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What Are Beta Blockers—And Can They Treat Your Anxiety?

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Beta-blockers were created to help people with blood pressure and heart issues, but they are now often prescribed to anxiety patients. Beta blockers aren’t intended to “treat” this mental disorder, but they can be very helpful for short-term symptom management. Patients who experience heart palpitations, excessive sweating, and/or lightheadedness while giving public performances are particularly good candidates for occasional beta-blocker therapy. 

What Are Beta Blockers—And Can They Treat Your Anxiety?

How Do Beta Blockers Work?

These drugs work by inhibiting the body’s absorption of the stress hormone adrenaline. Because beta-blockers dampen the body’s beta receptors from absorbing adrenaline, these drugs are sometimes classified as “beta-adrenergic blocking agents.” The reduction in adrenaline absorption will reduce your heart rate in a stressful situation. 

There are two major varieties of beta-blockers: selective and non-selective. Selective beta-blockers are to reduce the activity of beta receptors in a person’s heart. Non-selective beta-blockers, however, affect the entire body’s beta receptors. Most often, doctors prescribe non-selective drugs to mental health patients and selective drugs to patients dealing with blood pressure and/or heart issues. 

How Effective Are Beta-Blockers?

Most of the research and anecdotal evidence on beta-blockers suggests people with a fear of public speaking see the best benefits. Indeed, many classical musicians frequently use beta-blockers to help them keep their cool during live performances. People who have to give presentations, lectures, or perform frequently are best suited for beta-blockers. 

People who suffer from generalized anxiety disorder, however, most likely won’t benefit from taking a beta blocker. These drugs are intended for people who get extremely stressed by a specific trigger, particularly public speaking. Beta-blockers might also be effective in the treatment of a phobia provided the patient is working with a trained psychotherapist. 

Warning: Potential Side Effects

Like any other prescription medication, beta-blockers can cause side effects. Some of the most common side effects related to beta-blockers include gastrointestinal distress and nausea. Some patients also report side effects such as sudden tiredness, cold hands or feet, and dizziness. 

Asthmatics need to be particularly careful with beta-blockers because these drugs could trigger an asthma attack. They could also adversely affect blood glucose levels and increase water retention. 

Incorporate Drug Therapy Into A Comprehensive Treatment Protocol

Beta-blockers could be effective in a pinch, but they aren’t magic pills. These drugs should be used only occasionally for special circumstances like giving speeches or performing in front of an audience. Overuse of beta-blockers could lead to heart problems and withdrawal symptoms could be severe. 

It’s best to incorporate any drug therapy into a larger mental health program. Ideally, anxiety patients should see a registered psychologist for talk therapy sessions to better understand the root causes of their disorder. Other ways patients can reduce their symptoms over time include practicing daily meditation, exercising regularly, avoiding alcohol & cigarettes, and getting a good night’s sleep.

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