What Are Beta Blockers? Physical Anxiety Symptoms Could Be Managed With This Med, Experts Say
You’re standing front and center at the head of the class and, to your dismay, there’s not one empty seat in the entire room. When you start to open your mouth to begin your presentation, it happens: You grip the sides of the podium to hide your shaking fingers, the sweaty palms, but then your legs start to tremble, too, and you hesitate, because who’s to say your voice won’t follow suit? Beta blockers may be good for physical symptoms of anxiety like this, and if you or someone you know has really bad anxiety that affects the body in similar ways, experts say these kinds of medications could be worth looking into.
To me, a "beta blocker" sounds like a prototype of sorts, but according to Sanjiv Patel, M.D., a cardiologist at MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, a beta blocker is a form of medication generally prescribed to patients with heart problems — think abnormal heart rhythms, chest pain, and low blood pressure, Patel told Women’s Health. Basically, you’d take the medication orally like you would any other pill, and according to the Mayo Clinic, it literally blocks the beta receptors in your heart to slow down its number and intensity of beats.
It all sounds very specific to the heart, so you might be wondering how anxiety symptoms fit into all of this — but I promise, it makes sense. See, oftentimes anxiety symptoms can be just as physical as they can be mental. Of course, this ultimately depends on you and how your body responds to stress, but according to Harvard Women's Health Watch, physical symptoms of anxiety can include headaches, other types of muscle tension, upset stomach, nausea, and even heart rapid heartbeats, among others.
It's obviously important to consciously try and keep your stress levels as low as humanly possible. But that’s just it: You and I are only human, and sometimes anxiety gets the best of us and, as a result, our bodies. When this happens, it’s helpful to know there are medications out there that actually work, and according to Robert Glatter, M.D., an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health, propranolol, one of the most commonly prescribed beta blockers, is definitely one of them — but naturally, there’s a catch.
Glatter tells Elite Daily over email that while beta blockers can absolutely help to ease physical anxiety symptoms, they generally aren’t prescribed for long-term treatment of anxiety. What that means is, your doctor might prescribe a beta blocker, but Glatter says they’ll probably instruct you to only take the medication in situations of high performance anxiety — i.e. before making a speech at a social function, giving a presentation in front of a classroom, etc. “Beta blockers are quite safe and effective for reducing the physical symptoms of stress such as a rapid heartbeat, shakiness, or sweating,” he says. “But the fact is they don’t effectively control the root cause of anxiety or anxious thoughts that might be causing the symptoms themselves.”
So, to recap, yes, beta blockers are the bee's knees and can potentially ease your physical anxiety symptoms when they become overwhelming. The problem is, as Glatter points out, they really shouldn’t be used all the time to manage your anxiety, but rather on an as-needed-basis. And if that’s the case, what medications are best to take for long-term results?
According to Glatter, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that act as antidepressants, and serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) that act as both an antidepressant and pain reliever, are generally going to be your doctor’s first line of defense for managing anxiety on a long-term basis. These types of medications “increase the level of serotonin [a happy hormone] and norepinephrine [a hormone that controls your heart rate] in the body,” Glatter explains. However, even though these two seem to be the most effective medications to help reduce anxiety and its physical symptoms on a chronic basis, Glatter warns it can take anywhere from six to eight weeks of taking them regularly to start noticing the benefits, so he suggests treating your anxiety symptoms with mindful practices, too.
For example, the next time feelings of anxiety translate to shaky hands or sweaty palms, take your medicine as prescribed by your doctor, and then try some mindful breathing exercises, which will encourage you to focus on how you're physiologically responding to stress, and ease your mind so your body can follow suit. Or, if you have the time, try mindful running or walking around the neighborhood. These subtle ways of getting active can offer similar relief, with the added bonus of an adrenaline rush, maybe some endorphins here and there, and a burst of fresh air. It'll do your mind and body some good.