Coffee is a drink that is typically consumed by many in the morning. According to the National Coffee Association, about 7 in 10 Americans drink coffee every week, and 62% of Americans drink coffee every day. Meanwhile, the average American coffee drinker drinks about 3 cups of coffee a day. And many studies show that a moderate intake of coffee can be a part of a person’s healthy diet. However, one must keep in mind that everyone responds differently to caffeine. Some people may be more sensitive to caffeine, and drinking a cup (or multiple cups) of coffee can lead to more undesirable effects. In this article, we will further discuss how coffee (due to its caffeine component) can impact individuals who deal with symptoms of anxiety and depression.
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety involves feelings of tension, worry, dread, uneasiness, fear, restlessness, or nervousness in response to stress or perceived danger. One may even feel physical symptoms such as sweating or rapid heartbeat. Anxiety often triggers our fight or flight response. When we feel a threat, our bodies release hormones such as adrenaline or cortisol. These hormones help us feel more alert and increase our heartbeat. However, anxiety can become a mental health issue when it begins to impact how someone lives their daily life. In that case, we highly recommend you speak with your doctor and mental health professional to receive a proper diagnosis.
What Are Some Common Symptoms of Anxiety?
Remember that there are many types of anxiety disorders, which means that anxiety can feel different for everyone. However, some common symptoms of anxiety may include:
- Overwhelming feelings of fear, worry, or dread
- Trouble concentrating or thinking about other things besides your worry
- Over-worrying about the future
- Irritability, feelings of being on edge, physical restlessness
- Sweats or shakes
- Hot flashes
- A fast, thumping/irregular heartbeat
- Grinding of teeth (especially a night)
- Sleep issues
- Depersonalization (feeling disconnected from your mind or body)
- Derealization (feeling disconnected from the world around you)
- GI problems
- Physical symptoms like headaches, nausea, muscle tension, lightheadedness/dizziness, etc.
What Is Depression?
Depression is a common mood disorder that severely impacts how one feels, thinks, and handles daily activities. It often causes sadness, despair, hopelessness, loss of energy, or overwhelming feelings when trying to accomplish tasks within one’s everyday life. While it is normal for us to feel sad throughout our life, symptoms of depression are more persistent and can occur daily for more than two weeks (without an underlying medical cause). Furthermore, sadness is a temporary feeling that goes away with time. Meanwhile, depression is a more severe and long-term condition that often requires one to seek medical advice from doctors and mental health professionals to see what treatments can help us get back on track with our life.
What Are Some Common Symptoms of Depression?
There are various types of depression, and not everyone will experience the same symptoms. However, some common symptoms of depression may include:
- Persistent feelings of sadness, anxiousness, or emptiness
- Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, or worthlessness
- Low self-esteem
- Having difficulty making decisions
- Loss of interest in hobbies and activities you typically enjoy doing
- Increased fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering
- Difficulty with sleeping (i.e., staying asleep or oversleeping)
- Changes in weight and/or appetite
- Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive issues that occur without a clear physical cause (or don’t ease with treatment)
- Moving or speaking slower than usual
- Changes in the menstrual cycle
- Avoiding contact with loved ones and avoiding social situations
- Thoughts of death or suicide
What Is Coffee?
Coffee is a brewed beverage that comes from the roasted and ground beans of the coffee plant. It is a general source of caffeine, vitamin B12, and magnesium. It is dark in color, bitter, acidic, and has a stimulating effect on humans due to its caffeine content. Coffee also contains several antioxidants (such as hydrocinnamic acids and polyphenols) that can have positive health effects on our bodies.
How Much Caffeine Is in Coffee?
According to a Harvard article, an average 8-ounce cup of coffee contains about 95mg of caffeine. The FDA states that an average of 400 mg a day (about 4-5 cups of coffee) is a healthy amount for a healthy adult. Of course, the amount of caffeine in coffee will depend on various factors (such as the type of coffee bean used, how it is roasted, how it is brewed, the quantity of grounded coffee, etc.).
How Does Coffee Impact Depression?
The effect coffee can have on people will vary. Coffee can be part of someone’s healthy diet and have possible health benefits. However, those who become dependent on consuming high amounts of coffee (or are sensitive to caffeine) may begin to experience adverse effects. Here are some ways coffee can impact someone’s mental health:
Positive Effects: Many studies have looked at the possibility of caffeine having a positive effect on symptoms of depression. For example, some studies show that naturally occurring polyphenols in caffeinated and decaffeinated drinks can reduce stress and inflammation of nerve cells. Caffeine is also a stimulant that can increase alertness/attention, reduce anxiety, and help improve one’s mood. Of course, we must remember that many of these studies show such results when the person drinks caffeinated beverages (such as coffee) in moderation.
Negative Effects: Too much of something can cause more harm than good. Drinking too many cups of coffee (especially if you are sensitive to caffeine) can increase the risk of adverse effects such as restlessness, rapid heartbeat, headaches, or nausea. These physical symptoms, in turn, can impact someone’s mood. Having too much coffee can also lead to sleep issues- which can also lead to a low mood.
How Does Coffee Impact Anxiety?
Caffeine does not directly cause anxiety. Instead, it tends to lead to symptoms that mimic feelings of anxiety. Caffeine blocks our adenosine receptors, which then leads to an increase in dopamine, noradrenaline, and glutamate in our bodies. This increase of natural chemicals in our body can increase our blood pressure and heart rate (mimicking feelings of an increased 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).
Positive 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.
Negative Effects: Having too much coffee can increase our chances of experiencing adverse effects that can worsen or mimic symptoms of anxiety. Symptoms of caffeine-induced anxiety may include:
- Restlessness and shakiness
- Fast heart rate
- Abdominal pain
- Chest pain
If you suspect that your cup of coffee is doing more harm than good, speak with your doctor about slowly cutting back and/or removing coffee from your diet.
What Are the Risks of Drinking Too Much Coffee?
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.
How Can Caffeine Withdrawal Impact Depression?
Caffeine withdrawal is experienced by many when they abruptly stop their intake of caffeine. If you regularly drink coffee, quitting cold turkey can lead to depression-like symptoms until your body adjusts to the change. The caffeine in coffee can also trigger/aggravate pre-existing symptoms of depression or anxiety.
How Can Caffeine Withdrawal Impact Anxiety?
There is still a need for more studies to fully understand the link between anxiety and caffeine withdrawal. However, some researchers theorize that because a person’s blood pressure can drop if not supported by a person’s general intake of coffee- it can lead to an increase in heart rate. An increase in heart rate can then trigger feelings of fear, stress, or panic.
Others theorize that the lack of caffeine in our bodies can lead to low, abnormal dopamine levels. Because dopamine plays a critical role in helping control our movements and emotional responses, abnormal levels can affect how our body reacts to feelings of anxiety. When a person feels anxious, the body releases adrenaline- which can lead to feelings of increased heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, and perspiration. Due to the low, abnormal levels of dopamine, our body may have trouble regulating feelings associated with the rise in adrenaline. In turn, it can lead to a worsening of anxiety-like symptoms.
There is no denying that coffee impacts our bodies and health in various ways. And many health professionals state that, in moderation, coffee can be part of a healthy diet. However, one must keep in mind the other components that are involved in different coffee beverages. Drinking four caramel macchiatos will have different effects on our health (physically and mentally) than drinking four cups of plain, black coffee. Before making any changes to your diet, we recommend you speak with your doctor for advice and guidance.