Nootropics and Anxiety

Everyone experiences anxiety at some points in their life, but for those who suffer it constantly and in response to inappropriate stimuli it can be extremely devastating. Some nootropics have shown to have anti-anxiety effects. Read on to learn more about anxiety and how nootropics can help you deal with it.

What is Anxiety?

Believe it or not, Anxiety is an extremely important response in humans. It is our bodies way of telling us that a certain situation is potentially threatening or dangerous. Anxiety provokes strong feelings of fear and dread. It also causes physical responses such as increased heartbeat and perspiration. Without this feeling, humans as a whole would be much more likely to engage in dangerous and life-threatening activities. In fact, research has shown that anxious people are much less likely to die due to accidents. [1]

Even though anxiety is most intensely felt and provoked by immediate threats to one’s safety, it may also occur for many other reasons. Even imagining or anticipating the outcome to a particular situation may cause strong feelings of anxiety. When anxiety is not properly regulated, a wide variety of problems can occur. People can develop strong feelings of anxiety in response to stimuli that are completely harmless or counterproductive. [2] Coulrophobia, for example, is an abnormal fear of clowns while Ergasiophobia is an abnormal fear of work.

Common Forms of Anxiety

Two forms of anxiety that are counter-productive to our everyday life are performance anxiety and social anxiety:

Performance Anxiety

Many people experience anxiety when expected to perform a particular task. These tasks range from taking a test, to giving a public speech or presentation, all the way to having intercourse. People start to worry about things such as not being able to pass the test, forgetting their presentation, and not being able to satisfy their partner. As levels of anxiety rise, racing heartbeats, nervousness, nausea, and increased perspiration all may occur. These symptoms many times work counter-productively, making it  much harder for the individual to perform the task they are worrying over.

Social Anxiety

Social Anxiety refers to a fear of social situations. People fear and worry about their interactions with others. Often times, this occurs because the person is afraid of being judged and scrutinized by other people. The fear associated with these types of interactions is so intense, that people suffering from social anxiety may get nervous just thinking about social interactions and will go to great lengths to avoid them. According to the US National Comorbidity Survey, social anxiety is the most common form of anxiety and the third most common mental disorder in the US. The survey estimates 19.2 million Americans suffer from the disease.[3]

What Causes These Anxieties?

One theory hypothesizes that these forms of anxiety occur because there is motivation to achieve a desired outcome in addition to doubt about having the ability to achieve the outcome.[4] Having this mindset can be caused by a number of different things. Negative experiences in a certain situation, along with the way that these situations are handled may cause the development of performance/social anxiety.

For example, someone gives a presentation. Halfway through they forget a certain part. This makes them nervous. They begin to sweat, their heartbeat increases, and all they can think about it the part they forgot. Because of this, they forget another part, and then another. After the speech, they have an intense fear of giving another speech because of what happened. The next time they give a speech, they are so worried about forgetting parts that they actually forget parts of the speech again. As this process repeats itself, and their fears are realized over and over, their fears only grow stronger. As their fears grow stronger their chance of succeeding at the task diminishes as well.

In other words, negative experiences force someone to think that every experience will be negative. The person becomes so overwhelmed with anxiety and fear that they only reinforce their negative expectations.

How Can Nootropics Help?

The most effective treatment available is Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). CBT attempts to guide the patients’ thoughts away from their negative expectations and steer them towards a more rational thought process. According to the Mayo Clinic it improves symptoms in up to 75% of people with social anxiety. [5]

However, there are also neurotransmitters that are involved with anxiety. Continuously having negative thoughts and reactions to certain situations can actually change the levels of certain neurotransmitters in your brain. Supplements designed to fix the levels of these neurotransmitters can make overcoming anxiety much easier.

An imbalance of serotonin is the most well known chemical contributor to anxiety. [6] Many types of medications used in the treatment of social anxiety disorder are SSRIs. An SSRI is a drug designed to prevent the breakdown of serotonin. These types of drugs are also commonly prescribed to treat depression.

Nootropics that increase levels of serotonin and may help treat anxiety:

  • 5-HTP – Essential for your body’s production of serotonin and melatonin
  • Rhodiola Rosea – Prevents the breakdown of serotonin and dopamine
  • Bacopa – Increases levels of serotonin
  • Theanine -Increases production of serotonin and dopamine

However, serotonin is the not the only neurotransmitter implicated in the process of controlling anxiety. A deficiency in the neurotransmitter GABA has been linked to many cases of anxiety disorder. GABA is synthesized in the brain from glutamate, and functions as an inhibitory neurotransmitter. Without sufficient levels of GABA, nerve cells fire off communications more often than they should. Over-active nerve cells can cause certain anxiety disorders including panic attacks and seizures. [7]

Nootropics that increase levels of GABA and may help treat anxiety:

  • GABA – Directly increases levels of GABA in the brain
  • Theanine – Precursor to glutamate, increase production of GABA

Which Nootropics Work Best?

Rhodiola Rosea is the only nootropic which actually prevents the breakdown of serotonin. Because this is how many prescription medications work, I recommend you try Rhodiola first.

Theanine is the only nootropic that not only increases serotonin levels but also GABA levels. However, taking straight GABA is more effective for increasing GABA levels and both Bacopa and 5-HTP are more effective for increasing serotonin levels.

Taking Rhodiola with either 5-HTP or Bacopa would likely produce the most synergetic effects. Keep in mind that you should consult your physician before beginning a nootropic regimen. Also, these nootropics don’t affect everyone exactly the same. Read all the information available on this site and determine which nootropic(s) may best suit your needs.

Cited Studies

1. Andrews, P. W.; Thomson, J. A. (2009). “The bright side of being blue: Depression as an adaptation for analyzing complex problems”. Psychological Review 116 (3): 620–654. doi:10.1037/a0016242PMC 2734449PMID 19618990

2. Department of Health and Human Services. The fundamentals of mental health and mental illness [PDF]; 1999 [cited 2008-11-11].

3. American Psychiatric Association (1994)

4. Leary, M. (2001). Social Anxiety as an Early Warning System: A Refinement and Extension of the Self-Presentation Theory of Social Anxiety. In Hofmann, S.G. and DiBartolo, P.M. (eds). From social anxiety to social phobic: multiple perspectives. Allyn & Bacon.


6. Causes