If you feel inadequate, embarrassed, inferior or humiliated. And it prevents you from going out, meeting new people, or generally messes with your 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] While the numbers aren’t available, I’m confident this is a world-wide problem.
You are dealing with social anxiety if you do your best 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 they didn’t succeed in taming your symptoms. And provide you with some natural options that may work better.
Table of Contents
Nothing could be further from the truth. Social anxiety is primarily a chemistry imbalance in your brain. And if this balance of neurotransmitters and their systems can be restored, you should be relieved of social anxiety symptoms.
Anxiety is a Neurotransmitter Problem
And we know that each of these neurotransmitters play a role in anxiety because there are prescription drug therapies that affect each one.
But social anxiety is not caused by a deficiency in one neurotransmitter or another. The networks governed by these neurotransmitters are interrelated, have multiple feedback loops, and sport complex receptor structures.[iii]
So if you have been led to believe by others that the primary culprit associated with social anxiety are GABA or glutamate. And that Phenibut or Aniracetam are guaranteed to relieve your social anxiety issues. You have not been given the full story about what’s causing your anxiety.
Next we’ll look at each neurotransmitter and its association with social anxiety.
There are also several serotonin receptor subtypes. For example, serotonin-1a receptor is both a mediator and inhibitor of serotonin depending on whether it is on the presynaptic or postsynaptic neuron.[v]
But despite all this complexity, it’s true that many people get some relief from anxiety symptoms by using meds that inhibit the reuptake of serotonin using SSRI’s.
If you respond well to SSRI’s but hate the side effects. And are looking for a safe alternative. You can try 5-HTP, Phenibut or Picamilon and see if any of them agree with you. More on these nootropics in a minute.
GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric Acid)
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.
And this is why some of the racetams display anxiolytic activity. Because nootropics like Aniracetam and Oxiracetam affect the ion channels. Somehow increasing the excitability of those neurons and increasing the effectiveness of some neurotransmitters. More on that in the next section.
Dopamine’s role in normal and anxiety activity in your brain is complex. And dopamine pathways may affect social anxiety in several ways.[ix] For example, drugs like Olanzapine inhibit the dopamine D2 receptor and provide anti-anxiety affects.
Dopamine signaling helps promote feelings of self-confidence and self-esteem which helps to reduce anxiety. Which is the reason why some people with social anxiety issues respond well to drugs like Wellbutrin which help boost dopamine.[x]
Norepinephrine plays a complex role in anxiety states. And many social anxiety symptoms can be reduced by modulating norepinephrine in your brain.
For example, propranolol (which is classed as a beta-blocker), an antagonist of the beta2-norepinephrine receptor, is used to reduce the 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.
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.
The NMDA receptor is also particularly important for social anxiety disorders. Because it helps mediate 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 keeps you from meeting new people. Seems like cruel and inhumane punishment to me. There has to be better way.
Several other neurotransmitters 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 have translated into FDA-approved drugs. The excuse 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 patent and charge exorbitant prices for compounds like cannabis which in low doses is a very effective social anxiety treatment.[xv]
And Noopept 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]
If you are currently being treated for social anxiety. Or suspect you may be dealing with undiagnosed anxiety disorder. And are looking for a more natural, safer way to treat your symptoms. Nootropics could be the answer.
And you’re not alone looking for alternatives to drugs that come with a host of side effects. Research in the United States and other counties show that significant numbers of people use ‘alternative medicine’ to treat their problems.
A study in the US with 1035 people showed that more people were using alternative medicine and nootropics to treat social anxiety symptoms. Than for any other health problem. Including back problems, chronic pain, and urinary tract infections.[xvii]
Another meta-analysis of 42 clinical studies was used to determine which was more effective in treating anxiety. They compared Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) with drug treatment.
The meta-analysis concluded that the evidence showed there was little difference in the positive outcomes. Of using CBT or pharmaceuticals.[xviii]
This meta-analysis tells us that if you had a choice between the humiliation of Cognitive Behavior Therapy or nootropics. The outcome would be about the same. So which would you choose?
If your choice is nootropics to treat social anxiety issues, here are some you can try.
Natural Alternatives to Beta Blockers
In the section on norepinephrine we found that prescription beta-blockers are often used to treat anxiety. Some natural alternatives include:
- DHA (Omega-3) – fatty acids make up a significant portion of your brain cell membranes. Low levels of Omega-3’s result in ADHD, anxiety, depression, suicide and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
- Magnesium – lack of adequate magnesium can result in brain fog, anxiety and depression. Plasticity of neuron synapses is affected by the presence of adequate magnesium in brain cells.
- 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.
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 anxiety. You absolutely need adequate Vitamin D levels in your body. Just don’t overdo it.
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 prescription anti-anxiety 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.
- Ashwagandha – This adaptogen has been used for millennia to relieve anxiety, fatigue, restore energy and boost concentration. Clinical studies have shown Ashwagandha to repair and even reverse damage caused in the brain caused by chronic anxiety and stress.
- Bacopa Monnieri – This adaptogen has been used since ancient times to reduce anxiety, depression and stress. It protects your neurons and balances neurotransmitters.
- Cacao – Cacao and dark chocolate (75%+ cacao) stimulates the release of phenylethylamine (PEA) which boosts focus and awareness. And 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.
- Folate – Vitamin B9 (folate) is used by your brain to make dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. Folate is involved in gene expression, amino acid synthesis, and myelin synthesis and repair. It’s even involved in cerebral circulation. Powerful anti-anxiety treatment in this B-vitamin.
- 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 anxiety. And boosting mood.
- Ginseng – Panax ginseng has been used as a memory booster, improves mood, lowers anxiety levels and boosts stamina and endurance.
- Gotu Kola – Gotu 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 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 Balm – Lemon balm is used for its anti-anxiety effects. Rosmarinic acid, a compound found in lemon balm, inhibits the GABA transaminase enzyme. Which in turn helps maintain adequate levels of GABA in your brain. Resulting in a calming effect.
- Lion’s Mane – Lion’s Mane Mushroom boosts brain nerve growth factor which increases neurogenesis. Lion’s Mane can help improve focus and attention, boost thinking, repair brain cells, help depression and anxiety, and manage other neurological problems like Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s and muscular dystrophy.
- L-Theanine – L-Theanine naturally occurs in green and oolong tea. This amino acid is used as a nootropic for anxiety, learning, mood and focus. It works quickly in your brain to increase dopamine and serotonin.
- Phenibut – Phenibut is a GABA agonist and primarily binds to the GABA-b receptor. GABA-a receptor agonists include alcohol and benzodiazepines. Phenibut can have a sedative effect, and has strong anti-anxiety qualities. It can be used to combat depression, improve mood, cognitive function and motivation.
- Phenylalanine – This amino acid is a precursor to the synthesis of tyrosine in your brain. Tyrosine then helps in the formation and utilization of the neurotransmitters dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine and melatonin. Helping to relieve anxiety, and chronic pain. And boost focus and motivation.
- Picamilon – Picamilon is a combination of niacin (Vitamin B3) and GABA. Similar to Phenibut, Picamilon improves memory, concentration, motivation, focus, has strong anti-anxiety properties, and can lower blood pressure.
- Rhodiola Rosea – Rhodiola activates AMPA receptors in your brain. Which decreases depression and stress-related mood swings, reduces fatigue, stimulates energy and alertness and boosts cognition.
- 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 anxiety, depression and stress. St. John’s wort works like prescription SSRI’s by preventing reuptake of serotonin in your brain. But please read the precautions for using this nootropic in the extended article.
- 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.
- Vitamin B6 – Vitamin 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.
- 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 can help lower anxiety, and elevate alertness, cognition, energy, vision, elevate mood and relieve insomnia. No more mood swings!
Nootropics are a strong alternative to many anti-anxiety medications currently prescribed by doctors. And promoted by the Big Pharmaceutical companies.
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.
[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)
[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)
[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)
[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)
[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)