Since a 1965 Lancet article explored the use of Beta Blockers for stage fright, there have been musicians, public speakers, surgeons needing to steady their hands, and people of all kinds who have used beta blockers to help with their anxiety symptoms.
Blair Tindall, famous Oboist and author of the book (and now TV show) Mozart in the Jungle, put it best in a Guardian article from 2008 :
Beta blockers are not recreational drugs. They do not affect cognitive abilities, but instead block adrenaline-like chemicals in the human system. For a violinist, this means performance can feel like practice, with no bouncing bow or slippery fingers.
As we’ll discuss later in the article, classical musicians like Blair Tindall are extremely fond of beta blockers to help them perform at their best. A survey from all the way back in 1987 by the International Conference of Symphony Orchestra Musicians, representing the largest group of orchestras in America at the time, found that almost 30 percent of their musicians had used beta-blockers for performance anxiety . And that number is almost certainly higher today.
But classical musicians are not the only people using beta blockers like Propranolol (Inderal), Metoprolol (Lopressor) and other prescription drugs “off-script” to help with their anxiety & stage fright problems. Several celebrities have talked openly about their use of beta blockers for their anxiety. Here we will look at what celebrities are saying about beta-blocker usage, as well as assess whether beta blocker use has any side effects, and what some potential alternatives might be.
What are Beta Blockers?
Beta-blockers are also known as beta-adrenergic blocking agents, or beta-adrenergic antagonists (since adrenaline is a beta-adrenergic substance). They are a class of pharmaceutical drugs that block the effects of adrenaline hormone (also known as epinephrine), which plays a vital role in triggering the fight-or-flight response when you’re in a stressful situation .
Doctors typically prescribe beta-blockers for a variety of reasons, including abnormal heart rhythm, high blood pressure, angina, glaucoma, and other conditions.
How do Beta-Blockers Work?
To understand why beta-blockers may help someone with their anxiety symptoms, we need to take a look at how beta-blockers work within the body.
Beta-blockers relax the load on your cardiovascular system by blocking the effects of the adrenaline hormone, and adrenaline is a stress-related hormone. It binds itself to adrenergic receptors in the heart, also known as beta receptors . As a result, the heart has to pump blood with greater force, which causes your blood pressure and heart rate to go up.
So beta blockers… block the effects of adrenaline and prevent it from binding to the beta receptors in the heart. Consequently, the heart can return to its regular workload, and your blood pressure can remain steady. This is why beta-blockers are prescribed for people with high blood pressure and hypertension.
Why Do Beta Blockers Reduce Anxiety?
People take beta-blockers “off-script” because it is too much adrenaline that is responsible for their anxiety symptoms.
When you’re feeling anxious about something, it is to be expected that you’ll feel some level of stress. Naturally, you will feel somewhat of an adrenaline rush as a part of that stress response. For most people, that stress response is not a big deal, and they might even use it to their advantage to up the intensity of their performance.
But if you experience performance anxiety or social anxiety, that stress response goes too far. You experience a much greater effect of the adrenaline hormone, which causes your heart rate to skyrocket, along with other symptoms of stage fright and anxiety.
Since beta-blockers block the effects of adrenaline, they also prevent you from experiencing the physical symptoms of that same anxiety. Remaining physically calm has an overall calming effect, which then allows you to get through your engagement and keep your stress response at bay.
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Beta Blocker OTC Brand Names
There are various beta-blockers available on the market, but here are some of the most common ones (and their ingredients).
- Inderal (Propranolol)
- Lopressor (Metoprolol)
- Sectral (Acebutolol)
- Coreg (Carvedilol)
- Tenormin (Atenolol)
- Zebeta (Bisoprolol)
Inderal/Propranolol is the most common one when it comes to people using beta-blockers for anxiety symptoms. There are also other medications that people commonly use off-script, like Clonodine and Depakote, but these are not technically beta-blockers so we won’t cover them here.
It is critical to remember that everyone responds to medications and treatments differently. If you’re considering using beta-blockers for anxiety, or another condition, be sure to consult a medical professional before you begin.
How Shawn Mendes Uses Beta Blockers
Shawn Mendes, during a global tour stated that he was finding the continuous performances difficult in a Capital FM interview. Only 20 years old at the time, Shawn Mendes admitted to getting so nervous for his live shows that he “needed medication to calm him for over a year” .
The Canadian singer opened up about his struggles with anxiety and pre-show nerves , when telling fans:
“As a performer you get very nervous, sometimes you freak out and things can become a lot for you. And there’s medicine and things you can do to help and I meditate and I do a lot of things.
There’s a medicine called beta blockers and basically it’s a very calm medicine, but what it does is it slows your heart rate down so you can be less stressed out and calm down and breathe, but nevertheless it’s medicine and I want you guys to know that for the last year I’ve been taking the medicine that’s been slowing down my heart rate so that I can be calm on stage.”
Here’s the video of Shawn Mendes talking about his beta blocker and anxiety struggles during a performance:
— Pop Crave (@PopCrave) April 6, 2019
Katy Perry Uses Beta Blockers to Help With Her Anxiety
Katy Perry, the American singer, songwriter and television judge for American Idol, has performed in front of millions of fans and is (in)famous for her wild, electrifying performances.
In a 2014 Cosmopolitan magazine interview, Katy Perry talked about her use of beta-blockers to help with her anxiety in the past. In the interview she talked about how she “had a crippling fear that she would let everyone down, and so she used [beta blockers] to overcome performance anxiety” .
Katy Perry made clear that her stage fright does not come from not being prepared, but from a fear that “fans will rush the stage or that I’ll vomit on stage during a performance”
The singer feels intense pressure to ensure that she fends off competition from rivals in the music industry :
“I have to take beta blockers [before each show], I get so nervous. [I think] that I have to get through this; I can’t let these people down, but mostly I can’t let myself down. I’ve been given a great opportunity and there are 500 bitches behind me who will snatch my weave off my head if I don’t kick-ball-change through this two-hour show.”
Whitney Cummings on her use of Beta Blockers to help her chronic migraine Issues
Whitney Cummings is a world-class comedian, actress, and screenwriter recognized for her prolific output and perfect comic timing. Many recognize her unique tall and lean frame and emphatic voice that quickly creates strong connections with her fans.
In an interview with Everyday Health, Whitney talked about her chronic migraine issues and how it led to her discovering beta-blockers to manage her anxiety that would come with her worry about said migraines :
[The migraine attacks] started when I was a kid. I remember going to Disneyland, and being the person who ruined the trip because Whitney has to go to the car and put a pillow over her head. A trip to Six Flags amusement park had to be cut short because Whitney has a migraine. I feel like I was always the bummer in my childhood.
…A big one of my migraine triggers is an increase in adrenaline and cortisol — which comes from stress, which we all have. It’s a neurological imbalance.
…Sometimes the stress leading up to something can trigger the migraine, and even the stress of anticipating a migraine can bring one on.
…I take beta-blockers now, which help hugely. I didn’t find out about them until about three years ago. I know if I have a big meeting, or a big audition, or a big performance, or anything where I know I’m going to be nervous, I just take one preemptively, so that I’m not blasting my brain with adrenaline.
My goal is to keep my neurochemicals, my hormones, and my blood sugar levels as consistent as possible.
Bobby Lee learned about Beta Blockers from Whitney Cummings
Bobby Lee is an actor and comedian from San Diego, California. The first Asian-American cast member on MADtv, he has appeared in movies like “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle”, “Pineapple Express”, and “The Dictator”. To put it simply, Bobby Lee has staked his claim in the comedy scene and in Hollywood.
On the Good For You Podcast with Whitney Cummings, Bobby Lee talked to Whitney the host about how she was the first to tell him about beta-blockers and how they helped him stay calm during auditions :
“You also changed this about me. You’re so influential in my life [pointing at Whitney]…
Years ago, I used to sometimes go in to audition, and I would freeze… I would have a panic attack. And I came up to you one day, and I go “It’s so embarrassing… I get these little panic attacks”
And You’re the one who introduced me to beta blockers. In fact, I did this pilot in Chicago, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without beta blockers.”
You can see Bobby Lee & Whitney Cummings talking about beta blockers in the podcast here:
Are there alternatives to beta blockers that performers should consider?
While all the celebrities covered here use beta-blockers like Propranolol and Metoprolol to help with their anxiety & stage fright, perhaps you’re not too excited about becoming dependent on a prescription beta-blocker every time you want to perform or know you’ll be in a high-anxiety situation. Instead of having to get a prescription whenever you run out, you may want to consider a natural alternative to beta-blockers.
A natural alternative to beta-blockers would achieve the same end-result as a beta-blocker, which is to provide relief from symptoms of performance anxiety, but it would do so by supporting your brain in a way that promotes overall relaxation, calmness, and improved cognitive function. The best natural alternative to beta blockers available today is PerformZen Calm Performance Formula, hands-down.
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PerformZen is an all natural beta-blocker alternative supplement, specifically designed to help you with stage fright, social anxiety and performance anxiety symptoms.
Following an extensive creation process inspired by our professional musician co-founder, PerformZen launched to fantastic initial feedback from career musicians, professional public speakers, individuals trying to solve their social anxiety worries and other high-level performers. Learn more about PerformZen Calm Performance Formula here.
PerformZen is a supplement designed to help performers reduce anxiety so they can perform at their highest level. It works by promoting GABA levels in your brain through the combined ingredients of naturally sourced GABA & L-Theanine, which boosts GABA production. GABA is a neurotransmitter that relaxes the body, slows down the thoughts, and increases calmness.
Magnesium & Vitamin B6 in PerformZen improves focus and attention. One study also showed that magnesium, when combined with vitamin B6, improved behavioral disorder in children with ADHD syndrome (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) . Low levels of Vit B6 has also been linked with increased stress levels .
Whether you’re a speaker, musician, professional athlete, or a university student, you could most likely benefit from a higher level of calmness and mental focus when you have to perform under pressure.
Ginkgo Biloba in PerformZen is a herb rich in antioxidants with numerous benefits for brain health. One is that Ginkgo Biloba reduces stress hormone levels . Since stress response is what causes the physical symptoms of performance anxiety, managing stress hormones will prevent stage fright symptoms from manifesting.
Finally, Theacrine in PerformZen is a natural substance that’s often described as caffeine without the fluctuations in energy levels . Theacrine enhances mental clarity and elevates your mood just like caffeine, providing a steady boost in energy. It’s the perfect “pick-me-up” before a performance, exam, or a date.
Beta Blockers Frequently Asked Questions
uVitals recently received a (digital) sack full of questions about beta-blockers. Rather then keep our responses solely in emails, we figured it’s a good idea to share the questions and their answers here so that we can refer anyone with questions to this section in future:
- Q: Is it OK to take beta-blockers for anxiety?
A: Beta Blockers are considered to be safer than other substances that some people might use to help with their anxiety symptoms. There are stories of musicians using alcohol, Valium, or other potentially harmful substances to get over their fear of performing, and becoming dependent on alcohol or harmful drugs to be able to get on stage is most likely detrimental to health, long-term.
Beta-blockers can be helpful in managing short-term anxiety symptoms for some people, as long as they are used safely as recommended by a licensed medical professional. For long term anxiety symptoms, it is best to look at natural alternatives or talk to a doctor about safe long-term anxiety treatments.
- Q: Which is the best beta-blocker for anxiety?
A: Propranolol is the most prescribed beta-blocker in the US. It is currently unclear whether the purpose for most of these prescriptions is ‘managing anxiety symptoms’. Propranolol is used for short-term relief from anxiety symptoms. It can help bring your heart rate back to normal, and reduce sweating and trembling.
Propranolol is popular among many performers like singers, musicians & public speakers due to its minimal side-effects, when used only occasionally before a big performance, speech, or audition.
Atenolol is another popular beta-blocker that is used for performance anxiety & stage fright, and is typically longer-lasting than Propranolol. So, for a long day of performances, Atenolol (Tenormin) might be the better beta blocker for stage fright.
- Q: What are the risks of taking beta blockers?
A: As long as beta blockers are used infrequently, they have shown to be relatively safe with minimal risk of side effects. But please speak to a healthcare professional before using beta blockers for anxiety (or any) purposes.
A problem could arise if you depend on beta-blockers to be able to perform, causing you to use them frequently. With frequent use, you could become dependent on beta-blockers, and withdrawal could cause other problems like high blood pressure.
So, beta blockers may be OK for quick irregular use, but consider incorporating some natural alternatives to beta-blockers if performing regularly and suffering from performance anxiety.
Conclusion: If celebrities are using beta blockers, should you?
Despite the relatively few celebrities who have opened up about their stage fright & anxiety issues, it’s clear that people within show biz suffer from them and some are (very) familiar with the use of beta-blockers to help overcome them.
There’s something a little comforting in knowing that even the most successful performers – the very people we think of as confident – also face the same self-doubt and insecurity that the rest of us do.
It’s clear that beta-blockers are a solid solution to anxiety issues, and we even wrote an in-depth article all about beta blockers for anxiety here on uVitals. If you are looking for an alternative to beta-blockers, however, check out our article covering natural beta blocker alternatives here.
- ^ https://www.theguardian.com/music/2008/jun/05/classicalmusicandopera.news
- ^ https://www.jstor.org/stable/26513061
- ^ https://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/guide/hypertension-treatment-beta-blockers#1
- ^ https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/in-depth/beta-blockers/art-20044522
- ^ https://www.capitalfm.com/news/music/shawn-mendes-anxiety-tour-concert-2019/
- ^ https://twitter.com/PopCrave/status/1114651473898541056?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw
- ^ https://www.thethings.com/how-these-celebrities-conquer-their-stage-fright/
- ^ https://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/katy-perry-admits-to-taking-beta-blockers-to-deal-with-anxiety-i-get-so-nervous-9455897.html
- ^ https://www.everydayhealth.com/migraine/whitney-cummings-speaks-up-to-fight-migraine-her-own-and-yours-too/
- ^ https://youtu.be/9eOq0W6mWIA?t=3431
- ^ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16846100
- ^ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/541751
- ^ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5452159/
- ^ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16846100