Propranolol for anxiety: Everything you need to know

July 19, 2023
6 minute read

Most of us experience passing anxiety at various points during our lives. Anxiety is a natural and normal human response to perceived threats that can manifest through a variety of physical and mental symptoms. While feeling anxious when experiencing stressful life events and major changes is normal, for some people anxiety can become a more serious and debilitating condition that has a negative impact on the mind and body.

Let’s understand the use of propranolol for specific types of anxiety, exploring how propranolol works, how it can help with anxiety, the side effects that you might experience, and how best to take it.

What is propranolol?

Propranolol belongs to a class of medication known as beta blockers, which take their name after their primary action: blocking beta adrenergic receptors found in the body. Beta blockers were originally developed as a treatment for cardiovascular conditions such as high blood pressure, heart failure and angina.

However, beta blockers such as propranolol also produce a significant anti-anxiety effect that can be useful for certain kinds of anxiety disorders, particularly:

  • Performance anxiety  
  • Social anxiety
  • Specific phobias

How does propranolol help with anxiety?

Propranolol is quite different from other types of medications prescribed for anxiety, in that it does not directly target the mental symptoms of anxiety. Its usefulness in treating anxiety is derived from its ability to help with physical symptoms such as sweating, shaking or rapid heartbeat.

For this reason, if you’ve been prescribed propranolol, it’s likely to be for short-term, event-based (situational) anxiety. Situations such as experiencing anxiety while speaking in public are caused by a physical reaction as the body increases the production of stress hormones such as adrenaline and noradrenaline.

These hormones attach to beta receptors present throughout the body, triggering anxiety symptoms such as shaky hands, sweating, rapid heartbeat and even nausea. By blocking the beta receptors, propranolol is useful in preventing these physical symptoms of anxiety.

If you’re delivering a presentation, for example, you might still feel nervous mentally, but you’ll notice propranolol helping to keep physical anxiety at bay. This can also have an indirect benefit to your nervousness – it can become much easier to relax and stay focused without the shaking, rapid heartbeat, and sweating.

What are the side effects of propranolol?

Propranolol is generally a well-tolerated medication, but, like most medications, it does come with possible side effects. These can vary from person to person, and often depend on the dosage and reason why you’re taking it, and can include:

  • Fatigue  
  • Light-headedness or dizziness  
  • Slow heart rate  
  • Low blood pressure  
  • Headaches
  • Nausea  
  • Constipation

If you’re considering taking propranolol for anxiety, it’s important to talk to your GP first. They can help you decide if propranolol is the right treatment for you and can answer any questions you have about the medication.

How to take propranolol for anxiety

It's important to follow your doctor's instructions and take the medication as prescribed. Here are some general guidelines for taking propranolol for anxiety:

1. Consult your GP

Before starting any medication, including propranolol, it's crucial to consult with your healthcare provider. They’ll evaluate your specific situation, medical history, and symptoms to determine if propranolol is appropriate for you.

2. Dosage

Your GP will prescribe the appropriate dosage of propranolol based on your needs. The dosage may vary depending on the severity of your anxiety and the specific situation in which you’ll be taking it.

3. Timing

Propranolol can be taken as needed, usually about an hour before the anticipated anxiety-provoking situation. For example, if you have a public speaking engagement, you would typically take propranolol approximately one hour before the event.

4. Adherence to instructions

It's essential to follow your doctor's instructions regarding dosage and timing. Do not exceed the recommended dosage or take it more frequently than prescribed.

5. Individual response

Each person's response to propranolol may vary. It's important to pay attention to how your body reacts to the medication. If you experience any concerning side effects or if the medication doesn't seem to be effectively reducing your physical symptoms of anxiety, it's crucial to inform your GP.

6. Long-term use

Propranolol is typically used for short-term, situational anxiety. However, in some cases, your doctor may determine that longer-term use is necessary. It's important to have regular check-ups and discussions with your healthcare provider to assess the ongoing need for propranolol.

Do you have any additional questions about propranolol? Get in touch with our friendly, professional pharmacy team who can offer you guidance and advice.

Content last reviewed on:
July 17, 2023
Next review date:
July 17, 2025
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