Propranolol is a beta-blocker medication that prevents the stress hormone norepinephrine and epinephrine (adrenaline) from binding to beta receptors on nerves.
Adrenaline is the key hormone in your body’s fight or flight response. In high stress situations and emergencies, your body produces adrenaline to increase blood flow, output of the heart, pupil dilation, and blood sugar. This effectively encourages and prepares the body for action.
Our fight or flight response has been responsible for saving the lives of our ancestors for centuries. In an encounter with a predator, it keeps our senses sharp and enables prompt decision making.
The problem is, our bodies are increasingly experiencing this fight or flight response in non-life threatening situations. For those of us with anxiety, it happens regularly.
Dealing with the physical effects of anxiety can be overwhelmingly. It even takes a toll on our health.
Beta blockers lower your heart rate and reduce blood pressure.
Propranolol and other beta-blockers have desirable effects for those who suffer from anxiety, particularly those who suffer from the physical side effects of anxiety.
The best representation of this is public speaking, as it’s the most common anxiety-inducing event. For someone with very strong public speaking anxiety – your heart races, your legs tremble, your voice cracks, and your body is hard at work producing adrenaline to stimulate those responses.
Propranolol effectively blocks the beta receptors on nerves that allow this to happen. You feel far less of a physical response to your anxiety.
Since beta blockers slow your heart rate, reduce blood pressure, and block adrenaline, virtually all of the common fight or flight responses are reduced. Sometimes beta blockers can completely eliminate the physical anxiety response.
Be more comfortable confronting your anxiety.
A lot of the time, what makes us truly anxious to confront our anxiety is this physical response. We don’t want to embarrass ourselves and be noticeably anxious.
When you recognize that your anxiety isn’t normal, the last thing you want to do is draw attention to the fact that you feel this way.
That makes it really difficult to enforce any kind of change. You feel like you’re hiding from the things that cause you anxiety and always looking to avoid them.
The best part about proporanolol is that it allows you to be comfortable confronting your anxiety. It’s easy to be less fearful of something that doesn’t cause a physical response. Proporanolol allows you to control those physical signs immediately, without any cognitive change in your way of thinking.
I don’t know about you, but my biggest hurdle to overcoming my anxiety was this physical response. I had a very strong fight or flight response. When I was about to do something that normally caused anxiety, I could hype the moment up and make it a whole lot worse. Propranolol gave me the confidence to not worry so much about feeling physically anxious, shaking, or having a trembling voice.
Beta blockers are not for everyone.
I recognize that beta blockers may not be for everyone. They helped immensely for me, but if you have a heart condition or asthma, your doctor might decide against it.
Beta blockers act on β1 and β2 receptors.
beta-1 (β1) receptors are located in the heart, eye, and kidneys.
beta (β2) receptors are found in the lungs, gastrointestinal tract, liver, uterus, blood vessels, and skeletal muscle.
beta (β3) receptors are located in fat cells.
Since β2 receptors are in the lungs, beta blockers can constrict airways. This can be dangerous to someone with asthma or breathing issues. Be sure to consult with your doctor before trying any new medication. Beta blockers are often prescribed for high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart failure, tremors, heart pain, heart attack prevention, anger, panic, anxiety, and migraines. Anxiety is not a extremely common use of beta blockers and for this reason, you may have to talk to your doctor about the reasons you believe it can help you.
Are beta blockers an alternative to Benzodiazepines?
A beta blocker doesn’t alter your thinking. You can still have anxious thoughts. The difference is that beta blockers stop anxious thoughts from turning into physical responses in the body.
Benzodiazepines, on the other hand, can limit your anxious thoughts. However, they do so in a way that impairs the body. Benzodiazepines produce a euphoric effect. They cause dizziness, you can’t drive while using them, your speech may be impeded with slurring, and your thinking and judgement can be cloudy. Benzodiazepines are typically recommended as a short-term treatment option for panic attacks and severe anxiety.
Are beta blockers an alternative to SSRIs?
An SSRI is a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor. It’s a medication used to treat depression and often, anxiety as well. Beta blockers generally aren’t considered an effective replacement for an SSRI. These two medications work distinctly differently, as SSRIs act on neurotransmitters while beta blockers act on stress hormones. You should of course talk with your doctor to determine what the best medications are for you to be on.
Propranolol – regularly or as needed?
Propranolol can be prescribed as needed, or regularly, taken as a daily medication. The prescription that’s right for you should of course be chosen by your doctor.
As needed allows you to take the medication before anxiety inducing events, such as social gatherings. Regularly means you will take the medication daily and it will always be in your system. The benefit of taking the medication daily is that you don’t have to remember to use the medicine before an event. I personally prefer this method more because having to remember to take the medication means I’m already anticipating anxiety and more likely to experience it.
Propranolol does slow your heart rate and reduce blood pressure, which may not be desirable on a daily basis. These effects will be considered by your doctor when being prescribed.
Propranolol was a wonder drug for me. There’s no sedation, feeling tired, or any euphoric effect. It simply brings my body to a calmer state and limits the physical effects of anxiety. It was the best medication I found for learning to confront situations that typically cause me anxiety. I suddenly no longer had to worry about the physical response to my anxiety becoming an issue.
It may not work for everyone, but it does work for many. Unfortunately, it’s a medicine that isn’t discussed often. It’s not used by doctors for anxiety like SSRIs or benzodiazipines are. For this reason, we felt it was important to feature it here on the website and draw attention to the real ways that it can alleviate anxiety symptoms and help you make progress.