People who know me might describe me as an extra-extravert. Perhaps they would even capitalize all of the letters in the words and just write it as if it is constantly being screamed. This is most likely due to the fact that I indeed am a person who enjoys being in the presence of other people, and I like to talk a lot. Yes, I have been known to be the guy that always has something to say or something to add to a conversation. However, it may surprise many of the people who know me if I told them the strange truth, that I have suffered from social anxiety from a very young age, and it is still something that I deal with to this day.
This combination of being an extravert and having social anxiety has put me in quite a pickle. On the one hand, I feel a very pronounced inward need to be around people, and as is the case with all extaverts, I derive a large portion of my self-esteem from social interactions. Yes, to the introverts out there, it is true. You might see an extravert in public an believe that he has not a care in the world, but in reality, he needs the social experience. If he cannot be social, the confidence and happiness that you see will wither and dry up. It is the case that extraverts simply need to be social in order to feel right.
Add on top of that a sense of anxiety over every part of the social experience, from what to say to how to smile, to how to sit, to how to dress, etc. and you have a feedback loop of anxiety. Extraverts don’t want to admit it, but many of us are like this. We get in our own way. We allow our anxiety to keep us from being ourselves in social situations, and as a result, we don’t get feel like ourselves. And that causes us to feel anxiety over who we are. And then that causes us to not be who we want to be. And the feedback loop goes on and on. As a result, we cannot do the one thing that allows us to see ourselves in a positive light. It is an existential dilemma that can lead to very bad choices. For myself, I tried to get over this anxiety using drugs and alcohol, which have their obvious downsides, and in other cases, I would avoid being myself in social situations, opting instead to be a goofy self-depricating baffoon. Neither remedy fully solves the problem, and both lead further from what we all want out of a social experience, namely to be seen for who we are and to engage with others one that level. Maybe you can relate. Maybe you can’t. Maybe you are simply an anxious person looking for a remedy.
Fortunately, I discovered the supplement form of L-Theanine when it hit the stores in the USA around the year 2007. I now consider L-Theanine to be one of the best tools I my toolkit, not only for social anxiety, but for a whole host of other uses too.
In 1949, researchers in Japan discovered what we now call L-Theanine in green tea leaves. At the time, it was called gamma-ethylamino-L-glutamic acid; fortunately, between 1949 and 1964, when it was finally approved for use in all foods (with the exception of infant foods) they had settled on the easer to pronounce name. Since this time researchers have conducted human trials on L-Theanine, and they have discovered that it is able to cross the blood brain barrier in a matter of 30 to 40 minutes, thereby creating a relaxing affect without causing drowsiness or sedation. Researchers found that L-Theanine does this by using two pathways; it induces alpha waves in the brain and aids in the formation of GABA in the brain.
Alpha waves are generally associated with many benefits for human cognition, most specifically a sense of relaxed alertness. Yes, those two words can go together! Practices such as mindfulness and meditation have been shown to increase alpha waves in humans, and the benefits of these practices have been touted for thousands of years. In recent years, alpha waves have been studied by researchers, and they have also found many other promising correlations with the presence of alpha waves such as the following:
- Improved memory- This is something I can attest to personally. I started using L-Theanine in graduate school, and I noticed a clear improvement in my ability to learn the volumes of material demanded of me from my professors. My study time was more productive, and I felt that I retained the information much longer. One study published in Brain Topography found that participants whose alpha waves registered 1.25 mhz higher scored better on standardized memory tests.
- Increased intelligence and creativity- Various studies have shown a high correlation between increased alpha wave activity and a person’s ability to solve problems more effectively such as this one published in the International Journal of Psychology and this one published in the European Journal of Neuroscience. I would like to think that I am benefitting from these benefits. I certainly need all of the help I can get!
How does it make me feel?
L-Theanine produces a feeling of being relaxed but without the sedative effects that are so common with everything else that does this. It’s no suprise that many people are hesitant to give it a try because they assume that it will make them tired. In fact, I have recommended L-Theanine to a number of people while they were going through intensely stressful times in their lives, and the number one hesitation for all of them was that they didn’t want something that will put them to sleep. So, please believe me when I tell you that you will not have this effect with L-Theanine. Simply put, I would describe the effect of L-Theanine as “Useful Alertness.”
If you are still reluctant to try L-Theanine because you are unsure about its effects, I recommend trying it on a weekend or after you are off work for the day, but not late at night. Try it when you have plenty of energy so you can see for yourself that this supplement doesn’t make you tired. If you try it too late in the day, you might naturally just feel tired and associate this with the supplement. Give it a chance when stakes are low so you can get an understanding of how it might help you get through the days when stakes are high.
Dosage and Safety
Theanine can be taken with or without food, and it is not habit forming. It also has no known side effects, which is something that I cannot say for many supplements. The dose that seems to be most effective for producing all of the benefits of L-Theanine is 200mg. This is considerably more than you will get in a cup of green tea or black tea, which usually tops out around 20mg per cup. That is not to say that drinking green tea is not helpful in many other ways. There are more than 200 bioactive compounds found in green tea, and L- Theanine is simply one of them.
If it comes from Green Tea, why not just drink a lot of Green Tea?
This question makes a lot of sense. There is certainly nothing wrong with drinking green tea; however, green tea, despite its great benefits also conatins polyphenals called tannins. I found out the hard way how awful one can feel if one drinks too much green tea, and tannins were to blame. Tannins can cause severe stomach upset, constipation, nausia, and acide reflux. And yes, I got to experience all of these things because I decided that if drinking a little green tea is good, a lot must be even better. I will never forget coming home, feeling terrible after drinking green tea all day at work. My wife looked at me and thought that I must be coming down with an awful flu. That is exactly what it felt like too. I felt like I was coming down with a stomach flu.
To get the full effects of L-Theanine through drinking green tea alone, one would need a dose that would also come with many of the unwanted side effects of high doses of tannins, so if you are interested in the benefits of Theanine, take my advice and use the supplement form!
Personally, I have found that 200mg-400mg is a perfect dose. I don’t take it every day. I reserve L-Theanine for days when I know that I will be dealing with especially difficult people or when I will be in a particularly stressful situation where I need to keep my calm. I have also found L-Theanine to be helpful when I have overcaffeinated myself and want to avoid frying my nervous system or getting wired.
On the topic of caffeine, I must add that a combination of caffeine and L-Theanine is especially useful when working on intellectually demanding projects. As a college professor, I am constantly going back and forth between “teaching mode,” “grading mode,” and “learning mode.” It is a very intellectually demanding job, and there are many other professions like this. Like many people, I like caffeine because it gives me energy and makes me more alert, but the problem with caffeine is that it often puts me into a state of hyperactivity where I cannot focus my energy very well. Adding 200mg to 400mg of L-Theanine has been a perfect complement to caffeine for me. I feel energized, but not wired; the exact mental state that I want in order to be productive, creative, and intellectually present.
Like I said before, I don’t use this supplement daily, but before I discovered the benefits of breathwork, temperature training, and the myriad of other ways that I have learned to deal with my anxiety, it was something I took daily without a single side effect or need for a higher dose over time. It is the safest, most effective supplement I know of for overcoming anxiety without the side effects so commonly associated with antianxiety supplements or medications, and I recommend it as a safe and healthy way to deal with stress and anxiety.
Brands and Trusted Companies
I am adding links to three of the brands that I have used over the years. These are brands that I trust enough to recommend to you. The links below are my own affiliate links, so if you have found value in this article and want to give L-Theanine a try, please do me the solid favor of using my links below. I don’t make much from the deal, but every little bit counts in helping me to produce this content. Thanks in advance!