Anxiety and Caffeine

How to tell if coffee, tea, or other forms of caffeine are causing anxious feelings and/or fueling your anxiety

No drug is used more widely in the world than caffeine. The omnipresence of caffeine, however, sometimes makes people forget that it is a powerful stimulant. In addition to keeping you alert and energized, caffeine has many suggested health benefits, but consuming too much of has its costs. Too much caffeine can lead to increased anxiety or complicate an existing anxiety disorder by increasing symptoms.1

Anxiety is our body’s response to situations that we perceive as being worrisome or threatening, and it promotes our body’s “fight or flight” response. Caffeine also triggers this response, making you overreact to situations that aren’t actually dangerous or troublesome. Too much caffeine can also make you irritable and agitated in situations that normally wouldn’t affect you. And if you already have increased anxiety or suffer from panic attacks, caffeine can cause these symptoms to become worse.

The effects of caffeine can also include :

  • agitation
  • sleep problems
  • restlessness
  • twitching
  • dizziness
  • increased heart rate
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • changes in mood

The Food and Drug Administration considers a daily intake of 400 mg of caffeine or less to be a safe amount for most adults (exceptions including pregnant women and others with special restrictions).3 This amount is roughly 3 to 4 cups of the coffee you would brew at home. Drinking more than this amount can cause “coffee intoxication,” and those who drink caffeine excessively and regularly and struggle to cutback may have a caffeine use disorder.

Action Steps

Learn and track – Do you know how many milligrams of caffeine you drink on average? Total up your coffee and other caffeinated beverages to make sure this amount is not above the FDA recommended limit. Also, keep track of when you consume caffeine to make you don’t interrupt your sleep cycle. Research has found that caffeine may interrupt sleep if you consume it within six hours before you go to bed.4

Check daily habits – You don’t have to have a caffeine use disorder to feel the effects of caffeine on your level of anxiety. If you’re not sure whether caffeine is the cause of your increased anxiety, evaluate your other daily habits. If you are eating unhealthy foods, not exercising, and getting poor sleep, then the effects of caffeine are likely to increase. But if you’re taking care of yourself and still feel anxious, then it’s possible that caffeine is the culprit. Your doctor may recommend that you cut back on your caffeine intake to see whether that makes a difference in your anxiety level.

Watch what you eat and drink – Also monitor what you eat and drink when you’re consuming caffeine. Some professionals recommend that eating protein when consuming caffeine can minimize the effects. Drink plenty of water, and limit alcohol intake as well when you consume caffeine. Also, check the labels of your medication to see if they contain caffeine as well or whether they interact with caffeine. If you’re taking a stimulant as a medicine, then the effects of caffeine may also be increased.

Consider alternatives – If you rely heavily on beverages with high amounts of caffeine, such an energy drink or that triple espresso, then you might want to consider lower caffeine alternatives. Tea or decaffeinated coffee can help you cut back but keep some of the taste you enjoy. If you rely on soda to get you through the afternoon, consider switching to water to keep you hydrated, focused, and ready to sleep when you head to bed.

Delay that first cup – Your body is built to boost energy in the morning with a chemical called cortisol, so try not to drink any coffee until you’ve been up for at least an hour.5 If you want to limit it even more, then consider not consuming caffeine until you really need it. You might be surprised how your body learns to manage energy levels on its own.

Changes to your daily habits can have powerful effects on reducing anxiety, and caffeine is no exception. Adjusting or monitoring your caffeine intake can provide you with useful information about what’s increasing your anxiety or making you irritable. If you’re not sure where to get started, start keeping track of your daily intake and talk to your doctor today about what might work best for your mind and your body. With the right adjustments, you can stay alert without feeling the negative effects of anxiety.