Caffeine's Effects on Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders
Does caffeine affect anxiety? Studies continue on the notion of the side-effects of caffeine and whether or not they include anxiety, and at this point, there isn't a definitive answer. Some studies indicate that, yes, caffeine does impact anxiety; indeed, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the authority on mental disorders published by the American Psychological Association, acknowledges the existence of caffeine-induced anxiety disorders. Other studies fall short of proving a real link between caffeine and anxiety. The question that matters most is this: what are the effects of caffeine on your anxiety?
While there are common symptoms of anxiety, each person's experience with anxiety is unique. Triggers are people, thoughts, places, events, and more that can cause anxiety to flare. Triggers are personal. One person's anxiety might be triggered by public speaking, while another's might be exacerbated by family gatherings.
Caffeine seems to work like other triggers, affecting different people in different ways. For some people who experience anxiety or anxiety disorders, it can increase the symptoms.
Caffeine's Effect on Anxiety: Panic Attacks
Caffeine and anxiety both have physical side effects. Again, these differ from person to person, but in general, caffeine can increase the heart rate and create a heart-pounding sensation in the chest. It can also induce sweating. It can cause the face and ears to feel flushed, too. These physical sensations mimic the symptoms of a panic attack. When the effects of caffeine feel like panic, the brain and body often continue to react as if this physical sensation really is panic. Anxiety increases; the panic reaction increases.
Pay close attention when you consume caffeine. Does it cause physical side effects for you? Caffeine can stay in the system for five-to-six hours. Note how you're feeling throughout the day. If you feel increasingly anxious and even have a panic attack, consider that it might be one of caffeine's effects on anxiety.
Caffeine's Effects on Anxiety: Generalized Anxiety
Consuming caffeine can exacerbate the emotional symptoms of anxiety. The physical side effects can quickly become thoughts and feelings. The accelerated heart rate and other effects of caffeine can increase fear, worry, and dread.
Anxiety sometimes makes it difficult to concentrate. It can make us feel tense, keyed-up, and on edge. We can become irritable. Because these can also be effects of caffeine, when someone prone to these feelings of anxiety consumes caffeine, the negative impact on our wellbeing is significant. For many people living with anxiety, caffeine can make anxiety seem so much worse.
How Much Caffeine is Needed to Affect Anxiety?
If you live with anxiety and seem to be sensitive to the effects of caffeine, monitoring your caffeine intake can make a positive difference in managing anxiety. But does that mean it's necessary to completely eliminate caffeine from your diet? Is a little bit okay? The answer is personal.
Health experts believe that it's perfectly safe for adults to consume 200-300 milligrams of caffeine each day. That's about two-to-three cups of coffee. If the effects of caffeine on your anxiety are bothersome to you, you might want to reduce that amount.
As for me, this is it. I'm breaking the stupid cycle I create. I drink coffee. Later, I realize I'm tense and anxious, and I actually wonder why until I realize that I had coffee earlier. I then swear I won't ever touch it again. That lasts for a while. I think I want coffee. I resist. I cave. I regret it. I repeat the cycle. What's even more ridiculous is that I don't even like coffee. So I'm done.
Knowing how you respond to different things in life helps you take charge of anxiety. When you identify triggers, such as caffeine, you can choose to avoid them, or if you can't avoid them, you can distance yourself from your anxiety. Reminding yourself, for example, that you feel panicked because you're reacting to caffeine can keep the panic attack in check. The effects of caffeine on anxiety can be significant. Knowing yours will help enhance mental health.
NCC, T. (2015, December 3). Caffeine's Effects on Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 17 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2015/12/caffeines-effects-on-anxiety
Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC
Caffeine is a frustrating substance (that's my humble opinion). While there are general guidelines based on what research has discovered so far, they don't apply to everyone equally because everyone's body responds differently to caffeine. It's important to listen to your body/your symptoms and adjust your caffeine intake according to what is best for your own health. I can't give medical advice, but I'll share what I might do in your situation. I would try adding back a small amount of caffeine and then monitor what happens. That monitoring and adjusting with caffeine is sometimes an ongoing process because just when you think you've found the perfect amount, your body will switch its response and you'll be back to the drawing board. Being aware of it and adjusting accordingly will help you reduce the side effects and manage anxiety.
There seems to be a difference between coffee and black tea. Black tea does contain less caffeine than regular coffee. Yet, I can tolerate that better than decaf coffee. What's important is to discover what works for you personally and to do it, like you said, in moderation.
Thank you for sharing your link. The techniques you share are research-proven methods to reduce anxiety. Your page is helpful!
I'm glad you found the article helpful! I hear you on the water. For a long time, I didn't drink nearly enough. Finally, I decided to do it, and I found that it's made a big difference in both my physical and, especially, mental health. For some reason, I find it easier to drink when it's in a water bottle. Good luck with it! I think you'll be glad when you do start drinking more water.
You raise a very important point. It's not just caffeine that can impact anxiety. There are many things that impact it, and each person's triggers are unique. Being aware of what increases our anxiety can help us manage it. Also, knowing what helps is important, too. Exercise is a biggie for me, too, as well as watching how I'm thinking about things. Thanks for your insight!