A common medication that many people have heard of (but may not be familiar with) are beta blockers. Beta blockers treat heart diseases like heart failure and high blood pressure. However, they also treat anxiety. Let’s take a look at how beta blockers for driving anxiety may be a good choice for you if you suffer from anxiety while driving.
What are Beta Blockers?
Beta blockers, aka beta-adrenergic blocking agents, work by reducing the effect of adrenaline on your heart. Adrenaline is the body’s main stress hormone. It’s our primary “fight or flight” response chemical. Adrenaline causes the heart to pump faster, which also increases blood pressure.
Increased heart rate and blood pressure are dangerous if you have certain types of heart disease. Beta blockers protect your heart by slowing it down and decreasing overall blood pressure.
How do Beta Blockers Relieve Anxiety?
Beta blockers work by preventing adrenaline from making contact with your heart’s beta receptors. Beta receptors are cells within your organs that respond to the presence of adrenaline in your blood. Increased levels of adrenaline typically make your heart speed up and pump more blood, which also increases blood pressure. Beta blockers circumvent this process, making your heart less responsive to the adrenaline in your bloodstream.
When a doctor prescribes beta blockers for anxiety, it’s known as “off-label” usage. Off-label means a doctor has prescribed a medication for a purpose that’s not approved by the FDA. Beta blockers are FDA-approved to treat heart disease, not anxiety. However, beta blockers also decrease your anxiety because they slow down your heart rate and lower your blood pressure. It’s for this reason that doctors sometimes prescribe them for anxiety.
Beta blockers don’t address any underlying psychological issues that cause anxiety. But they do mitigate some of the physical symptoms of anxiety. Such symptoms include things like a racing heart, shakiness, and sweating. By reducing anxiety’s physical symptoms, beta blockers help calm your anxious emotional state.
These meds are best used for managing short-term anxiety about specific events. For example, taking beta blockers before a public speaking engagement can help you get through that specific situation with less anxiety. Beta blockers also make sense for managing driving anxiety if you don’t drive very often and plan to use them beforehand. Other medications for driving anxiety, like benzodiazepines, are probably a better choice for managing long-term anxiety issues.
Beta Blocker Side Effects
Like any medication, beta blockers do come with side effects, including:
Diarrhea or constipation
Shortness of breath
Cold hands & feet
Pros & Cons of Beta Blockers for Driving Anxiety
Fewer side effects than some anxiety medications
Less sedating than other common meds for anxiety
Not useful for treating long-term anxiety
Doesn’t treat brain chemistry imbalances that can cause anxiety
May cause depression
Beta blockers for driving anxiety are a good choice for some people. Some folks may not tolerate anti-anxiety medications like benzodiazepines very well. Other people won’t take any kind of psychotropic medication that alters their mood. And some only need short term anxiety relief for specific events like driving or public speaking. Talk to your doctor about which type of anxiety medication is right for you.