best nootropics for social anxiety

19 Best Nootropics for Social Anxiety

David Tomen
Author:
David Tomen
14 minute read

Key Takeaways

  1. Serotonin modulation through nootropics like L-Tryptophan, 5-HTP, Bacopa Monnieri, Ginkgo Biloba, and Rhodiola Rosea can provide relief from social anxiety symptoms.
  2. GABA, the main inhibitory neurotransmitter, can be increased for anxiety relief, with nootropics like Aniracetam and Oxiracetam affecting GABA transmission.
  3. Dopamine signaling, enhanced by nootropics like L-Tyrosine and L-Theanine, promotes self-confidence and may reduce social anxiety.
  4. Modulating norepinephrine using nootropics like Magnesium and St. John’s Wort can aid in managing social anxiety symptoms.
  5. Glutamate modulating nootropics like Cat’s Claw, Racetams, and Noopept may help in unlearning social anxiety triggers, similar to Cognitive Behavior Therapy approaches​.

If you feel inadequate, embarrassed, inferior or humiliated. And it prevents you from going out, meeting new people, or generally messes with your your mental energy and quality of life – nootropics can help.

Social anxiety is form of anxiety. And affects at least 13% of people living in the U.S.[i] But a very recent survey conducted in the USA revealed  that nearly half of those surveyed said they were suffering with some form of anxiety.

You are dealing with social anxiety if you tend to avoid going into any situation where you feel you may be negatively judged or evaluated. Back in the day, they used to call these things ‘phobias’. In this case, it was “social phobia”.

Social anxiety is treated by mainstream medicine in two ways – Cognitive Behavior Therapy or with drugs. You may have tried either or both with limited success.

In this post, you’ll find out why drugs often do not succeed in taming your symptoms. Here you’ll learn about some natural options that may work better.

What Causes Social Anxiety

Anti-anxiety (Anxiolytic) nootropicOne of the problems with social anxiety is poor self-esteem. It always feels like it’s somehow your fault. You may feel that social anxiety is a moral failure. Or could have been caused by a crappy childhood.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Social anxiety is sometimes caused by a neurotransmitter imbalance in your brain. And if this balance of neurotransmitters and their systems is restored, you may get relief from your social anxiety symptoms.

Social anxiety symptoms may be a Neurotransmitter Problem

Your brain is governed by multiple neurotransmitter systems. The most extensive of these are GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) and glutamate.

The other three neurotransmitter systems – serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine – have also been studied extensively in both normal states, states of anxiety, and chronic stress.[ii]

And we know that each of these neurotransmitters are often associated with generalized anxiety disorder because there are prescription drug therapies that affect each one.

But social anxiety is not likely caused by a deficiency in one particular neurotransmitter or another. The networks governed by these neurotransmitters are interrelated, have multiple feedback loops, and sport complex receptor structures.[iii]

This is why you may have had little success with reducing your anxiety if you have tried using prescription benzos, SSRIs or MAOIs. Because they did not directly correct the cause of your anxiety.

Next, we’ll take a look at each neurotransmitter system and examine how something other than serotonin, GABA, or glutamate may be causing your problem. You will learn how to test this idea safely and hopefully reduce your anxiety levels naturally.

Serotonin

anti anxiety nootropic stackSerotonin plays a fundamental role in regulating your brain states. Including anxiety. Serotonin also modulates dopamine and norepinephrine in your brain.[iv]

To complicate things even further,  you have several different serotonin receptor subtypes. For example, the serotonin-1a receptor is both a mediator and inhibitor of serotonin depending on whether it is on the presynaptic or postsynaptic neuron.[v]

So, not all serotonin receptor subtypes are involved with social anxiety disorder. A classic example of this is the serotonin-2a receptor which provides the psychedelic effects when you use LSD or mescaline.[vi]

But despite all this complexity, it’s true that many people get some relief from social anxiety symptoms by using meds that inhibit the reuptake of serotonin by using SSRI’s. But many do NOT respond well to SSRIs and get no relief from social anxiety symptoms or reducing stress.

If you respond well to SSRI’s but hate the side effects. And are looking for a safe alternative. You can try increasing serotonin by using nootropics like L-Tryptophan or 5-HTP.

But keep in mind that excess serotonin can be the cause of your social anxiety. So you’ll want to avoid increasing serotonin too much or avoid them altogether. You’ll know it could be excess serotonin because your anxiety gets worse if you use L-Tryptophan or 5-HTP.

Instead, you can try nootropics that help modulate serotonin and bring it under control. You can modulate serotonin by using Bacopa Monnieri, Ginkgo Biloba, Rhodiola Rosea, or Vitamin D3 with Omega-3s. All have been shown in clinical studies as well as practical user experience to reduce anxiety by keeping serotonin under control.

GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric Acid)

GABA is your main inhibitory neurotransmitter. Increases in GABA by using barbiturates or benzodiazepines can have a anxiolytic effect for some people.

Drugs in this class do not directly bind to GABA receptors. Instead, they affect the associated chloride channel. Barbiturates do this by increasing the duration of the channel’s open state. While benzodiazepines increase the frequency of opening.

The big problem with these types of drugs however is tolerance and potentially fatal side effects. And they kill your ability to encode memories.[vii]

So sometimes anticonvulsant drugs like gabapentin are used instead. Which works by blocking calcium channels. Resulting in a boost of GABA transmission.[viii]

This is why some of the racetams display anxiolytic activity. Because nootropics like Aniracetam and Oxiracetam affect calcium ion channels. Somehow increasing the excitability of those neurons and increasing the effectiveness of some neurotransmitters. More on that in the next section.

Dopamine

Aniracetam for social anxietyDopamine’s role in optimal cognition as well as anxiety in your brain is complex. Dopamine pathways may affect social anxiety in several ways.[ix] For example, drugs like Olanzapine inhibits dopamine D2 receptors which provide its anti-anxiety benefits.

Dopamine signaling also helps promote feelings of self-confidence and self-esteem which helps to reduce anxiety disorder. Which is the reason why some people with social anxiety respond well to drugs like Wellbutrin which help boost dopamine use in your brain.[x]

See the next section for more on nootropics like L-Tyrosine, Folate and L-Theanine which help boost dopamine and dopamine use in your brain.

Norepinephrine

Norepinephrine plays a complex role in anxiety states. Social anxiety can be reduced by modulating norepinephrine in your brain.

For example, propranolol (which is classed as a beta-blocker), an antagonist of beta2-norepinephrine receptors, is used to reduce a rapid heart rate, tremors and quivering voice that you get when you’re about to step on stage in front of an audience.[xi]

Some SNRI’s (serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) are also effective in quelling social anxiety symptoms.[xii] Drugs like Cymbalta help boost serotonin and norepinephrine activity in your brain.

You can naturally boost serotonin and norepinephrine activity by supplementing with Saffron.

And several natural nootropic alternatives to beta-blockers are available. Nootropics like magnesium, L-tryptophan and St. John’s wort are used by many to treat social anxiety. More on these beta-blocker alternatives in the next section of this post.

Glutamate

Glutamate is your primary excitatory neurotransmitter. And is involved in every neuronal pathway in your brain and body. Including those that affect social anxiety.[xiii]

NMDA receptors are also particularly important for social anxiety disorders. NMDA receptors are glutamate receptors and are involved in learning and memory. Activation of the NMDA receptor triggers protein synthesis. Which strengthens the connection between neurons.[xiv]

This NMDA activity in learning and memory is likely one of the reasons why Cognitive Behavior Therapy is sometimes effective in treating social anxiety. Because you are put into situations that help you ‘unlearn’ certain situations that make you uncomfortable.

But forcing you to walk into a crowded bar and ask for the phone numbers of 50 female strangers. Simply to ‘unlearn’ the social anxiety that keep you from meeting new people. Seems like cruel and inhumane punishment to me. And does nothing for stress relief. There has to be better way.

And it turns out there is. Nootropics like Cat’s Claw, many of the racetam’s, L-Theanine, and Noopept all modulate NMDA receptors and glutamate.

Other Neurotransmitters

Several other neurotransmitters can play a role in social anxiety. And the associated systems involving fear and anxiety. Including neuropeptides, corticotrophin-releasing factor (CRF) and cannabinoids.

But none of the experimental compounds associated with these neurotransmitters have resulted in FDA-approved drugs. The excuse they provide is the stringent criteria for approval of these treatments.

I’d guess that money plays more of a role than “stringent criteria”.

You can’t easily patent and charge exorbitant prices for compounds like cannabis which in low doses is a very effective social anxiety treatment.[xv]

Another example is Noopept which is based off the endogenous neuropeptide cycloprolylglycine (CPG). Researchers in Moscow found Noopept similar to Piracetam in not only it’s nootropic effect, but also anxiolytic activity.[xvi]

nootropics for anxiety

Recommendations of Nootropics for Social Anxiety

If you are currently being treated for social anxiety. Or suspect you may be dealing with undiagnosed social anxiety or generalized anxiety disorder. And are looking for a more natural, safer way to treat your symptoms. Nootropics may help.

Natural Alternatives to Beta Blockers

In the section above on norepinephrine we found that prescription beta-blockers are often used to treat anxiety. Some natural Beta Blocker alternatives include:

  • DHA (Omega-3) – fatty acids make up a significant portion of your brain cell membranes. Low levels of Omega-3’s can result in ADHD, anxiety, depression, suicide and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Recommended adult dosage for DHA is 1,000 mg per day. And half that of EPA.  Try 3 GelCaps of my favorite Omega-3: Performance Lab® Omega-3
  • Magnesium – a magnesium deficiency can cause brain fog, mental fatiguesocial anxiety, and depression. Plasticity of neuron synapses is affected by the presence of adequate magnesium in brain cells. Choose a high quality chelated magnesium and use 400 mg before bed: Magnesium Glycinate (Amazon)
  • St. John’s wort – has been used for centuries to treat anxiety, depression and stress. St. John’s wort works by preventing the re-uptake of serotonin in your brain. Much like prescription anti-depressants. Try: Nature’s Way – Perika (Amazon)

A quick note about Vitamin D. Excessive levels of this vitamin can affect the way your body and brain processes calcium. Calcium channels in your brain are implicated in social anxiety. You absolutely need adequate Vitamin D levels in your body. Just don’t overdo it.

safe alternatives to anti-anxiety drugs

Alternatives to SSRI’s, MAOI’s and other anti-anxiety drugs

Rather than separate these into how each affects the various neurotransmitters that affect social anxiety. I’m listing them in alphabetical order.

Please do the research on each nootropic before trying it. Especially if you are currently using any prescription drugs.

  • Aniracetam – This member of the racetam-family of nootropics works with dopamine D2 and D3 receptors in your brain. And desensitizes AMPA (glutamate) receptors. Aniracetam is one of the most effective antidepressants I’ve ever tried. And its effects on dopamine in your brain can have a profound effect on anxiety symptoms. Recommended adult dosage is 750 mg Aniracetam twice per day (with 300 mg CDP-Choline).
  • Ashwagandha – This adaptogen has been used for millennia to relieve anxiety, fatigue, restore energy and boost concentration. Clinical studies have shown Ashwagandha can repair and even reverse damage caused in the brain caused by chronic anxiety and stress. Try KSM-66 300 mg once or twice per day
  • Bacopa Monnieri – This adaptogen has been used since ancient times to reduce anxiety, depression and stress. It protects your neurons and balances neurotransmitters. 150 mg Bacopa Monnieri extract in my favorite: Mind Lab Pro® v4.0
  • Cacao – Cacao and dark chocolate (75%+ cacao) stimulates the release of phenylethylamine (PEA) which boosts focus and awareness. And increases anandamide (the bliss molecule) which helps you feel good. Cacao is a source of tryptophan which is the precursor to serotonin. And theobromine which boosts blood flow, is a stimulant, and may account for chocolate’s aphrodisiac qualities.
  • FolateVitamin B9 (folate) is a cofactor in the synthesis of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. Folate is also involved in gene expression, protein synthesis, and myelin synthesis and repair. It’s even involved in cerebral circulation. Powerful anti-anxiety treatment in this B-vitamin. Get a therapeutic dose of natural methyl-folate in: Life Extension BioActive B-Complex
  • Ginkgo Biloba – This tree native to China has been used for thousands of years to boost mental alertness, improve cerebral circulation and for overall brain function. Many have found Ginkgo to be very effective in reducing stress and social anxiety. And boosting overall mood.
  • GinsengPanax ginseng is used as a memory booster, improves mood, lowers anxiety levels and boosts stamina and endurance.
  • Gotu KolaGotu kola is one of the most important herbs in ancient Ayurvedic medicine. This herb helps boost nerve growth factor which can have a profound effect on social anxiety. Many report that Gotu Kola may be even more effective in reducing anxiety and relieving stress than Ashwagandha.
  • Kava – Kava is native to the South Pacific. And the islanders use kava for its sedative effects. Kava can help reduce anxiety and improve mood. Unlike benzodiazepines, kava does not impair cognitive function. In fact, studies show kava may boost cognitive function.
  • Lemon BalmLemon balm is used for its anti-anxiety effects. Rosmarinic acid, a compound found in lemon balm, inhibits the enzyme GABA transaminase. Which in turn helps maintain adequate levels of GABA in your brain. Resulting in a calming effect. I recommend: Zazzee Organic Lemon Balm extract (Amazon)
  • L-Theanine L-Theanine naturally occurs in green, black, and oolong tea. This amino acid is used as a nootropic for social anxiety, learning & memory, mood, and focus. It works quickly in your brain to support GABA, dopamine and serotonin. You’ll get an effective 100 mg dose of L-Theanine (as Suntheanine) in my favorite: Mind Lab Pro® v4.0
  • Rhodiola Rosea – Rhodiola activates AMPA receptors in your brain. Which helps decrease depression and stress-related mood swings, reduces fatigue, stimulates energy and alertness and boosts cognition. Get Rhodiola Rosea extract in my favorite: Mind Lab Pro® v4.0
  • St. John’s wort – This plant has been traditionally used for mood disorders and wound healing. Today it’s used mostly as a treatment for social anxiety, depression and stress. St. John’s wort works by inhibiting the uptake of serotonindopamineGABA, glutamate and norepinephrine. But please read the precautions for using this nootropic in the extended article. Try: Nature’s Way – Perika
    (Amazon)
  • Tryptophan – This amino acid is a precursor to serotonin, melatonin and niacin (Vitamin B3) in your brain. L-Tryptophan is used to treat anxiety, ADHD, depression, insomnia, memory loss, pain and eating disorders. You’ll get 250 mg L-Tryptophan in: Performance Lab® Sleep
  • Vitamin B6Vitamin B6 helps your brain make serotonin, norepinephrine and melatonin. The activated form of Vitamin B6 called P-5-P is particularly effective in boosting serotonin and GABA in your brain. And providing potent anti-anxiety effects. Get a therapeutic dose of Vitamin B6 (P-5-P) in:  Life Extension BioActive B-Complex
  • Vitamin B12 – This B-vitamin plays a key role in the efficient conversion of carbohydrates to glucose – your cell’s source of fuel. It also helps your body convert fatty acids into energy. Supplementing with Vitamin B12 (methylcobalamin) can help lower social anxiety, and elevate alertness, cognition, energy, vision, elevate mood and relieve insomnia. No more mood swings! Get a therapeutic dose of Vitamin B12 (methylcobalamin) in: Life Extension BioActive B-Complex

Social Anxiety Eliminated

Nootropic supplements are a strong alternative to many anti-anxiety medications currently prescribed by doctors. And promoted by the Big Pharmaceutical companies.

I encourage you to try some of the supplements I reviewed in the article above. Try them one-at-a-time until you find one or two that works. All it takes is a day or two to try each nootropic supplement to see if you get any relief from your social anxiety symptoms.

But a very strong word of caution – if you are currently using any prescription anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications. Or any medications for that matter. Research each nootropic including side effects and prescription drug interactions before using them.

You can eliminate social anxiety once-and-for-all with nootropics. If you do your research. And are willing to experiment until you find the one or two that is right for you.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This post may also contain other affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

[i] Kessler R.C., McGonagle K.A., Zhao S., Nelson C.B., Hughes M., Eshleman S., Wittchen H.U., Kendler K.S. “Lifetime and 12-month prevalence of DSM-III-R psychiatric disorders in the United States. Results from the National Comorbidity Survey.” Archives of General Psychiatry. 1994 Jan;51(1):8-19. (source)

[ii] Charney D.S. “Neuroanatomical circuits modulating fear and anxiety behaviors.” Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica: Supplement. 2003;(417):38-50. (source)

[iii] Pytliak M1, Vargová V, Mechírová V, Felšöci M. “Serotonin receptors – from molecular biology to clinical applications.” Physiological Research. 2011;60(1):15-25. (source)

[iv] Heninger G.R., Charney D.S. “Monoamine receptor systems and anxiety disorders.” Psychiatric Clinics of North America. 1988 Jun;11(2):309-26. (source)

[v] Harvey B.H., Naciti C., Brand L., Stein D.J. “Endocrine, cognitive and hippocampal/cortical 5HT 1A/2A receptor changes evoked by a time-dependent sensitisation (TDS) stress model in rats.” Brain Research. 2003 Sep 5; 983(1-2):97-107. (source)

[vi] Burris K.D., Sanders-Bush E. “Unsurmountable antagonism of brain 5-hydroxytryptamine2 receptors by (+)-lysergic acid diethylamide and bromo-lysergic acid diethylamide.” Molecular Pharmacology. 1992 Nov; 42(5):826-30. (source)

[vii] Roy-Byrne P.P., Sullivan M.D., Cowley D.S., Ries R.K. “Adjunctive treatment of benzodiazepine discontinuation syndromes: a review.” Journal of Psychiatric Research. 1993; 27 Suppl 1():143-53. (source)

[viii] Pollack M.H., Matthews J., Scott E.L. “Gabapentin as a potential treatment for anxiety disorders.” American Journal of Psychiatry. 1998 Jul; 155(7):992-3. (source)

[ix] de la Mora M.P., Gallegos-Cari A., Arizmendi-García Y., Marcellino D., Fuxe K. “Role of dopamine receptor mechanisms in the amygdaloid modulation of fear and anxiety: Structural and functional analysis.” Progress in Neurobiology. 2010 Feb 9; 90(2):198-216. (source)

[x] Bystritsky A., Kerwin L., Feusner J.D., Vapnik T. “A pilot controlled trial of bupropion XL versus escitalopram in generalized anxiety disorder.” Psychopharmacology Bulletin. 2008; 41(1):46-51. (source)

[xi] Davidson J.R., Foa E.B., Connor K.M., Churchill L.E. “Hyperhidrosis in social anxiety disorder.” Progress in Neuropsychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry. 2002 Dec; 26(7-8):1327-31. (source)

[xii] Mancini M., Perna G., Rossi A., Petralia A. “Use of duloxetine in patients with an anxiety disorder, or with comorbid anxiety and major depressive disorder: a review of the literature.” Expert Opinion in Pharmacotherapy. 2010 May;11(7):1167-81. (source)

[xiii] Carobrez A.P., Teixeira K.V., Graeff F.G. “Modulation of defensive behavior by periaqueductal gray NMDA/glycine-B receptor.” Neuroscience of Biobehavioral Review. 2001 Dec; 25(7-8):697-709. (source)

[xiv] Myers K.M., Carlezon W.A. Jr., Davis M. “Glutamate receptors in extinction and extinction-based therapies for psychiatric illness.” Neuropsychopharmacology. 2011 Jan;36(1):274-93 (source)

[xv] Moreira F.A., Wotjak C.T. “Cannabinoids and anxiety.” Current Top Behavioral Neuroscience. 2010;2:429-50. (source)

[xvi] Gudasheva T.A., Konstantinopol’skii M.A., Ostrovskaya R.U., Seredenin S.B. “Anxiolytic activity of endogenous nootropic dipeptide cycloprolylglycine in elevated plus-maze test.” Bulletin of Experimental Biology and Medicine. 2001 May;131(5):464-6. (source)

[xvii] Astin J.A. “Why patients use alternative medicine: results of a national study.” JAMA. 1998 May 20;279(19):1548-53. (source)

[xviii] Roshanaei-Moghaddam B., Pauly M.C., Atkins D.C., Baldwin S.A., Stein M.B., Roy-Byrne P. “Relative effects of CBT and pharmacotherapy in depression versus anxiety: is medication somewhat better for depression, and CBT somewhat better for anxiety?” Depression and Anxiety. 2011 Jul;28(7):560-7 (source)

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Join The Discussion - 216 comments

Luigi
June 10, 2024

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2177669/https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2174714/

Do you think this is probably why Oxiracetam is more likely to cause anxiety than the other racetams?

    David Tomen
    June 10, 2024

    Luigi, it could. But the very rare side effect of anxiety from using Oxiracetam is usually caused by using more than the recommended dosage.

      damond
      July 6, 2024

      hi David, I have combined ADD/ADHD and autism, but I have it more in the form of social anxiety. I take my medication Elvanse for this, which relieves or sometimes increases it slightly. Has Too much Acetlcholine something to do with Social Anxiety because you constantly think what will happen.What Wil people think of me and it is constantly stuck in my mind, repetitive thoughts I would like to hear Your Theory About this

M B
May 16, 2024

I have 2 concerns, My 16 years old Son has a huge social anxiety, he is not taking any drugs, only Rhodiola and Vitamin 3D and Magnesium, can I change Rhodiola for L-Theanine and can I give it to him 200mg in the morning and in the night to sleep better or how is better to take it. And my 18 year old daughter is taking drug for anxiety, can she take Rhodiola or L-Theanine?

    David Tomen
    May 19, 2024

    Rhodiola Rosea and L-Theanine are not a direct swap. L-Theanine is usually better for anxiety. And neither are contraindicated with most anti-anxiety meds. For anxiety you may want to check out Lemon Balm extract as well.

alex
May 12, 2024

is there any nootropics which mimic the effects of xanax? thank you. xanax is the only thing which could calm me down the best.

    David Tomen
    May 12, 2024

    Alex, see the search function top right above the top menu? Search for “Xanax” and you will get a list of supplements shown to work like or be as effective as that med.

samer
April 22, 2024

When encountering people or standing on stage, I feel anxiety, trembling, increased heart rate, excessive sweating.. When I use propanol, tremors disappear and I feel much better, but I suffer from asthma, and propanol has negatively affected the health of my lungs.. Is there an alternative treatment for beta-blockers?Is St. John’s wort considered an alternative to beta-blockers if it has the same effect as beta-blockers or omega3

    David Tomen
    April 22, 2024

    The three supplements uses as alternatives to Beta Blocker are listed in the “Natural Alternatives to Beta Blockers” section above.

Shae
April 11, 2024

Hi David,

Thank you for this great write up helped alot and im trying to find the best supplement to help me keep calm n relaxed but too many to choose from.

I currently take GABA 10 days on and 1 week off at 750mg and L theanine 200mg every other week and has made a huge difference on my social anxeity.

I was looking into Bacopa which sounded promising then i read it can demotivate you so is there anything just as good without getting demotivated? Thanks

    David Tomen
    April 12, 2024

    Shae, if GABA and L-Theanine worked for you then look for other supplements that also boost GABA. Lemon Balm extract is one that comes to mind. Don’t complicate things. If you find something that works then keep on using it!

nadia
January 12, 2024

hello how are you ? i came across your youtube channel i have been searching so many things to help with my social anxiety it’s exhausting and i can’t enjoy my life i have four kids even simple thing like picking them up from school is so stressful i have been taking medication all my life so many different kind first one i took paxil and it helped i was my self. again but then when i decided to stop social anxiety came back and when i tried going back on it didn’t help then from there tried different kind ssri now i’m taking flouxotine 10 mg but even that is not helping i have tried everything from medication to hypnotherapy is there any hope i can live the rest of my life normally and enjoy my kids and my husband my life thank you so much
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