September 5, 2022

Do Beta-Blockers Work for Anxiety?

Medicine intended for your heart may help in certain anxiety-provoking situations

Pill bottle with beta blockers.

It’s not uncommon for certain situations to make your heart pump a bit faster or make your hands start a-trembling. Maybe it’s getting on an airplane. Or public speaking. Or taking a big test.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

For people who experience situational or performance-related anxiety, beta-blockers (a medication commonly prescribed for heart conditions) can provide some relief.

We talked with psychiatrist Jack Owens, MD, about how beta-blockers work for some people who experience short-lived anxiety in specific situations.

“Beta-blockers work to dampen down the body’s ‘fight-or-flight’ response,” Dr. Owens explains. “Often, when people think of anxiety or a panic attack, it’s accompanied by a racing heart, sweating or shaking. Beta-blockers can work by lessening those symptoms.”

What are beta-blockers, and are they the answer to your anxiety? Dr. Owens breaks it down.

What are beta-blockers?

Beta-blockers are some of the most commonly prescribed medications in the United States. Approximately 30 million adults use a beta-blocker. For most people, these medications are prescribed for heart conditions like high blood pressure or an irregular heartbeat.

Are beta-blockers good for anxiety?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves beta-blockers for treatment of heart-related conditions. Their use for anxiety is considered “off-label use.” That means beta-blockers aren’t specifically intended to be used for performance anxiety, but they can still be legally and safely prescribed for that use.

“‘Off-label’ means that we are using an FDA-approved medication but not necessarily for the condition the FDA approved it for,” Dr. Owens says. “Often, we use off-label medications because a drug has an unintended benefit or because there is some evidence to suggest it is helpful in other circumstances.”

The FDA says that after it approves a medication, it’s able to be used in other situations when medically appropriate.


Research has backed the use of beta-blockers to relieve the physical effects of anxiety, like sweating, shaking or a racing heart.

“When your doctor prescribes you a medication to be used off-label, it’s important to have an open risk-benefit discussion with them,” Dr. Owens advises. “As with any medication, you’ll want to be upfront about any other conditions you have and any other medications you may be taking.”

How do beta-blockers work?

Beta-blockers slow down certain activities in your cells. Essentially, they work like this:

  1. Your body produces adrenaline (the body’s “fight-or-flight” hormone).
  2. Adrenaline goes around your body clinging to receptors — places on the surface of your cells that it can latch onto.
  3. When enough adrenaline sets up shop, it gets your cells all amped up and ready to spring into action. That can cause your heart to speed up or make you sweat or tremble.

Beta-blockers work by … well … blocking the receptors that adrenaline is looking for. It’s like a game of musical chairs, where the beta-blocker steals a seat and the adrenaline goes off and sits on the sidelines. If adrenaline can’t bind to your receptors, you don’t get those effects of adrenaline overload.

Who’s a candidate for beta-blockers for anxiety?

Dr. Owens says beta-blockers are best used for people who experience anxiety in specific situations, like stage fright for example, rather than for people who live with a diagnosed anxiety disorder.

“Beta-blockers are usually reserved for people who experience anxiety around specific occasions but are otherwise able to function in their capacity,” Dr. Owens notes.

That’s because beta-blockers only deal with the physical effects of anxiety, not any underlying chemical imbalance or psychological reasons for anxiety. In this way, beta-blockers are like a bandage — they’ll stop the bleeding, but they won’t fix the uneven floorboard that you tripped over.

Are there risks to taking beta-blockers?

Beta-blockers have been used and studied extensively since the 1960s and are generally well-tolerated by most people. Some people, including those living with asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) or diabetes shouldn’t take beta-blockers.


Side effects are usually mild and may include:

Importantly, Dr. Owens says beta-blockers shouldn’t be used without a prescription from your healthcare provider. Your provider will be able to make the best determination as to whether you’re a good candidate for beta-blockers or other medication.

Other ways to manage anxiety

There are other options to help manage your in-the-moment anxiety. Dr. Owens suggests deep breathing techniques as a way to calm your nervous system when you find yourself in an anxiety-provoking situation.

“Controlling your breath is a good way to ‘trick’ your brain,” Dr. Owen explains. “Concentrating on breathing gives the subconscious part of your brain a specific task to do and distracts your mind from runaway thoughts.”

If you experience more chronic anxiety and find that anxiety is keeping you from enjoying your life or going about your day-to-day activities, talk to a healthcare provider. They’ll be able to help you determine a treatment plan that’s right for you.

Related Articles

Child using smartphone and with social media and texts bubbles around him
January 15, 2024
How Social Media Can Negatively Affect Your Child

Too much screen time and unrealistic expectations and perceptions and can lead to an increased risk of anxiety and depression

Person huddled on floor with arms around knees with thought bubbles above head
January 3, 2024
Anxiety vs. Depression: Which Do I Have (or Is It Both)?

Although different conditons, they can occur together or cause one another

female sweating in gym with male lifting weights in background
December 25, 2023
Gymtimidation: How To Push Through Gym Anxiety

If the thought of the gym sends you spiraling, do some prep work beforehand and bring a friend along for support

Overhead view, female and male in kitchen preparing food, christmas tree and baking pans
December 18, 2023
How To Avoid Hometown Anxiety and Holiday Regression

Stay merry and bright by knowing your triggers and journaling throughout your visit

close up of green coffee beans
December 14, 2023
Should You Go Green? What To Know About Green Coffee Bean Extract

There’s no evidence to prove this supplement can help with weight loss, and it may come with risks

female wearing super hero cape standing in front a crowd of people
December 14, 2023
You’re the Star of the Show With Main Character Syndrome

Being the center of attention doesn’t mean you have to exile your guest stars

kid at bedroom desk stressing over a test while studying
December 13, 2023
How To Help Your Child Overcome Test Anxiety

Focus on a positive mindset, strong study habits and healthy living

person stressing, with clock and books
November 28, 2023
6 Ways To Feel Less Anxious in the Mornings

Breathwork, sleep meditation and avoiding screens can help fight back morning anxiety

Trending Topics

close up of keto gummies
Do Keto Gummies Work for Weight Loss? Are They Safe?

Research is inconclusive whether or not these supplements are helpful

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

Older person postioned sideways showing dowager hump.
Dowager’s Hump: What It Is and How To Get Rid of It

The hump at the base of your neck may be caused by osteoporosis or poor posture