When you think of nootropics, what imagery and sensations come to mind?
Imagine you wake up in the morning, have many mentally taxing tasks to complete, and you open your cabinet to find a nootropic that can help you. Usually it is going to improve your concentration, memory, or motivation, right?
While all of these are helpful, they can’t help mental performance if you are anxious and have mental stress in the way.
In fact, one of the best ways to improve your mental performance is to reduce anxiety and stress. Think back to your high school or college days; when you were super fearful, anxious, and nervous, did you do well? Usually anxiety decreases performance.
Treating Anxiety – Fight or Flight
Reducing stress and anxiety is a lifelong task. It requires re-wiring parts of the brain in the amygdala. This “fight or fight” response usually causes people much heartache because they are unable to discern real threats (a lion) versus false threats (an attractive woman).
A great way to start reducing your general anxiety levels and stress is to use meditation. Even though it may seem difficult or woo-woo, there is actually a lot of science about the benefits of meditation. But here is the problem…
Meditation takes a while to show serious anxiety-reduction benefits.
If you are trying to take a major exam or you have deadlines at work, then meditation will not be useful for you in the short term. At least, it will not be useful enough to make a real lasting difference in your anxiety levels for near term exams and mental challenges.
There are ways to treat anxiety with nootropics that are more effective and work quicker. While we advocate using meditation as a stress reduction technique, you should consider these nootropics for a short term fix.
Natural Anxiety Relief
Reducing your anxiety and stress levels through natural herbs, extracts, and products isn’t inherently best, but it is definitely better than visiting a doctor to get prescription meditation. Some popular anti-anxiety prescriptions, such as Xanax, have been known to cause black-outs and other dangerous side effects. No, thank you. Here are some natural places to start.
L-Theanine – It seems like whether you need to increase focus or reduce anxiety, L-Theanine is a great way to do so. However, when you are trying to improve concentration it is a good idea to combine L-Theanine with caffeine. In an attempt to reduce anxiety, sometimes it is best to avoid caffeine and take L-Theanine by itself.
According to a 2006 study in Biological Psychology, L-Theanine can “…cause anti-stress effects via the inhibition of cortical neuron excitation.” In addition, L-Theanine can improve alpha brain waves which are associated with the rest and relaxation state within the brain. Often, the alpha brain state allows for the best performance.
Bacopa Monnieri – This is an ancient herb used in India for thousands of years. It is part of the Ayurvedic tradition of medicine and has numerous health effects, which are still used today. Small villages in India use bacopa monnieri and ghee as a way of improving schooling and learning ability.
The expansive supplement information site, Examine.com, specifically attributes bacopa’s ability to improve cognition and performance to stress reduction: “…has been shown to improve cognition, by means of reducing anxiety.”
Considered an “adaptogen”, this herb specifically works on the dopaminergic and serotonergic systems to promote neuron communication. Both dopamine and serotonin are brain chemicals associated with an increased mood so it is plausible this supplement is a mood enhancer.
Lemon Balm – If you haven’t already read my experience of lemon balm, it will be eye opening. This Mediterranean herb is not commonly used, but was incredibly effective for me to reduce anxiety, feel stress free, and relax. Lemon balm works to relax individuals through the GABA brain chemical (specifically by inhibiting effects of GABA transaminase).
While not everyone will see the same exceptional results from lemon balm, it is worthwhile to try it out. I know my brain chemistry is skewed to need support with GABA, which is why lemon balm is so effective. Given that this mildly flavored tea is very affordable, it is a great option to try out in your anti-anxiety concoction.
Kava Root – A couple visits to a local kava bar will be all you need to recognize the psychoactive effects of kava root. Even though the biggest sensation is numbness in the mouth, there are many stress reduction effects that people use for improving mental performance.
One aptly named study “Kava extract for treating anxiety” showed that there was a positive influence of kava against anxiety (with 95% confidence). Although kava is primarily useful for mental performance, it can also be used to improve female sexual performance, which is attributed to reduced anxiety 😉
Even though a local kava bar is a great first step to introduce yourself, a more measured dose will probably be more effective for reducing stress (without the numbness in the mouth). Take 400 mg with 30% kavalactones (active ingredient) in order to see positive effects. Try to be careful with dosages as there is evidence about toxicity issues.
Mucuna Pruriens – While stress and anxiety treatments are highly specialized to
the person, there are some sure to help everyone.
Dopamine is a brain chemical that influences happiness and feelings of euphoria. One of the problems for people who struggle with anxiety is that they often also have depression or poor mood Used for many years in Africa, mucuna pruriens is a natural source of L-DOPA which is the precursor for the brain chemical dopamine. In fact, it is such a good source of dopamine that it is used more often than some prescription drugs for treating Parkinson’s disease.states. It is best if you can find a natural way of boosting your dopamine and mucuna pruriens is an excellent option.
Taking the Next Step
The herbal stuff just explained does work. The following nootropics to reduce anxiety aren’t superior in any way, they are just newer (thus often riskier) and sometimes more powerful. Many are synthetic and there is nothing wrong with that, but it is important to separate these options out.
Aniracetam – There are a few studies about aniracetam reducing anxiety despite the benefits for memory and general cognition. Similar to bacopa monnieri above, it seems aniracetam improves cognition and mental performance by reducing anxiety. The drug has positive effects on dopaminergic and serotonergic receptors, which makes it a perfect way of reducing anxiety.
Many personal anecdotes on anxiety forums and Reddit make it clear that humans see plenty of anxiety-reducing properties from aniracetam. Aniracetam is definitely a worthwhile substitute for many other prescription drugs and it improves other aspects of cognition like memory and concentration.
Tianeptine – Developed in the late 1960s, this drug has been used as an anti-depressant and anxiety-reduction solution. It was first used in France in 1987 and has been used since then. Unlike most SSRIs, which can be potentially dangerous, tianeptine normalizes glutamate levels in animals subjected to stress.
There are few risks of developing an addiction or abusive habit with tianeptine, but it is estimated that 0.1-0.3% will abuse it (compared to much higher numbers for something as innocuous as caffeine). If you are going to use tianeptine, use a milligram scale or find a provider that has it in a pre-created sublingual solution. Some side effects are possible, such as dry mouth or nausea. Other instances include dizziness and insomnia.
Out of these two, we recommend aniracetam the most. It is more well-studied, has less side effects, and is able to help improve several other aspects of your cognition at the same time.
Anxiety Reduction Techniques & Nootropics
There are several ways people deal with anxiety and stress, but often they are not productive and certainly don’t improve mental performance. When trying to treat anxiety and stress, it’s important to tackle the problem with a two-sided attack.
- Long term techniques – The longer term techniques include
meditation, but many more as well. Try to find physical exertion that you find fun and enjoyable. The exercise will balance your brain chemicals and offer some advantages for your mood and reduce anxiety that way. Also, eating a diet that is free from too much sugar will make a big difference for your overall health.
- Short term supplementation – In addition to your long term techniques to reduce your general stress levels, nootropics can be a great tool. Any anxiety treatment that does not involve traditional prescription drugs is a good thing.
If you avoid becoming dependent on nootropics to solve your problems with anxiety, you can use them as needed to develop a better ability to handle stress and perform cognitively.