Social anxiety is something that affects a surprisingly large number of people. You may never realise that a person in a meeting has severe social anxiety, as most people with the affliction develop mechanisms to help them hide it. But they are there, and their experience of that meeting is completely different to other peoples’!
There is much debate about the causes of social anxiety; whether it is largely determined by genetics, upbringing, or some definite trauma in one’s past.
We wont delve into those questions here.
Instead, we’re going to focus on something much more useful: ways to prevent and cure social anxiety.
In particular, we’re going to focus on the best nootropics for social anxiety. You may have read our article on the best nootropics for anxiety, but this article will get even more specific.
In this article, we’ll give you the best natural supplements for reducing social anxiety. We will explain whayt social anxiety is, what neurochemistry drives social anxiety, and how natural nootropics can help assuage the worst symptoms of social anxiety. Please post your questions in the comments section at the end.
What Is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety is not a completely distinct phenomenon to generalized anxiety, although the exact experience of it can be very distinct.
Social anxiety is characterized by acute anxiousness brought about by social situations, or even the anticipation of social situations where you will be interacting with others.
In order for you to have social anxiety, you do not need to feel anxious in all social situations. Social anxiety disorder is when you become extremely anxious in anticipation of social situations that would not cause someone to feel stress under normal circumstances.
In other words, social anxiety is when your fight or flight response is triggered by social interactions that should not cause said response. We all get nervous before speaking in front of a room of our peers, but we shouldn’t feel close to a panic attack when we’re headed to a birthday party where we’re only expected to have a nice time and eat free buffet food!
So what are the best nootropics for social anxiety?
Is there a good social anxiety supplement to help lower stress levels in social situations?
To answer that question, let’s look at social anxiety in more detail, before moving on to an examination of the most effective supplements for lowering stress and anxiety.
Social Anxiety Symptoms
The symoptoms of social anxiety are pretty much identical to the symptoms of generalized anxiety.
This is because social anxiety and generalized anxiety have the same underlying mechanisms and fundamental causes; an excessively excited CNS, a spike in cortisol, and an unnecessary spike in norepinephrine.
The most common symptoms of social anxiety are:
- Elevated heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Inability to focus
- Short-term memory loss
- Panic attacks
These symptoms can be more or lss severe depending on the severity o your social anxiety disorder, the situation you are in, and myriad other factors.
If you routinely experience any of these symptoms while in social situations – especially if they are not objectively warranted – then you should talk to a medical professional about receiving counselling to help with your social anxiety.
Most Effective Nootropics For Anxiety
Let’s look at some of the most effective nootropics for combatting stress and anxiety. Although this article is spcifically about social anxiety, all forms of anxiousness have similar symptoms, side effects, and underlying mechanistic causes. So, any natural substances which help reduce anxiety will work for social anxiety, panic attacks, and so on.
Rhodiola rosea is arguably the best natural treatment for anxiety that you can use on a daily basis. This natural herb is a powerful adaptogen. This means it improves your physiological stress responses; in other words, it allows your body and brain to better cope with and recover from stress.
Studies show that Rhodiola rosea reeduces symptoms of anxiety while raising mental energy levels and promoting a calm, clear head. This makes it ideal for people who want to reduce anxiety without compromising on cognitive performance, as you have to do when using a sedative.
Ashwagandha has possibly the most potent anti-anxiety effects of all the nootropics on this list. This herb has a very long history of use as a treatment for anxiety, and as a social anxiety treatment.
Ashwagandha works by inhibiting the production of cortisol. This leads to a rapid fall in serum cortisol. This in turn will attenuate most of the worst symptoms of anxiety, even in people placed in acutely stressful situations (such as awakward social interactons).Cortisol is the stress hormone responsible for most of the unpleasant efects of anxiety, particularly the long-term effects. Supplementing with Ashwagandha can significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety nd help you stay calm and cool in social situations.
L-Theanine supplements are among the best nootropics to take to reduce anxiety. Not only does theanine have its own anxiolytic effects, but it also helps nullify the anxiety-inducing effects of caffeine. People with social anxiety issues will often find that caffeine makes things significantly worse. If you usually drink a lot of caffeine, then you should either increase your intake of theanine or caffeine intake should be lowered.
L-Theanine also upregulates GABA, the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in humans. Increased GABA means reduced activity in the CNS, which in effect cancels the possibility of a severe, acute anxiety or panic attack.
Theanine is a muscle relaxant, and it reduces nerve cell activity without having any sedative effects. Studies show that Theanine supplementation promotes the onset of sleep, which means it helps prevent the kind of tossing anfd turning that characterizes generalized anxiety.
Bacopa monnieri is an adaptogen herb, which means it strengthens your ability to withstand stress and anxiety. This makes Bacopa monnieri very good at preventing the kind of stress and panic attacks that can result from social interactions.
Bacopa monnieri is also a potent nootropic known to significantly improve memory retention, memory recall, and long-term memory function. It does this by promoting the growth of the dendrites which connect your neurons to one another, thus making them more efficient communicators.
Magnesium offers instant relief from anxiety due to its instant effect on blood pressure. Magnesium not only lowers blood pressure, it also slows down all nerve activity in the body and the brain. This means a calmer mind, a slower heart rate, and fewer involuntary muscle contractions (and reduce muscle pain to boot).
Reduced blood pressure, reduced muscle twitching and reduced nerve cell activity all come together to produce improved sleep quality and longer sleep duration. This in turn can work wonders for your stress levels; one of the leading causes of anxiety is a lack of sleep!
Gingseng is a staple of traditional medicine, where it has been used as everythin from a fertility drug to an energy booster. While traditional medicines are typically just placebos, it appears that there is something to the use of Ginseng as an anxiolytic. Studies show that the consumption of Ginseng leads to reduced anxiety and improved mood, as reported by participants in subjective interviews. Ginseng is a great nootropic for social anxiety, as it has no side effects, no sedative effects, and no narcotic effects.
L-Tyrosine is a fantastic nootropic for any purpose, but it is a particularly great nootropic for social anxiety. L-Tyrosine reduces anxiety via dopamine pathways. In simple terms, Tyrosine is an elemental building block of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is responsibkle for creating motivation, drive and enthusiasm.
Studies show that Tyrosine improves cogniive function in people placed in extremely stressful, demanding situations. While it doesn’t have anxiolytic effects, the reduced brain fog you get from Tyrosine will help you navigate social situatons even when suffering from intense social anxiety.
Best Brain Supplements For Social Anxiety Disorders
The best nootropics for anxiety will help you with social anxiety, as the mechanisms of action will work in both scenarios.
In most cases, anxiety nootropics work by lowering cortisol levels – thereby assuaging the main physical symptoms of anxiety – while potentiating GABA (which inhibits the CNS to bring about feelings of calm relaxation). Similarly, adaptogens will help with social anxiety as much as they help with any other kind of anxiety as they improve your overall ability to handle and respond to stressors.
Using a nootropic which improves your stress response, reduces cortisol, promotes focus, and aids with verbal fluency will help you regardless of whether you have performance anxiety, generalized anxiety, or social anxiety.
But for those of you looking for a specific and effective treatment for social anxiety, we recommend focusing on nootropics with effects that mainly focus on promoting GABA, Serotonin, and Dopamine while reducing cortisol (to head off any panic attacks).
We therefore recommend a stack of the following nootropics to help control social anxiety:
- Tyrosine: Promotes dopamine synthesis
- Citicoline: Increases Tyrosine in the striatum, increases serotonin and promotes verbal fluency
- Ashwagandha: Reduces cortisol acutely, reducing anxiety symptoms and warding off panic attacks
- L-Theanine: Reduces glutamate reuptake resulting in more free GABA
As we’ve already stated, the best nootropics for social anxiety will be those that simultaneously reduce the symptoms of anxiety and help you cope better in social situations.
Nootropics for social anxiety should target cortisol, GABA, dopamine, serotonin, and cognitive function all at the same time. No one nootropic can therefore fix social anxiety for you. The most effective nootropics for social anxiety should be taken as a stack to tackle the problem all at once.
Social Anxiety & Panic Attacks
When it comes to panic attacks, then you need to take a slightly different approach to use nootropics for generalized anxiety.
While nootropics for social anxiety should aim to promote monoamine neurotransmitters and improve verbal fluidity, nootropics for panic attacks need to be much more focused on reducing the acute physical effects of anxiety.
Social anxiety can easily cause panic attacks, so suppressing panic attacks usually means keeping a lid on social anxiety and making sure it doesn’t get out of control.
But thoroughly countering panic attacks means countering that intense fight or flight response you experience in the build-up to panic attacks.
What Causes Panic Attacks?
The effects of panic attacks usually stem from a sharp spike in cortisol (the body’s stress hormone) and norepinephrine (the fight of flight neurotransmitter) coupled with downregulated GABA.
When you start to feel stressed or anxious, your body starts releasing norepinephrine to help you deal with whatever threat has activated your alert systems (whether the threat is real or not).
Norepinephrine makes you feel extremely focused; it raises blood pressure, heightens alertness, reduces fatigue, and suppresses pain – basically anything that would help you survive an imminent threat. But having elevated norpeinephrine when everything is fine will leave you feeling terrible.
When you have a panic attack, your brain releases large quantities of norepinephrine. Coupled with a spike in cortisol (which similarly prioritizes survival over healing and general well being), this rise in norepinephrine will make you feel extremely panicky, anxious, and threatened.
At the same time, studies have found that GABA is heavily implicated in panic attacks. As the main inhibitory neurotransmitter of the human central nervous system, GABA is obviously going to play a role in preventing panic attacks by calming CNS activity.
Clinical trials have shown that increasing GABA drastically reduces the incidence of panic attacks. More free GABA effectively calms the brain; it fights intrusive thoughts, rapid thought spiralling, and the kind of mental and physical tension that we know as effects of panic attacks.
Nootropics for Panic Attacks
So, the best nootropics for panic attacks will heighten GABA levels, suppress cortisol, and help regulate norepinephrine to prevent the severe spikes which cause most of the negative effects of panic attacks. These nootropics will be very fast-acting, although at the same time you should be taking something to reduce the likelihood of panic attacks over the long-term.
We recommend the following nootropics for panic attack:
- L-Theanine: Upregulates GABA and reduces the norepinephrine-spiking effects of caffeine
- Ashwagandha: Acutely reduces cortisol
- Tyrosine: Promotes dopamine to help balance neurotransmitters
- Bacopa monnieri: Use long-term to bolster stress resistance while promoting memory retenton nd recall
Upregulates GABA and reduces the norepinephrine-spiking effects of caffeine Acutely reduces cortisol Promotes dopamine to help balance neurotransmitters Use long-term to bolster stress resistance Of these, the amino acids L-Theanine and L-Tyrosine are probably the most important to help fight panic attacks in the short-term. This is because these amino acids quickly cross the blood brain barrier and help quickly reduce CNS excitation, promote relaxation, and support healthy cognitive function in times of acute stress.
What About Taking GABA?
Many people recommend taking GABA for social anxiety.
We believe this is a totally ineffective approach to supplementing for social anxiety.
You see, social anxiety is in large part the result of an over-excited central nervous system (CNS). This implicates all of the neurotransmitters involved in both exciting and calming the CNS.
The most important of these are GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) and glutamate. Glutamate is, by some margin, the most abundant excitatory neurotransmitter in the CNS, while GABA is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter. In other words, glutamate fires up the CNS while GABA throws on the brakes.
The other main neurotransmitter systems – serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine – have also been studied in their relation to anxiety, but GABA and glutamate appear to be the best candidates of them all.
The theory goes that supplementing with GABA applies the brakes to the CNS, calming the mind and the body, and by extension, assuaging the worst symptoms of acute stress.
This is true. GABA works to calm the brain and slow down the central nervous system, which can help to diminish these signals to feel anxious and help you feel more at ease in social situations.
However, this theory doesn’t mean that GABA supplements work.
While increasing GABA release in the brain would definitely make you feel less anxious, consuming GABA orally does not reliably lead to increased GABA in the brain.
Almost all of the GABA that is consumed orally is destroyed in the gut. Any GABA that does get digested will likely be used by the enteric nervous system in the gut. Practically none will make it to the brain. Even if it does reach the brain, GABA does not easily cross the blood-brain barrier; the brain ants to keep all the GABA in!
So supplementing with GABA is useless for reducing anxiety.
What About Nootropic Drugs for Social Anxiety?
Many people who struggle with social anxiety symptoms on a regular basis find that synthetic nootropics (also known as “smart drugs”) help them navigate social interactions without making fools of themselves.
Different smart drugs work in very different ways, just like natural nootropics. It’s therefore quite important that you do your research before trying to use synthetic nootropics to treat social anxiety.
Let’s look at some of the most efective nooropic smart drugs for reducing social anxiety.
Study shows that taking noopept may play a decisive role in anxiety management. This is because BDNF, the neurotrophic factor, is increasingly linked with mood and stress levels. Increasing BDNF will help increase social confidence and help you regulate your stress levels.
On top of this, Noopept can improve cognitive function, depression, learning, memory, stress, focus and may even help people with Alzheimer’s. It is thought to help with degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s by promoting nerve cell growth in the brain via the expression of BDNF.
Another good benefit of noopept is that it does not give euphoria, doesn’t change your behavior, and doesn’t cause serious adverse effectsm, at least in the short term.
While it is predominantly used to promote learning and focus, Aniracetam also appears to be effective for managing social anxiety symptoms.
Aniracetam is a derivative of Piracetam, the original and archetypal nootropic. It is a distinct substance though, with its own effects, benefits, and side effects. Aniracetam appears to be effective for improving verbal acuity, focus, learning capacity, short term memory function, and mood. It also appears to be effective for helping people cope with social anxiety.
Aniracetam is not an anxiolytic itself. But it does improve people’s ability to think quickly and perform mentally while under pressure. This helps many people deal with their feelings of social anxiety better.
Phenibut is usually the go-to nootropic for people with any kind of acute anxiety, whethr it’s performance anxiety, generalized anxiety, or social anxiety. Phenibut actualy works particularly well for social anxiety, as it rapidly suppresses feelings of stress, promotes confidence, and suppresses CNS activity, making you feel relaxed and comfortable in other peoples’ company.
People who take Phenibut before a social event which makes them anxious tend to find it extremely effective and reliable. I tend to see stories of people taking Phenibut about 1 hour before a presentation, speech, or party, and this seems to be generally the best way to take Phenibut for social anxiety.
Fasoracetam is another great nootropic for social anxiety. You will not see many people talking about Fasoracetam and social anxiety, because this racetam is primarily used for cognitive enhancement. However, like many racetams Fasoracetam can significantly reduce feelings of anxiousness and stress in social situations. It does this by improving your alertness and overall cognitive performance (thus improving your social confidence), and to a lesser extent by increasing particular “feel good” neurotransmitter levels.
Learn more about the best nootropics:
- Best nootropics for energy
- Best nootropics for BDNF
- Best natural nootropics
- Best nootropics for depression
- Best nootropics for creativity
- Best nootropics for motivation
Brian Johnson is current Editor of Vagarights.com and a long-time writer for VAGA. A former psychologist, Brian is passionate about improving mental health and finding ways to stave off cognitive decline. He is an expert on nootropics, cognitive enhancement and biohacking more broadly. You can see his work on Google scholar.