The Relationship Between Caffeine and Anxiety


Caffeine and Anxiety: Is Caffeine Triggering Your Anxiety?

Caffeine and AnxietyAnxiety causes intense feelings of worry and nervousness. Stimulants, such as coffee, increase your heart rate to cause further anxiety.

For some of us who suffer from anxiety, caffeine can induce anxiety or panic attacks.

Caffeine Is a Stimulant

Caffeine is considered a stimulant because it stimulates the body’s central nervous system (CNS) and temporarily increases your metabolism. Your CNS consists of your brain and spinal cord and controls most of the functions for your mind and body.

Caffeine suppresses a brain chemical called adenosine. This chemical slows down nerve cells and causes you to become drowsy.

When caffeine enters your bloodstream, your body cannot distinguish between it and adenosine. The body will treat caffeine as it would adenosine and cause energy spikes and nerve cell responses.

Caffeine may also increase your heart rate and cause you to feel like your heart is racing. It is, therefore, possible that for some people – especially those with anxiety – drinking coffee can worsen anxiety, cause nervousness, headaches and irregular heartbeat.

The effects of coffee can start as early after 15 minutes after consumption and can last for up six hours, this according to one report from the University of Michigan Health Service.

Research has shown coffee can induce anxiety attacks. One 2009 study from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, of people with panic and anxiety disorders found that giving caffeine to these patients in a trial controlled situation actually induced panic and anxiety attacks.

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Anxiety attacks make people feel fearful and may cause symptoms of a racing heart and shortness of breath, but those symptoms resolve once the stressor has passed. But panic attacks aren’t in response to a stressor, and often are bad enough they cause people worry they will die, lose control or have a heart attack.

Caffeine’s Different Responses

Everyone responds differently when drinking caffeine. Some people are naturally more susceptible to getting nervous than others – whether they live with anxiety or not.

For example, many people drink coffee to help wake them up in the morning or for a boost of energy when they feel tired. Some people end up developing a tolerance and must drink larger amounts to get the same effect.

If someone stops drinking coffee, they will experience withdrawal symptoms, which may include anxiety attacks.

In general, people with anxiety disorders should avoid caffeine. And anyone who has symptoms of nervousness, inability to sleep or a racing heart, should consult their doctor and reduce their caffeine intake.

If anxiety symptoms don’t stop after gradually reducing your coffee intake, you should consult a therapist for help.

The Caffeine and Anxiety Link

Research shows drinking coffee and other caffeinated beverages significantly contribute to anxiety disorders. Here is how:

Worsens Stress

Most people with anxiety have a lot of stress in their lives, and coffee adds to that burden. Once caffeine enters the bloodstream, it mimics the effect stress has by increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones.

One study from Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, investigated the effect drinking caffeine moderately had on blood pressure, heart rate, urinary excretion of epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol. They were looking to see how it affected normal activity at home and work.

What they found was that habitual coffee drinkers had increases in blood pressure and heart rate in the early part of their day. These amplifications caused higher levels of stress, as reported by the study participants, and lasted until bedtime.

Throws Off Neurotransmitters

Caffeine blocks of adenosine and by doing so, it increases dopamine and acetylcholine, two brain neurotransmitters essential for normal functioning of the central nervous system. These neurotransmitters are responsible for motivation, productivity and brain function, and caffeine adds to these.

Caffeine also hinders the activity of the GABA, a calming neurotransmitter. GABA basically calms down your brain and is needed for making you feel relaxed and happy.

And low GABA levels are associated with anxiety attacks, this according to a 2015 report in Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment.

Serotonin is another neurotransmitter that is tied to relaxation and happiness. There has been evidence that shows caffeine can eventually suppress serotonin.

Next page: learn how caffeine affects sleep, how drinking caffeinated beverages increase anxiety and caffeine alternatives. 

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