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.
Table of Contents
What Causes Social Anxiety
One 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
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.
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.
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)
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.
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’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]
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.
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.
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]
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 fatigue, social 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.
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.
- Folate – Vitamin 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.
- Ginseng – Panax ginseng is 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 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 Balm – Lemon 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 serotonin, dopamine, GABA, glutamate and norepinephrine. But please read the precautions for using this nootropic in the extended article. Try: Nature’s Way – Perika
- 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 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. 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.
[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)
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