What are the best nootropics for anxiety?
This is an extremely common question we get asked on our best brain supplements page, and a welcome one at that; it is encouraging to see more people turning to natural anti-anxiety supplements rather than going straight to pharmaceuticals.
Natural nootropics can definitely make a huge difference to your anxiety levels. Anxiety and depression can be caused by your environment or specific situations, but severe anxiety and anxiety disorders are often caused by imbalances with your hormones and neurotransmitters (or rather anxiety and depression can be exacerbated by these imbalances in brain chemistry).
That’s why nootropics can be so effective for countering anxiety. While nootropics are best known for enhancing cognitive function in terms of memory and focus, they can also drastically improve mood by suppressing anxiety symptoms as well as the causes of anxiety themselves. Brain optimization includes optimizing mental health, so the best nootropics – the nootropics that optimize brain function completely – need to be anxiety nootropics too.
In this article, we’ll go through the best nootropics for anxiety in the world right now. We’ll explain how supplements can help with anxiety and depression, as well as what kind of effects anxiety nootropics can have on your mental health. We’ll then give you our recommended nootropic for reducing anxiety.
But first, we need to explore anxiety a little further. Let’s take a look at the causes and risk factors of anxiety, what neurochemistry drives anxiety, and how anxiety nootropics work.
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety is the term we give to the feeling of acute stress and worry that is not proportionate to your current situation. Feeling extremely panicked when you’re being chased by a grizzly bear is not what a psychologist would call anxiety. It is certainly not anxiety disorder. But feeling as panicked as you would when being chased by a grizzly bear while talking in front of a small group is anxiety; social anxiety to be exact. Feeling that anxious while sat at home is definitely anxiety; in that case, we’re probably talking generalized anxiety disorder.
In other words, anxiety is when you feel extremely worried, anxious or stressed despite there being no good reason to feel that way. Anxiety is a mental disorder; it is something that you experience, yes, but it is also a diagnosed mental health condition with a diverse set of symptoms, manifestations, and causes.
As we’ve already alluded to, there are actually different types of anxiety.
The five major types of anxiety disorders are:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Panic Disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Social Anxiety Disorder (or Social Phobia)
Each type of anxiety has its own specific symptoms and triggers. However, they are all bound by the fact that they produce feelings of intense worry, dread, and anxiousness. Most come with similar physical symptoms too, although panic attacks obviously take the physical effects to the extreme.
Interestingly, each sub-type of anxiety disorder appears to have its own underlying neurochemistry. For instance, while all anxiety disorders respond well to benzodiazepines, some respond to serotonin reuptake inhibitors while others do not, and generalized anxiety disorder seems to respond to agonists of particular serotonin receptor types.
The neurochemistry underlying anxiety is complex; it is still being investigated by researchers as we speak. What we can say with some confidence though is that most anxiety disorders seem to involve GABA, serotonin, and dopamine pathways. Different types of anxiety will have different underlying causes and neurochemical signatures, but most will involve glutamate (as glutamate itself and as a precursor to GABA), glutamate receptors, and monoamine neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, etc.) in some way.
Supplements for anxiety
Some plants have a long history of use as anxiolytics (anxiety suppressors) in traditional medicine or popular culture. But whole herbs and plants – whether ground into a paste or drunk as tea – can only ever have so much of an impact on your physiology.
Modern biotechnological advances have, however, opened up a whole new world of possibilities for people looking to enhance their performance and augment their physiology. Today, there are lots of high-spec, extremely potent natural nootropic products capable of simultaneously reducing stress and promoting focus, memory, and mental clarity.
The only problem is finding which substances work in reality. Many supplement manufacturers promote products which promise rapid relief from stress and anxiety. More often than not, these supplements are full of cheap, ineffective herb powders and potentially brain-draining sedatives. Only a small number of high-end, professional nootropic stacks offer genuine stress and anxiety relief without side effects and without hindering cognitive performance.
Let’s take a look at the substances which actually fight anxiety and depression as proven by hard clinical evidence. The substances in this list have all been shown by meta analysis to help treat anxiety disorders, assuage anxiety symptoms, and help with the physical effects of anxiety (high heart rate, hypertension, and related health issues).
Best Nootropics For Anxiety
Here is a list of the best natural nootropics for stress and anxiety:
- Rhodiola rosea
- Panax Ginseng
- Bacopa monnieri
Ashwagandha is one of the nootropics with a long history of use in traditional medicine, specifically Ayurverdic medicine from India. People have used ashwagandha for centuries as a sleep aid, an anti-anxiety medication, and as a libido booster. We now know that ashwagandha is actually effective in all of these use-cases.
Ashwagandha works by reducing cortisol levels. Cortisol is your body’s stress hormone; it is released when you feel you are in danger, but if you are chronically stressed, your cortisol levels can be chronically elevated. This leads to high blood pressure, fat gain, muscle atrophy, and chronic fatigue – the worst symptoms of chronic stress and anxiety. Studies show that ashwagandha consumption acutely lowers cortisol levels, which in turn lifts the symptoms of acute stress and anxiety.
Rhodiola rosea is what we call an adaptogen. This means it helps to make you less prone to physical and emotional stress. In other words, it makes you more resilient and resistant to the feelings of acute stress and anxiety.
Some recent research has found that rhodiola rosea consumption also mildly stimulates the release of serotonin and dopamine. This could also be part of the explanation as to why rhodiola rosea helps with anxiety. In any case, experience has proven that rhodiola rosea is an extremely reliable and effective nootropic for suppressing anxiety.
L-Tyrosine is an incredible natural nootropic and one particularly useful when you are facing a particularly stressful and grueling period of work or study. We recommend L-Tyrosine for any students, traders, programmers, or business professionals who need to burn the midnight oil and keep a lid on stress while remaining focused.
Tyrosine is a precursor to the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is your “reward” for completing tasks; it creates sensations of satisfaction, pleasure, and accomplishment, while simultaneously driving you to keep going to experience more dopamine. This is why studies have found Tyrosine improves performance in memory tests among people who are placed in intensely distracting or unpleasant situations: extreme cold, sleep deprivation, acute stress, etc. If you want to minimize anxiety while maximizing cognitive performance, Tyrosine is a must.
Nicotine is usually associated with tobacco, but this nootropic is actually found in smaller amounts in lots of common plants, such as potatoes or eggplants. While it is often assumed that nicotine is in itself dangerous, it is actually a relatively safe drug to use when isolated from tobacco (which is probably the most ridiculously harmful drug you can do).
Nicotine is extremely powerful. Just a few milligrams is enough to instantly sharpen your focus, increase alertness, boost motivation, and calm the nerves. Nicotine works by releasing norepinephrine. This is the body’s “fight or flight” neurotransmitter, although it doesn’t have the same physical effects as cortisol. Norepinephrine makes you mentally prepared for survival scenarios. It enhances every aspect of cognition that might be relevant to survival; reaction times, focus, alertness, decision making, etc. It also acts as an anxiolytic; nicotine triggers the release of dopamine which, as in the case of Tyrosine, reduces anxiety and improves mood.
Magnesium is often overlooked as a supplement because of its ‘basic’ nature. As a simple mineral, many people assume that it cannot possibly have a sizable physiological or mental effect. But it can and does!
Magnesium works by reducing electrical activity in the nervous system. This systemic action makes it a comprehensive anxiolytic. In simple terms, magnesium reduces the amount of electrical activity passing between your neurons. This suppresses the kind of frantic thinking that characterizes panic. The same mechanism makes it a muscle relaxant, which again helps temper the sensation of tension which accompany anxiety, stress and panic attacks.
Magnesium is also effective for lowering blood pressure and slowing heart rate. This is extremely useful, as one of the long term risks associated with anxiety disorder is an increased risk of heart attack due to the stress placed on the heart. Having high blood pressure and a near-permanently elevated heart rate also raises the chances of you having a panic attack. Magnesium can help with all of this.
Most people are generally quite low on magnesium since modern diets contain so few nuts, fresh green vegetables, seeds, and seafood. We recommend everybody supplements with magnesium from time to time to ensure your blood pressure remains in a healthy range and that your sleep is of high quality. If you’re looking to reduce anxiety, then a magnesium supplement should be your first port of call.
L-Theanine is an amino acid. It is found naturally in green tea leaves, black tea leaves, and a few other plants in small quantities. But like L-Tyrosine, L-Theanine is far from a simple nutrient. L-Theanine has some pretty significant nootropic properties relating to stress, anxiety and depression.
Studies show that L-Theanine elevates GABA levels in the brain. This will significantly reduce CNS activity, and by extension, reduce many of the mental and physical effects of anxiety: muscle tightness, restlessness, rapid thought spiraling, intrusive thoughts, etc. One study found that L-Theanine may inhibit glutamic acid activity, which will also reduce CNS activity in a similar way to GABA. Theanine may help reduce anxiety by modulating the negative effects of caffeine; if you have a high caffeine intake, theanine can help blunt the worst side effects.
One of the main benefits of L-Theanine is that it is very fast-acting. It rapidly crosses the blood brain barrier. Once in the brain it begins to work by raising GABA levels and inhibiting glutamic acid. This makes L-Theanine a fantastic nootropic for social anxiety, panic attacks, and generalized anxiety.
Panax ginseng has long been used as a natural treatment for anxiety and depression in traditional medicine. This “nootropic” does not have notable effects on the mind or cognitive performance like typical nootropics; supplementing with Panax ginseng will now provide significant cognitive enhancements. However, it does have a pronounced effect on mood, wellbeing, and mental health.
Studies have found that Panax ginseng can significantly reduce subjective feelings of anxiety and depression, promote subjective well being, and help people remain in a calm, relaxed, mentally healthy state. Supplementing with Panag ginseng on a daily basis will promote general good mood and help suppress feelings of depression, stress, and anxiety.
Bacopa monnieri is an adaptogen. This means it helps improve you ability to withstand stress. This makes it one of the best long-term guards against anxiety in all its forms. Study after study confirms this; supplementing with Bacopa monnieri on a daily basis not only results in significant improvements in memory function, but it also notably improves subjective well being and reduces reports of anxiousness, depression, and stress (source).
Like all good nootropics, Bacopa monnieri produces lasting changes in the brain. It works primarily by stimulating dendrite branching; in simple terms, Bacopa monnieri makes the branches that connect your neurons grow and proliferate. While the mechanism behind its adaptogenic effects is not fully understood, it is thought that Bacopa supplementation acutely lowers cortisol levels. Suppressing cortisol levels systemically by consistently using Bacopa monnieri can help control generalized or chronic anxiety, as well as lower the risk of panic attacks.
Nootropics For 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?
The same nootropics that help you cope with 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.
Nootropics For Panic Attacks
When it comes to panic attacks, then you need to take a slightly different approach to use nootropics for 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 cause panic attacks, but countering panic attacks means countering that intense fight or flight response you experience in the build-up to 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, 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 spiraling, and the kind of mental and physical tension that we know as effects of 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
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.
The Single Best Nootropic For Anxiety
The list above contains the most effective nootropics for anxiety in existence. Each substance has substantial, robust scientific backing from clinical trials, and all of them have excellent safety profiles.
But for those of you who don’t want to source individual ingredients yourself, what is the best pre-made nootropic for anxiety on the market right now?
Mind Lab Pro
Mind Lab Pro is truly an exceptional nootropic. It combines several different nootropics which enhance cognitive performance in different ways. Together, they cover learning, focus, memory, and brain health. On top of that, Mind Lab pro delivers a comprehensive stress and anxiety-suppressing matrix of ingredients. It includes Tyrosine, Rhodiola rosea, and Theanine. Taken together, these nootropics quickly and effectively reduce the mental and physical feelings of stress and anxiety while promoting good cognitive performance. Read our detailed review of Mind Lab Pro.
This is not medical advice. It is not intended to represent medical advice. If you are suffering from severe depression or anxiety, it is vital that you get proper medical advice from a qualified medical professional. You may have serious neurochemical imbalances which require prescription pharmaceutical drugs for rectification. Talk to your doctor if you are struggling with any aspect of your mental health. Natural supplements are not regulated by the food and drug administration in the United States. They are not viable alternatives to antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications.