Is Robert Downey Right to Swear By Beta Blockers?
“I took a beta blocker so this will be a breeze.”
That’s how Robert Downey Jr. opened his Golden Globes acceptance speech for winning Best Supporting Actor (Oppenheimer). It may have sounded like an offhand remark, but it became anything but, especially with Google Search immediately trending “beta blocker for anxiety.”
And what would the searchers find? Everything from “Propranolol for the treatment of anxiety disorders” from the National Library of Medicine to “Beta Blockers Are the Buzziest New Anti-Anxiety Medicine” from the good folks at VeryWell Mind. In other words, just what you’d expect from such a Search – and more!
Take the NLM result: (which, btw, dates from 2016). Despite some serious studies, it walked away saying “the quality of evidence for the efficacy of propranolol at present is insufficient to support the routine use of propranolol in the treatment of any of the anxiety disorders.”
Six years later, things are different. VeryWell Mind concluding that Beta blockers are excellent off-brand choices to treat the physical effects of anxiety. To wit: “beta blockers are a class of medication that prevents adrenaline from affecting your heart, effectively relaxing it and your blood vessels. This keeps the heart from racing and can lower your blood pressure.”
“For many people, beta blockers do a really good job of blocking the physical symptoms of anxiety like a racing heart, sweating, or tremors,” psychiatrist Sarah Gupta, MD told VeryWell Mind. “And a lot of the time, just dialing down the physical symptoms can be enough to get anxiety under control.”
Gupta also noted that while beta blockers aren’t approved by the FDA for anxiety, they’re often used “off-label,” especially in situations where the individual can anticipate feeling anxious like performance anxiety, stage fright, or facing certain social settings.
No, beta blockers won’t treat the psychological symptoms of anxiety. Yet even Khloe Kardashian has found out that they can be a solid option for short-term and situational anxiety. In these scenarios, the drug can work for people who are seeking an as-needed medication to treat their symptoms. This as opposed to using benzodiazepines like Xanax or Ativan, which are more commonly considered rescue medications for anxiety, and consequently come with greater risks and potential side effects.
Beta Blockers: Risks & Side Effects
Beta blockers don’t come without their own risks. Taking then can result in low blood pressure and a slow heartbeat, so they’re not recommended for individuals with heart problems. They’ve also been known to worsen asthma symptoms or sometimes even trigger attacks, Beta Blockers can also make exercise much more difficult.
Some other common beta blocker side effects include fatigue, cold hands or feet, and weight gain. Less common side effects include shortness of breath, depression, and difficulty sleeping. People with diabetes that take beta blockers are also recommended to regularly check their blood sugar, as this medication can prohibit the signs of low blood sugar, like a rapid heart beat.
In other words, if you experience more physical, short-term symptoms of anxiety, beta blockers may work for you. As always, have a frank talk with your doctor or a mental health professional to determine whether they’re a good fit.