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Demystifying Beta-Blockers : Their Role in Anxiety Management & How They Work

In an era where stress and anxiety disorders are becoming increasingly prevalent, the need for effective and targeted treatment strategies is more critical than ever. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that approximately 1 in 13 globally suffers from anxiety, marking it as the most common of all mental disorders. One class of medications that has been pivotal in treating various conditions, and has shown promise in managing anxiety, is beta-blockers.

Originally developed for the treatment of heart conditions and high blood pressure, beta-blockers work by blocking the action of certain hormones, specifically adrenaline and noradrenaline. These hormones are responsible for our ‘fight or flight’ response – an evolutionary adaptation designed to help us react quickly to dangerous situations. But for individuals with anxiety disorders, this stress response can be triggered even in non-threatening situations, leading to persistent and often debilitating symptoms. This article aims to delve into the specifics of beta-blockers, exploring their functionality, their potential application in anxiety treatment, and the possible side effects.

Demystifying Beta-Blockers : Their Role in Anxiety Management & How They Work

What Are Beta-blockers & How Do They Work?

Beta-blockers are a class of medications commonly used to treat various cardiovascular conditions, such as high blood pressure (hypertension), heart rhythm disorders (arrhythmias), and angina (chest pain). They work by blocking the action of certain hormones, specifically adrenaline and noradrenaline (also known as epinephrine and norepinephrine), which are responsible for activating the “fight or flight” response in the body.(1,2)

When a person experiences stress or anxiety, the body releases adrenaline and noradrenaline, causing physiological changes like increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and heightened alertness. In individuals with anxiety disorders, this stress response can be triggered even in non-threatening situations, leading to persistent symptoms and a sense of unease.

Beta-blockers, by blocking the effects of adrenaline and noradrenaline on the heart and blood vessels, help to reduce the physical symptoms associated with anxiety. They lower heart rate and blood pressure, leading to a calmer physiological response and a sense of relaxation.(3)

There are many beta-blockers available today, and some of the more common ones are:(4)

  • Acebutolol (Brand name: Sectral)
  • Bisoprolol (Brand name: Zebeta)
  • Carvedilol (Brand name: Coreg)
  • Propranolol (Brand name: Inderal)
  • Atenolol (Brand name: Tenormin)
  • Metoprolol (Brand name: Lopressor)

Each of these medications functions by blocking the effects of adrenaline and noradrenaline in the body, providing potential relief from physical symptoms associated with high blood pressure, heart rhythm disorders, and even anxiety. In many cases, doctors sometimes also prescribe the use of beta-blockers for managing anxiety symptoms, but this is an off-label use of these medications.

How Do Beta-Blockers Help In Anxiety?

Beta-blockers can play an important role in managing anxiety by targeting the physical symptoms that often accompany stressful situations. While they do not address the underlying psychological causes of anxiety, they can be effective in reducing bodily reactions to stress, such as a rapid heart rate, shaky voice and hands, sweating, and dizziness. By mitigating these physical manifestations of anxiety, individuals may experience a sense of calmness and increased confidence during nerve-wracking moments.

The effectiveness of beta-blockers in anxiety management is most prominent in short-term and specific anxiety-inducing events, like public speaking or performance situations. Taking a beta-blocker before such events can help alleviate the physical symptoms of anxiety and enable individuals to navigate these situations with greater ease.

A 2016 research review on short-term propranolol use for treating various anxiety disorders found its effects to be comparable to those of benzodiazepines, another class of medication frequently prescribed for anxiety and panic disorders.(5) However, unlike benzodiazepines, which can lead to dependency and various side effects, beta-blockers generally have a lower risk of dependence and are well-tolerated by many individuals.

Beta-blockers have shown promise in managing anxiety by addressing the physical symptoms commonly experienced during anxious episodes, such as a racing heart and elevated blood pressure. By altering the body’s response to anxiety, these medications can potentially reduce the intensity of symptoms and mitigate the physical effects associated with anxiety.

Recent research indicates that certain beta-blockers may also have an impact on how the body processes and responds to fearful memories.(6) This finding suggests the potential for these drugs to be used in treating conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and phobias. However, further research is required to fully confirm and understand this potential application.

Beta-blockers offer a multifaceted approach to managing anxiety, not only by alleviating physical symptoms but also by holding promise in addressing specific anxiety-related conditions. As research continues to explore their efficacy, beta-blockers may prove to be valuable additions to the arsenal of anxiety management strategies.

However, it is equally essential to recognize that beta-blockers may not be as effective for certain anxiety conditions, such as social phobias. Every individual responds differently to medications, particularly in treating mental health issues like anxiety. What works for one person may not have the same impact on someone else. Additionally, while beta-blockers can address the physiological aspects of anxiety, they do not replace the need for other treatment approaches that target the psychological aspects of anxiety, such as therapy and counseling.(7)

There is no doubt that beta-blockers serve as a helpful tool in managing acute anxiety symptoms, especially during specific events or performances. However, individual responses to beta-blockers may vary, and it is essential to work closely with a healthcare professional to determine the most suitable treatment plan for managing anxiety effectively and holistically. Combining beta-blockers with other therapeutic interventions can provide a comprehensive approach to address both the physical and psychological aspects of anxiety, leading to enhanced overall well-being and emotional resilience.

Possible Side Effects of Taking Beta-blockers

When starting beta-blockers, individuals may experience some side effects, although these tend to be temporary and may subside as the body adjusts to the medication. Some common side effects include fatigue, cold hands and feet, headache, dizziness or lightheadedness, depression, shortness of breath, and gastrointestinal disturbances such as vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation.(8)

While rare, some more severe side effects may require immediate medical attention. These include very slow or irregular heartbeat, low blood sugar, asthma attacks (for individuals with asthma), and swelling with fluid retention, leading to weight gain.(9)

For those taking beta-blockers regularly, suddenly stopping the medication can lead to serious withdrawal symptoms. It is essential to consult with a healthcare professional before discontinuing beta-blockers to develop a proper tapering plan.

In some cases, the side effects of beta-blockers may actually cause or exacerbate anxiety symptoms. If you experience heightened anxiety while taking beta-blockers, it is essential to communicate this to your doctor promptly.(10)

While beta-blockers are generally safe, there are certain conditions in which they may not be suitable. Individuals with asthma, low blood sugar, final-stage heart failure, very low blood pressure, or a very slow heart rate should exercise caution when considering beta-blockers. It is crucial to work closely with a healthcare professional to weigh the risks and benefits of taking beta-blockers if you have any of these conditions.

Beta-blockers may sometimes also interact with other medications, particularly those used to treat heart conditions and certain antidepressants. To ensure safety and efficacy, it is essential to keep your doctor informed about all the medications, supplements, and vitamins you are taking.


Use of beta-blockers as an anti-anxiety treatment reveals several potential benefits in managing the physical symptoms associated with anxiety. By targeting the body’s response to stress and anxiety, beta-blockers can alleviate symptoms such as a rapid heart rate and trembling, providing individuals with a sense of calmness and control during anxiety-inducing situations. Furthermore, emerging research suggests that beta-blockers may hold promise in addressing specific anxiety-related conditions like PTSD and phobias, opening new avenues for potential therapeutic applications.

However, it is important to be mindful of possible side effects and interactions with other medications, as well as individual differences in treatment response. Beta-blockers may not be suitable for everyone, and individuals with certain medical conditions or sensitivities should exercise caution or explore alternative treatments.

As research continues to advance, a deeper understanding of beta-blockers’ role in anxiety treatment will improve our ability to provide holistic and effective care for those dealing with anxiety disorders.


  1. Pedersen, M.E. and Cockcroft, J.R., 2009. What is the role, if any, for beta-blockers as initial therapy for uncomplicated hypertension?. Current Opinion in Cardiology, 24(4), pp.325-332.
  2. Gorre, F. and Vandekerckhove, H., 2010. Beta-blockers: focus on mechanism of action Which beta-blocker, when and why?. Acta cardiologica, 65(5), pp.565-570.
  3. Wiysonge, C.S., Bradley, H.A., Volmink, J., Mayosi, B.M. and Opie, L.H., 2017. Beta‐blockers for hypertension. Cochrane database of systematic reviews, (1).
  4. Hocht, C., Bertera, F.M., Del Mauro, J.S., Santander Plantamura, Y., Taira, C.A. and Polizio, A.H., 2017. What is the real efficacy of beta-blockers for the treatment of essential hypertension?. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 23(31), pp.4658-4677.
  5. Steenen, S.A., Van Wijk, A.J., Van Der Heijden, G.J., van Westrhenen, R., de Lange, J. and de Jongh, A., 2016. Propranolol for the treatment of anxiety disorders: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 30(2), pp.128-139.
  6. Jonas, J.M. and Cohon, M.S., 1993. A comparison of the safety and efficacy of alprazolam versus other agents in the treatment of anxiety, panic, and depression: a review of the literature. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 54, pp.25-45.
  7. Hayes, P.E. and Schulz, S.C., 1987. Beta-blockers in anxiety disorders. Journal of affective disorders, 13(2), pp.119-130.
  8. McAinsh, J. and Cruickshank, J.M., 1990. Beta-blockers and central nervous system side effects. Pharmacology & therapeutics, 46(2), pp.163-197.
  9. Barron, A.J., Zaman, N., Cole, G.D., Wensel, R., Okonko, D.O. and Francis, D.P., 2013. Systematic review of genuine versus spurious side-effects of beta-blockers in heart failure using placebo control: recommendations for patient information. International journal of cardiology, 168(4), pp.3572-3579.
  10. Head, A., Kendall, M.J., Ferner, R. and Eagles, C., 1996. Acute effects of beta blockade and exercise on mood and anxiety. British journal of sports medicine, 30(3), pp.238-242.
Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 5, 2023

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