What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a complex emotion, which can manifest itself in many aspects of our daily life. Try to think back to a time where you had to meet a deadline, which you were unsure you would make, a time where you had to speak in front of a large group or a time where you were heading in to an important interview. Chances are there was a distinct feeling associated with these events, this feeling is anxiety. Anxiety can manifest itself both psychologically and physiologically. The psychological aspect usually consists of an uneasy feeling associated with the anticipation of an upcoming event. This uneasy feeling can simply be a mild worry about the outcome of the upcoming event or in more extreme cases can present itself as a feeling of imminent death. The psychological aspect of anxiety can further result in physiological symptoms such as an increased heartbeat, an increase in sweating and a dry mouth.

In most cases anxiety is very beneficial because it increases our productivity and allows us to avoid potentially dangerous situations. However in some cases anxiety can produce an exaggerated response, which shuts us down and negatively impacts our productivity. This article will cover the basics of dealing with anxiety by discussing GABA and serotonin, which are two of the main neurotransmitter systems involved in anxiety.


GABA is one of the main amino acid neurotransmitters. There are two classes of amino acid neurotransmitters, excitatory amino acids (EAA) and inhibitory amino acids (IAA). The EAA increase the excitability of cells in the central nervous system (CNS), whereas the IAA decrease the excitability of cells in the CNS. GABA is an IAA, and thus it has the ability to reduce the excitability of cells in the central nervous system. This seems to be very important in the regulation of anxiety. It has been found that patients who suffer from clinical anxiety disorders such as GAD and panic disorder have decreased GABA activity in their CNS, which increases the excitability of cells in certain brain regions1. Due to this, anxiety treatment is usually focused on increasing GABA activity.


Another neurotransmitter, which is highly involved in anxiety, is serotonin. However the serotonin system has a very complex relationship to anxiety compared to the GABA system. The relationship between GABA and anxiety is fairly simple. An increase in GABA activity is associated with decreased overall anxiety. An increase in serotonin activity on the other hand can both increase and decrease anxiety. This is because the activation of some serotonin receptors such as 5-HT1a and 5-HT6 decrease anxiety, whereas activation of 5-HT2c and 5-HT3 increase anxiety2. Due to this serotonin based anxiety treatment focuses on both increasing and decreasing serotonin activity, preferably at the same time.

What are anxiolytics?

An anxiolytic is a substance, which decreases overall anxiety. Anxiolytics can act on various neurotransmitter systems but most anxiolytics usually act on GABA and serotonin systems.


L-Theanine is an amino acid which is present in tea leaves. It seems to decrease activity of one of the main excitatory amino acids, glutamate, whilst increasing the activity of GABA3,4,5. This effect however is very mild and in cases of clinical anxiety, it will not significantly decrease anxiety. However for a healthy individual who is experiencing slightly elevated levels of anxiety, L-Theanine will do an excellent job at producing a calmer mindset. One of the most popular applications of L-theanine is to use it alongside Caffeine, in order to offset the slight increase in anxiety which Caffeine can cause.  You can purchase pure L-Theanine or a combination of Caffeine and L-Theanine at our store here.

Serotonin precursors 

Our body produces serotonin from the dietary amino acid L-Tryptophan. This amino acid is found in protein rich foods but can also be taken as an isolated supplement. When L-Tryptophan is ingested, it will increase the total amount of serotonin in the brain. As discussed earlier this could decrease anxiety, however there is also a potential that it could increase anxiety. The conversion of L-Tryptophan to serotonin is limited by the enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase. This enzyme first converts L-Tryptophan to 5-HTP, which is then converted to serotonin. There is a limited amount of this enzyme and thus if an excess of L-Tryptophan is consumed, only a certain percentage will be converted to serotonin. This can be bypassed by skipping this enzymatic conversion by directly supplementing with 5-HTP, which will result in a greater increase in serotonin.


Adaptogens are substances, which can decrease stress. This is very important when trying to regulate anxiety, since high levels of stress can decrease the amount of 5-HTreceptors2. As mentioned earlier, this receptor decreases anxiety when it is activated, so a decrease in this receptor will likely lead to an increase in anxiety. Two excellent adaptogens are Rhodiola Rosea and Bacopa Monieri. Rhodiola Rosea not only decreases stress but it also decreases the amount of 5-HT3 Receptors7. As mentioned earlier, this receptor increases anxiety when activated, so a decrease in this receptor will likely lead to a decrease in anxiety. Bacopa Monieri in addition to decreasing stress also increases the amount of tryptophan hydroxylase, this allows for more dietary L-Tryptophan to be converted to Serotonin8. You can buy Rhodiola Rosea here.

Written by Emiel Bakker on behalf of Focus Supplements



1. B.Stein, M., & Steckler, T. (2010). The Pharmacology of Anxiety. InBehavioral Neurobiology of Anxiety and Its Treatment (Vol. 2). Springer.

2. Lajtha, A. (2007). 5‐Hydroxytryptamine in the Central Nervous System. In Handbook of neurochemistry and molecular neurobiology (3rd ed.). New York: Springer.

3. Kakuda T, et al (2002) Inhibition by theanine of binding of {3H}AMPA, {3H}kainate, and {3H}MDL 105,519 to glutamate receptors  . Biosci Biotechnol Biochem.

4. Kakuda T, et al (2008) Theanine, an ingredient of green tea, inhibits {3H}glutamine transport in neurons and astroglia in rat brain . J Neurosci Res.

5. Kimura R, Murata T (1971) Influence of alkylamides of glutamic acid and related compounds on the central nervous system. I. Central depressant effect of theanine . Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo).

6. Kondratenko RV, Derevyagin VI, Skrebitsky VG (2010) Novel nootropic dipeptide Noopept increases inhibitory synaptic transmission in CA1 pyramidal cells . Neurosci Lett.

7. Panossian A, et al (2013) Synergy and Antagonism of Active Constituents of ADAPT-232 on Transcriptional Level of Metabolic Regulation of Isolated Neuroglial Cells . Front Neurosci.

8. Charles PD, et al (2011) Bacopa monniera leaf extract up-regulates tryptophan hydroxylase (TPH2) and serotonin transporter (SERT) expression: implications in memory formation . J Ethnopharmacol.