Beta blockers are drugs that prevent certain physical reactions to the adrenaline you feel when you get anxious about a performance or public speaking event. Beta blockers are drugs like propranolol and Inderal, which are extremely cheap because they are very old drugs that have been prescribed for years, and there are no longer patents on the drugs.
They work short-term, sort of like aspirin or ibuprofen for a headache. You take them an hour before a performance situation and the effect lasts for approximately 4 to 6 hours, depending on how fast your body breaks down the active ingredients and clears them out of your system.
Does the idea of medication scare you?
There’s no need to be afraid. These drugs have been prescribed to hundreds of thousands of people because they were first put to use as a way of lowering blood pressure for people who are at risk of heart disease or stroke related to high blood pressure. The safety profile is very good when taken at prescribed dosages. Plus, you won’t be taking them every day like people with high blood pressure. You will only take the medicine on days when you have a speech or presentation.
So what do beta blockers do for someone with social anxiety in the form of fear of public speaking?
There are two benefits, but the second one is far more important than the first. The first benefit is that the drug stops your heart from pounding fast and hard when you are anxious. As a result, you don’t have to breathe as fast to supply the heart muscle with oxygen it would otherwise demand. So you can speak without feeling like you lose your breath before you get to the end of a sentence. Also, you feel much calmer physically even if you have anxious thoughts about the presentation.
There’s a positive rolling snowball effect when you take a beta blocker. The beta blocker stops your body from overreacting to the adrenaline of the situation, but because you know your body will not overreact, your mind actually becomes calmer as well.
Some people have a very specific form of social anxiety, where they only feel terrified of making a fool of themselves if they have a panic attack due to the level of adrenaline that comes up during a speech. Many executives and highly functional people have this fear, and it is a self-feeding fear.
The self-fulfilling prophecy occurs when you are afraid you will make a fool of yourself if people can tell you are anxious. As a result of this fear, your body releases adrenaline because it seems like the moment has come and you are now going to find out whether or not you’re going to make a fool of yourself.
Naturally, the adrenaline starts your heart pounding and makes you start to shake or have a little bit of difficulty breathing because your heart is pounding so fast that it’s using up your oxygen. So now your mind has something real to be worried about and you send even more powerful surges of adrenaline through your body.
The benefit of beta blockers is that they can give you a chance to break out of this negative patterns. You’ll never overcome your fear of public speaking without some mental training in which you try to essentially make friends with your own adrenaline. Learning not to fear your adrenaline is the ultimate cure for public speaking anxiety, but beta blockers can be used in small doses to give you the opportunity to practice getting used to your adrenaline response instead of fighting against it.
Over time you can decrease the dosage level of your beta blocker before each performance situation. This way, you are continuously challenging yourself to adopt the kinds of mindsets that release you from the fear of your anxiety, yet the small dose of the beta blocker is just enough to prevent a full panic attack during your speech or presentation.
To learn more about how to apply these concepts and rid yourself of the chronic fear of public speaking, click here and read about a home-study course I developed for overcoming performance-based social anxiety problems.