Caffeine and Anxiety- Increase? Help? or Cause?

Caffeine and Anxiety | Woman Sips Coffee To Help with her Anxiety

What is Caffeine?

Caffeine is a natural stimulant commonly used in many dishes around the world. It is also naturally found in more than 60 plants, such as coffee beans, tea leaves, cocoa pods, etc. There is also synthetic (man-made) caffeine. This type of caffeine is often added to specific medications, drinks, or foods.

What Are the Effects of Caffeine?

Caffeine works by stimulating the brain, heart, muscles, and central nervous system- which helps us stay alert and prevent feelings of exhaustion. When ingested, it travels to the gut and is quickly absorbed into our bloodstream. It then travels to the liver and is broken into different compounds that affect various organs within your body (such as the brain).

How Does Caffeine Affect My Body?

These are some of the various ways caffeine can affect specific systems within our body:

  1. Central Nervous System– As a central nervous stimulant, caffeine increases alertness when entering your brain- which helps you feel more awake and attentive. Through medications or different foods and drinks, it can also help treat/manage drowsiness, headaches, and migraines. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, some studies suggest that people who often drink coffee may also have a lower risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s later in life. However, more studies need to happen to better understand this link.
  1. Digestive and Excretory Systems– Caffeine can also increase the amount of acid in your stomach, leading to heartburn or even an upset stomach. Caffeine acts as a hyper-mobility agent that increases movement in the gastrointestinal tract. It can even lead to an increase in colon movements, which can cause a laxative effect where you feel like you need to poop more often. You may also have to pee more often since caffeine goes through your liver and exits through urine.
  1. Circulatory and Respiratory Systems– Caffeine may also cause your blood pressure to increase within a short time-span. Some studies suggest that an increase in blood pressure results from a temporary block in a hormone that naturally widens our arteries. Or it may result from an increase in adrenaline. While this spike is only temporary, those with irregular heart rhythms should be careful since an increase in adrenaline can cause your heart to work harder. Meanwhile, caffeine may also alter an individuals breathing rate as a result of stimulating the nervous system and relaxing our respiratory muscles (increasing airflow in the lungs). Overdose of caffeine can also lead to an irregular heartbeat and breathing issues.
  1. Skeletal and Muscular Systems– Large amounts of caffeine may interfere with our body’s ability to absorb and metabolize calcium- which can lead to issues of osteoporosis later on. Suffering from caffeine withdrawal may also lead to achy muscles.
  1. Reproductive Systems– Caffeine can also travel from the bloodstream to the placenta. Thus (if pregnant), it poses a risk of increasing your baby’s heart rate and metabolism. Caffeine can also slow the rate of fetal growth, which increases the risk of miscarriage. Doctors recommend that pregnant women consume no more than 200 mg of caffeine a day. Caffeine may also interfere with the body’s ability to balance reproductive hormones- causing fertility issues. As for men, scientists believe that too much caffeine can lead to sperm DNA damage- which can affect a male’s reproductive function.

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Does Caffeine Cause Anxiety?

We must understand that an anxiety disorder is a mental illness that leads to an individual experiencing overwhelming feelings of fear and uneasiness (which interferes with their daily life). These feelings are different from what an individual may feel when ingesting too much caffeine. However, caffeine is also known to cause individuals to feel symptoms similar to anxiety. Or, for those who already have an anxiety disorder, caffeine may contribute to making worse someone’s symptoms. 

Does Caffeine Increase Anxiety?

Yes, caffeine can increase our anxiety. As discussed above, caffeine does not directly cause anxiety. Instead, it tends to lead to symptoms that mimic feelings of anxiety. For example, caffeine blocks our adenosine receptors, which leads to an increase of dopamine, noradrenaline, and glutamate. This increase in natural chemicals in our body can increase a our blood pressure and heart rate (mimicking feelings of increases heart rate when anxious).

Caffeine can also interfere with our ability to get a good night’s rest, which can increase/worsen anxiety symptoms. Even a tiny dose of caffeine may lead to a stress response in individuals with anxiety disorders (which contributes to an increase in anxious feelings).

Anxiety Symptons and Causes Illustration

What Are the Symptoms of Caffeine-Induced Anxiety?

Keep in mind that various amounts of caffeine will affect each individual differently. Some may have a lower tolerance to this substance, while others may have built a higher tolerance. Symptoms to look out for include:

  • Restlessness and shakiness
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Fast heart rate
  • Dehydration
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Chest pain

Too Much Caffeine?

Yes, there is such a thing as too much caffeine. According to the FDA, they recommend individuals consume about 400 milligrams a day (about 4-5 cups of coffee). Of course, this amount will vary between each individual. Some may find that they need to consume less or none at all. Meanwhile, others are okay with consuming more caffeine. It all depends on someone’s sensitivity and how their body metabolizes caffeine. However, if you find yourself experiencing any adverse side effects- it may be a sign that you need to cut back.

The FDA also estimates that 1,200mg of caffeine can lead to toxic effects. They also warn that caffeine in powder or liquid form can easily lead to ingestion of toxic levels. About one teaspoon of powdered caffeine equals about 28 cups of coffee. This amount may lead to health issues or even death.

Does Decaf Still Contain Caffeine? 

Yes. Decaf products have significantly less caffeine, but they still contain a little bit. For coffee, the decaffeination process removes about 97% of the caffeine in coffee beans. As a result, a cup of decaf coffee has about 2mg of caffeine (compared to the general 95mg of caffeine in a cup of regular coffee).

Can Coffee Decrease Anxiety Symptoms?

As mentioned above, caffeine can affect individuals in different ways. For some, it may lead to more negative effects. Others may benefit from drinking coffee. Usually, after drinking our cup of coffee, we may notice a boost in our mood and energy levels. Caffeine causes our brain to release dopamine (a feel-good chemical) into the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that regulates our mood). Of course, not everyone may benefit from this release of dopamine. We encourage you to listen to your body and discuss with your doctor any questions or concerns you may have.

Caffeine and Anxiety | Man Holds Up Can of Coffee Beans Illustration

What Are the Benefits of Caffeine?

Like many things we consume throughout our daily lives- it comes with its list of cautions but also benefits. Of course, as long as we consume caffeine in moderation- we tend to see more benefits than negative drawbacks. For some people, caffeine may:

  1. Improve mood and brain function:

As we have discussed throughout this article, caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that helps increase our energy levels. In the brain, caffeine helps block adenosine (a naturally occurring chemical found in human cells that makes us feel tired). It also increases other molecules such as dopamine and norepinephrine. As a result, we may notice a boost in our mood and brain function when we consume caffeine.

Various studies have also found that caffeine may help in lowering depression. Caffeine can increase our natural levels of dopamine and norepinephrine within our brain. As a result, we tend to feel more alert and happy within a short time of consuming caffeine. Of course, if you have a condition such as anxiety disorder, this increase in dopamine and norepinephrine may cause you to feel more anxious. Take caution with your intake if you feel like this may be the case.

  1. Boost metabolism:

Research suggests that caffeine can increase our metabolism (which can also change how our body stores fat). As a stimulant, caffeine also raises our energy levels- which may make us feel more inclined to exercise.

  1. Enhance performance in physical activity:

Caffeine is sometimes used as an ergogenic aid (performance enhancer) in athletic individuals. Some studies also suggest that drinking coffee an hour before exercise can improve one’s endurance, energy level, and tolerance to fatigue. Of course, always consult with your doctor before taking anything.

  1. Protect against heart disease and diabetes:

Various studies have shown that caffeine can lower your risk of heart disease. Some studies even show that drinking 1-4 cups of coffee a day (100-400mg of caffeine) can lower the risk of heart disease by 16-18% in men and women. However, those with high blood pressure may want to be careful with their intake of caffeine since it is known to raise blood pressure.

Another study shows that people who drink coffee have a 29% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Coffee has antioxidants that can help reduce inflammation and affect insulin sensitivity and metabolism. However, those who already have diabetes may want to be careful because studies also show that consuming caffeine can make it tougher to control one’s blood sugar if you already have diabetes.

  1. Protect against liver conditions:

Meanwhile, other studies show that coffee can help lower your chances of developing liver cancer, fibrosis, cirrhosis, and non-alcohol related fatty liver disease. These findings may be due to the fact that when we ingest caffeine, our body produces paraxanthine- which can slow the growth of scar tissue.  However, keep in mind that coffee it is not a miracle substance meant to replace things such as medication or living a healthy lifestyle.

Of course, if you have any questions or concerns- we highly encourage you to talk with your doctor. Consumption of caffeine affects every individual differently (especially those who may have other pre-existing health conditions).

Should I Stop Drinking Coffee if I Have Anxiety? What Are the Alternatives?

If you notice that drinking caffeine worsens your anxiety (or leads to other unfavorable effects), you may want to consider reducing or eliminating it from your diet completely. Discuss with your doctor any concerns or questions- as well as gain advice on what steps you could take. If you are used to consuming caffeine daily, we encourage you to slowly reduce your intake until you reach the desired amount you wish to consume. Cutting caffeine cold turkey from your diet may cause adverse side effects or trigger caffeine withdrawal. Some alternatives you may want to consider (which still contain some caffeine) include:

  • Decaf coffee or tea
  • Mushroom coffee
  • Brewed Cocoa
  • Matcha and green tea
  • Yerba mate tea
  • Masala chai
  • Black tea
  • White tea
  • Kombucha

Other alternatives that are caffeine-free include:

  • Chicory root “coffee”
  • Carob
  • Maca
  • Water or lemon water
  • Peppermint tea
  • Rooibos tea
  • Golden milk

How Can I Get Rid of Coffee Anxiety?

If you think caffeine negatively impacts your physical and mental health, we encourage you to discuss with your doctor various ways you can solve these issues. For some individuals, it may require them to eliminate caffeine from their diet. For others, they can still enjoy their cup of coffee while reducing the negative impacts of drinking coffee regularly. You may want to consider:

  1. Coffee Quality: Drinking a cup of high-quality coffee will leave you feeling more satisfied. Lower quality coffee often causes us to need more than one cup.
  2. Mineral deficiencies: Coffee is acidic and tends to lower our body’s natural Ph level. As a result, your body tries to balance your Ph levels. Making sure your calcium and magnesium levels are good will help prevent caffeine from making you jittery.
  3. Sleep: Getting a good night’s sleep will allow you to not be so reliant on coffee in the morning. Caffeine also causes your body to release noradrenaline from your adrenal glands. If these glands tire from overworking and lack of rest, you will also start to feel fatigued.
  4. Stress Management: If you start to feel anxious, consider taking deep breaths to help calm yourself down. Stress also tires our adrenal glands, so managing your stress can help prevent you from feeling anxious.
  5. Hydration: Caffeine tends to make us pee more often. Thus, we must keep ourselves hydrated by drinking lots of water. Dehydration will only worsen caffeine anxiety.
  6. Eating Citrus: Fruits such as oranges, mandarins, clementines, or grapefruits are high in vitamin c. Making sure you have enough vitamin c in your body is important since too much coffee consumption can lower your body’s vitamin c levels. As a result, having a vitamin c deficiency will only worsen coffee anxiety.
  7. Timing: The time you have your coffee can also play a critical role in how it will affect you. It is best having your cup of coffee with some food about an hour after waking up. Staying consistent with this time will help your body slowly absorb the caffeine, which will avoid shocking your body from a sudden spike of energy. It is also highly recommended that you avoid having coffee 8 hours before sleeping to avoid any interference from getting a good nights rest.
  8. Exercise: If you start to feel jittery, consider taking a walk to release any pent-up energy. You can also engage in high-intensity exercise to release any pent-up energy.
  9. Sip on some herbal tea: Specific herbal teas (such as chamomile or lavender) can help you feel relaxed and calm. Drinking tea will also help hydrate your body.

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What is Caffeine Withdrawal?

If you are used to regularly consuming caffeine, cutting cold turkey may trigger withdrawal symptoms. You may experience:

  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Depressed mood
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Rumors
  • Irritability
  • Drowsiness

Depending on how reliant you have grown on caffeine, these symptoms will go away within 2-9 days.

How Can I Reduce Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms?

While symptoms will go away within 2-9 days, it can still be frustrating when they interfere with your life. We recommend that you:

  • Cut back slowly to avoid shocking your body. Set a limit, slowly incorporate other substitutes lower in caffeine, and steadily shift to decaf alternatives. If you would like to cut caffeine from your diet completely, slowly ease out of your dependence on caffeine until you are happy with the substitute of your choice.
  • Take a pain reliever (such as Tylenol) to help ease any aches or pains.
  • Reduce your intake of caffeinated beverages.
  • Avoid going back to your usual consumption of caffeine if you start to feel bad. It will only prolong the process.
  • Drink enough water because dehydration can worsen symptoms of caffeine withdrawal.
  • Get enough sleep to reduce feelings of fatigue.
  • Try exercising or eating nutrient-dense foods as a way to naturally boost your energy levels.
  • Try keeping your morning coffee routine while enjoying caffeine-free alternatives. Therefore, it won’t be much of a shock to you.

Sources: medlineplus.gov, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, www.fda.gov, www.mayoclinic.org, www.anxiety.org

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