Dear fellow shy person, inrovert, or sufferer of social anxiety: I would never advocate that you should be anyone other than who you are meant to be. For some of us, though, the tension caused by how difficult it is to simply be ourselves in social situations gets old. If you feel a lot of social anxiety, and you are fine with that, I wouldn’t try to change you. But if, like me, you have felt that social anxiety holds you back from the life you want to live, I want to tell you about a genetic condition called pyroluria.
My Career as a Wallflower
I’ve always been a little on the shy side. Just part of my personality; no choice in the matter, I thought.
In college, especially, I agonized over how badly I wanted to be more outgoing, more confident. I somehow fell in with a very cool crowd – I assume this was because I was an art major and too shy to let on how nerdy I actually was – which made me even more nervous to be my true, oddball self.
Over time, once I found out what social anxiety was, it became something I just accepted as a normal part of my life. I forced myself to excel at things like job interviews, and powered my way through social events, cringing afterward at the awkward things I inevitably said and did at parties.
I might be totally game for getting up in front of people to bare my musical soul with my acoustic guitar, but try as I might to outgrow it, I never managed to shake my social anxiety. I came to dread meeting new people, feeling so much anxiety about it that I would promptly forget the name and sometimes even the face of the perfectly lovely new acquaintance I’d just met (if anyone I know in real life is reading this, I’m so sorry if I’ve ever done this to you!). I would also sometimes get the idea in my head that my friends were getting annoyed with me, which would cause me to start acting super awkward and annoying. Ugh.
The Break in My Social Anxiety Clouds
I first heard about pyroluria from Trudy Scott, a certified nutrition practitioner, when I was tuning into the Depression Sessions. I work at a computer, sometimes doing very repetitive tasks, and I often just geek out and listen to holistic health seminars for hours on end. Doesn’t everyone do that?
Pyro what? It stopped me in my tracks. A combination of nutrient deficiencies that contributed to social anxiety? Maybe it wasn’t all in my head. Maybe it wasn’t just my personality. It was such a weird concept, I had to learn more!
So what IS Pyroluria?
I am not a health expert, so I’m going to give you a very simplified overview, and then point you to Trudy’s blog, which is an amazing resource. She has a pyroluria questionnaire which you simply must take if social anxiety is something you don’t enjoy.
Here are some of the hallmarks of pyroluria (check out Trudy’s blog for a more exhaustive list):
- Low levels of zinc and vitamin B6
- Social anxiety
- Avoidance of crowds
- Feelings of inner tension
- Bouts of depression
- Markedly worse when under stress
- Poor dream recall or nightmares
- Tendency to motion sickness
- Joints that pop, crack or ache a lot
- Pale skin that sunburns easily
- Tendency toward vegetarianism/veganism
- Sensitive to bright sunlight and noise
- Cold hands and feet
- Poor wound healing
Does that sound like you at all? I checked nearly every item on her questionnaire. Some of us (an estimated 11 percent of the healthy population) are genetically predisposed to burn through B6 and zinc during times of stress. And who isn’t a little stressed these days?
How Do You Treat Pyroluria?
Trudy’s protocol for pyroluria involves taking a copper-free zinc supplement (she recommends Solaray’s) as well as B6 and Evening Primrose Oil. She also recommends some general dietary changes in her book, The Anti-Anxiety Food Solution. Check out her website for tips about dosage, ’cause I’m not qualified to give such advice. I DO have to mention, though, don’t take zinc on an empty stomach, ever. Ouch!
I highly recommend following Trudy on Facebook and signing up for her email newsletter. She always shares an unbelievable amount of good info about nutrition and how it can help mental health, particularly for anxiety sufferers.
Do I Feel Better Taking These Supplements?
First, it’s impossible to discuss mental health without talking about the power of placebo. The placebo effect is a real thing. Placebo is your own brain telling your body that it has the power to do its own healing. I believe strongly in the power of placebo as a necessary part of wellness.
That said, since I’ve been taking EPO, zinc and B6, I do notice a real difference. I feel more outgoing and confident (though I’ll probably never be the life of the party). I would never try to say that all your social anxiety will vanish if you try these supplements, but you might feel (like I do) that it’s a little easier to just be yourself.
If I slack off taking the EPO, my cycles become more difficult. If I slack off on taking zinc and B6, I notice a flare-up of social anxiety, for sure. For me this includes trouble making eye contact and trouble being friendly and open with people. The zinc does seem to help with the headaches; plus, it has the added benefit of helping me ward off the wily foe known as the common cold. As soon as I started taking B6, I stopped having the grown-up version of night terrors involving giant spiders coming after me while I slept (or occasionally wasps, worms, or other creepy crawlies). I notice these spider nightmares tend to happen more when I’m traveling or stressed out, which makes sense, because stress can cause B6 to be depleted faster.
In fact, as I’m writing this blog, I’m realizing that I’ve let my supply of B6 run out, and I’ve slacked off on taking my zinc; maybe that’s why I’ve felt kind of anxious this week and I’ve been so headache-prone lately. Whoops!
Why Your Struggle with Social Anxiety is a Helpful Sign
If social anxiety is something you struggle with, too, that feeling of struggle is your mind recognizing that you should be having an easier time of it. It’s one of those dashboard-warning lights I like to talk about, telling you that you need some extra help. If it bothers you, the very fact that that it bothers you might be a sign that it shouldn’t be that way.
I wasn’t born to be a shrinking violet, and neither were you! And even if you think the skeptics might be right, that pyroluria isn’t really a thing, there’s really no harm in trying out Trudy Scott’s pyroluria protocol for a little while to find out if you might feel better. Neither B6 nor zinc is stored in the body, so there’s no harm done if you don’t really need them. The expense involved to purchase these supplements isn’t much more than the cost of a doctor’s office co-pay.