect information from your memories, evaluate them and determine that social situations are real threats—aka tigers.
On the heels of this evaluation, the PFC tells the amygdala to react stronger to those situations, making your fear meter go cray-cray. It seems like an anxiety disorder may have its roots from this PFC response.
In recent studies, neuroscientists found that the part of the brain associated with your conscious experience is also related with your distorted self-awareness.
Let’s geek out about it…
THE ANTERIOR CINGULATE CORTEX (ACC)
The ACC is associated with many functions of the brain, like cognition, decision-making and your idea of awareness. Nestled behind the eyes, the ACC works as a bridge between the amygdala and the PFC. When the ACC is activated your recognition of emotional cues or targets is improved.
The ACC is usually divided in several regions, one of them is the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex gyrus (pACCg). This mouthful is important for engaging in social interactions and is deeply related with your self-conscious emotions.
Comparing yourself with others against social standards can drive achievement. But it also unleashes a series of emotions about yourself. These emotions include:
Self-conscious emotions have important roles in psychological and social functioning and depend on your ability to gauge others’ reactions to your behavior. They’re expressed to motivate and regulate your thoughts, feelings and attitudes.
They drive you to work hard to be successful and behave in socially adequate ways. The inability to regulate these emotions produce physiological and behavioral changes linked to social anxiety.
Researchers recently found that the more volume of pACCg grey matter in your brain, the greater the self-conscious emotional reactions that drain your life.
The complete model for emotion regulation in SAD needs more clarification; thankfully, neuroscientists are hard at work on this. Let’s hope for the day we have all the pieces of this puzzle.
Now that you better understand how SAD hijacks your mental health, let’s deep dive into the CBD space.
CBD & Social Anxiety: Is There Hope?
CBD is touted as an anti-anxiety miracle, but is this statement real or hoax?
The truth is, we don’t have enough scientific data to prove CBD is the natural solution for anxiety disorders, but preliminary research and tons of anecdotal evidence from people around the globe are strongly supporting CBD´s anxiolytic properties.
Preclinical research tells us that there’s hope, however, more studies, especially long-term randomized studies on humans, are needed before drawing conclusions.
No doubt CBD is the in-thing for self-care, but do you know …..
What Is CBD?
CBD is the moniker for cannabidiol, one of the many compounds in cannabis plants. Cannabis has been used as medicine for millennia but in the last century was demonized for its psychedelic effects.
Cannabis compounds are classified as:
- Phytocannabinoids, also called cannabinoids.
- Terpenes and terpenoids.
CBD is a cannabinoid. Meaning it can impact specific receptor in the body called cannabinoid receptors. CBD is non-toxic and non-intoxicating; actually, the cannabinoid that gets you high is known as THC.
CBD and THC are like the yin and yang, where CBD is the prude sister and THC the naughty one. Both cannabinoids have shown therapeutic properties that affect our bodies in different ways. Cannabis plants have over a hundred cannabinoids but are not as well researched as CBD and THC.
CBD can be extracted from all cannabis plants; we recognize 2 different varieties in this greenery family, classified for their THC content: Hemp and marijuana.
How CBD Helps You Cope with Social Anxiety
Scientists are still deciphering how CBD affects the human body, however, they’ve already made breakthrough discoveries like the finding of a system that perfectly interacts with the cannabinoids—the endocannabinoid system—a powerful network of receptors, messengers and enzymes that promotes your body’s well-being.
Three components comprise the ECS:
- Cannabinoid receptors: There are 2 subtypes: CB1 and CB2.
- Endocannabinoids: These come in pairs too, anandamide and 2-AG.
The Endocannabinoid system, ECS, is the master that controls the functions and interactions of all the other systems within your body.
It’s an important modulator of emotional and non-emotional behaviors. One of the ways that it achieves this is by promoting homeostasis.
Homeostasis is the ideal state of your body where everything works and feels in “perfect equilibrium.” In your anxious brain, homeostasis has been disrupted.
Your amygdala lit up like a Christmas tree, your fight-or-flight response is out of whack and your prefrontal cortex is sending the wrong signals.
CBD, through a range of diverse interactions with the endocannabinoid system, helps it to restore homeostasis, therefore, soothes your anxiety without the litany of prescriptions’ side effects.
The ECS regulates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis, which, as the name implies, is the interaction between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands. This neuroendocrine system plays a key role in our response to physical and mental stressors.
Thanks to its role in HPA modulation, the ECS is vital to keep mood and anxiety at bay. CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system to help you deal with your anxiety disorders.
CBD also boosts the production of endocannabinoids, which are your body’s own version of phytocannabinoids like THC. Anandamide is known as the “bliss” endocannabinoid for its ability to enhance your mood.
An enzyme called FAAH is like the terminator for anandamide. Once the bliss endocannabinoid is used, FAAH rapidly destroys it. CBD displays its action by inhibiting FAAH. That, in turn, prevents anandamide to be broken down so quickly, letting more of it circulate in your bloodstream.
More anandamide in your bloodstream means a better mood.
Ok, it sounds fascinating, but where’s the evidence?
Highlights of CBD Research for Social Anxiety
In drugs development—yes, cannabidiol is currently considered a drug—moving a drug from bench-to-bedside involves two stages, preclinical studies and clinical trials. In other words, researchers start their investigations in animals before moving to make human trials.
In preclinical studies, experts can create genetically modified mice models for their research. Rodents react to stress pretty much as humans do. They develop anxiety behaviors and the way they form memories also gets affected. This makes rodents the perfect subjects to study the brain and its related behaviors.
For stress and anxiety research, scientists can instill memories in mice’s brains, suppress them memories, and then reactivate them to make interesting findings about the fear response.
Scientists found that using positive memories to replace stressful ones isn’t just woo-woo nonsense. This is called fear extinction learning, an important brain mechanism to forget bad things like trauma.
This is the way of action of talk therapies like CBT, but we’ll address these therapies later.
Scientists have also found that in mice undergoing social stress, the left hippocampus had shrunk. The stronger the volume loss in this area of the brain, the greater the behavioral consequences.
Current research tell us that CBD can decrease anxiety in a multifold way. Let’s geek out some more… sorry not sorry, ladies, science is cool I promise, and the better you understand your fear, the more chances to find relief.
CBD IMPACTS EXTINCTION LEARNING
With social anxiety, there’s a conditioned fear response to situations like meeting new people, speaking around a table, introducing yourself to strangers, etc.
The fear response usually happens in anticipation of these events and leads to anxiety symptoms. Fear memories are emotional, typically strong and resistant to decay. But we can let them go with extinction learning.
Remember that fears and memories are created in the amygdala and hippocampus? Well, experts have found a bunch of cannabinoid receptors in these areas of the brain that can be positively impacted by CBD.
There’s strong evidence from animal studies researching the effects of cannabidiol on the process of extinction learning. Studies on humans are few, far between and non-conclusive, but all signs are pointing to very positive outcomes.
In one of these experiments, 48 participants were trained to link a painful event (electroshocks) with a harmless one (a colored box). Then scientists measured how long it took to stop fearing the box after they stop delivering shocks.
Participants took 32 mg of CBD either following, before or after fear extinction learning. The subjects that took CBD were less expectant of receiving a shock when tested two days later.
This means that CBD may help to reduce fears learned through bad experiences by reducing fear expression and also suggests that CBD may have potential as an addition to extinction-based therapies—like CBT—to treat anxiety disorders.
CBD REGULATES SEROTONIN
CBD not only impacts the endocannabinoid system in our brains. It also regulates other brain pathways, like the serotonin channels.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in our mental health. It’s strongly related to our happiness. People who suffer from depression and anxiety have been shown to have low serotonin levels.
The treatment for anxiety usually involves prescribing antidepressants like Zoloft Paxil, Lexapro, Celexa or Prozac. These are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) used to treat low serotonin conditions. They are costly and associated with multiple nasty side effects.
Antidepressants may be life-savers for many but may not work for others. In my case, I was prescribed several protocols—even the California rocket fuel, which is more suited for depression—with no success.
Scientists are finding that CBD could have the same effect as those expensive prescriptions by impacting the serotonin receptor 5HT-1A which is strongly associated with anxiety.
This receptor can be activated by CBD and also by anandamide. Since we already know that cannabidiol enhances anandamide in the body, you can conclude that CBD’s action to modulate 5HT-1A is two-pronged.
CBD MAY IMPROVE PERFORMANCE ANXIETY
It’s no secret that public speaking is a nightmare for most people, not only SAD sufferers. A few studies have been conducted for public speaking, showing that CBD helps to soothe performance anxiety on speakers with and without SAD. The most recent one was done in 2018 and had 57 male participants.
The study involved giving the subjects different doses of CBD an hour and a half prior to a public speaking test. The dosage sizes were like this:
- Zero CBD
- 150 mg of CBD
- 300 mg of CBD
- 600 mg of CBD.
Results showed that the 300 mg dose was the opt dose to reduce the speaker’s anxiety. Participants who took 150 mg and 600 mg didn’t experience significant benefits.
This study had downsides like a relatively small group with men only, so a lot more research is still needed.
CBD & Therapy
Even though it has immense potential, CBD is not a miracle drug or a stand-alone solution for social anxiety. True change comes from within, but you might find CBD useful as part of a long-term recovery plan.
There are many ways to overcome challenges arising from mental illness, and because we’re all unique, some strategies may work for you while others don’t. CBD acts like a natural alternative drug, and just like all drugs, it affects everyone differently.
If CBD doesn’t help you, don’t feel hopeless; SAD can be treatable, you just need to find something else that works for your needs.
A well rounded plan to overcome social anxiety may include any of these:
The first step you should take in your quest for mental wellness is to seek professional help. We all need professionals regarding our mental health needs. Open your mind to a better way of life, it’s worth it.
With therapy you find ways to understand, manage or overcome your social anxiety, but you still need to do the work, your approach should always be proactive to continually challenge the lies in your head.
That being said, talk therapies are one way to fight SAD that report positive outcomes. The most frequently used for social anxiety is CBT.
COGNITIVE-BEHAVIORAL THERAPY (CBT)
—”You only have control over three things in your life, the thoughts you think, the images you visualize and the actions you take.”
Humans are story-tellers, we hear and tell stories all the time. But for SAD sufferers, the script running in the background of our minds is muddied by the BS we think of ourselves.
The script turns full of limiting beliefs, negative memories and inaccurate self-awareness, leaving us feeling like helpless little pawns.
We need to understand that these scripts don’t define us. Most of them aren’t even true. We continue to tell them out of habit, and we perpetuate them by carrying them around untreated.
We need to re-script our stories in order to make significant life changes.
Remember those fair extinction learning scientific studies? Well, CBT is based on principles of this process.
CBT can help you identify and manage irrational beliefs and toxic thought patterns to replace them with more realistic and helpful views.
This therapy could help you transcend the story of your past to consciously transform your life. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work for everyone.
In extinction learning studies, experts found that cannabidiol helps in the mechanism of fair extinction, so it’s therefore not surprising that CBD and CBT may go hand-in-hand as a comprehensive SAD treatment plan.
Here’s the juicy stuff…
How to Take CBD to Cope with Social Anxiety
All right, we’ve done the Why part, now let’s drill down into the How to. The first thing you need to understand to incorporate CBD in your social anxiety treatment is that CBD is nothing like Xanax, the pill that brings you relief in an hour or so.
It works more like antidepressants, so you should give it a few days or even weeks, try different brands, types and potencies to figure out what—if any—CBD product brings you relief.
These are the things to keep in mind when you start on CBD:
- Method of comsumption
- Types of CBD
- Potency and concentration
- Side effects
METHOD OF CONSUMPTION
Dosing is still a little confusing; there’s no an agreed-upon method to dose CBD products in the medical communities. The therapeutic benefits of CBD are too new to science, and there are too many variables to keep in mind when looking for a standard prescribed dosage.
But you can still find the dosage that’s right for you by going into a bit of self-experimentation.
In clinical studies already featured, we saw that patients were taking CBD orally in high amounts, such as 150, 300 and 600 mg. However, experts have found that low doses—from 5 to 45 mg per day—of CBD oil work well for anxiety patients.
CBD has a cumulative effect, it’s stored in fatty tissues of the body until it’s time to be metabolized, which is why tiny doses are the smart way to start on it.
Hourly micro-dosing is a method popularized by Dr. Dennis Sulak, a renowned cannabis clinician who has helped 18,000+ patients.
This method is primarily for medical cannabis patients, but Dr. Sulak says it works great for dosing CBD too. It’s the best way to learn how much CBD to take. The premise is to find your sweet spot, that minimum amount that’s effective enough for your needs.
The adage “start slow and go slow” is your best bet here. Start with a single drop of oil or tincture and ask yourself how calm it makes you feel on a scale of 0 to 10. If you feel nothing after an hour, add another drop. Repeat the process until you find a dose that feels like it’s working.
You can also take a slower approach by adding drops every 24 hours instead of every hour.
This may take a few days of trial and error, and other things come into consideration like the type, potency and concentration of the product you’re taking.
Heads up: No doubt there’s more than one reason to try CBD for SAD treatment. However, it’s better to discuss with your doctor or integral practitioner before making any changes to your current treatment plan.
TYPES OF CBD
CBD can be extracted from all cannabis plants. Remember that THC content of this plant is the main way to classify it as marijuana or hemp.
THC has been shown to induce anxiety in some people and it’s also illegal in several states, so to play it safe, look for hemp-derived CBD products with minimal traces of THC or none at all.
You can find three types of CBD on the market:
In the Wild West of the CBD craze, most products out there don’t come close to containing what’s printed on their label. Some may even contain other chemicals, dangerous synthetics, GMOs, and toxins that jeopardize the true benefits of cannabidiol.
Woefully, many CBD products in the market are a stab in the dark. That’s why it’s so important to find brands that offer a Certificate of Analysis (COA) to show that a third-party lab is thoroughly vetting their products for quality and safety.
Stay away from cheap garbage, you should count on brands that use top-notch ingredients and extraction methods. Your health is your greatest wealth, and it deserves good stuff.
CBD POTENCY AND CONCENTRATION
Potency tells you the level of CBD in the product. Look for this parameter in the COA. If a product label says 300 mg of CBD, then this number should match the lab report.
The actual concentration of the product is how many milligrams of CBD are in it, in relation to the total volume.
This way, if the label says 300 mg and the total volume in the bottle is 30 milliliters, you’re getting only 10 mg of CBD per ml of oil. If your dose is 30 mg, then your serving size is 3 ml.
Last but not least…
CBD SIDE EFFECTS
CBD is touted as a safe natural drug because it doesn’t get you high and studies have proven that you can’t fatally overdose.
But like any other drug, it doesn’t come without risk, it may interact with your anti-anxiety drugs and may cause an upset stomach, dizziness or diarrhea.
Some people have experienced lethargy and fatigue when taking CBD in large doses. There’s also evidence of liver damage on rats that were administered crazy amounts of CBD.
The higher the dose, the bigger the chances of unpleasant effects. As you can see toxicity is a concern only at high doses, as is the case with most other drugs.
That’s why micro-dosing is worth a try. With this dosage method, you safely find your sweet spot and stay away from nasty side effects.
I will finish this article with an Eleanor Roosevelt quote that has helped me to reshape my mindset.
—”No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Social anxiety is treatable, you weren’t born with it, something along the way made you think so. There are professionals who can help you, therapies that can change your life and now we have CBD, a natural healing substance that might be the tool you’re missing to feel better.
Whew! That was a lot to take in, but you made it!
Now let’s summarize the most important points.
Is social anxiety wrecking your life? Interested in CBD as a way to stop the cringe? I’d love to hear from you, leave a comment in the space below.
Thanks for reading!