Does coffee cause anxiety?
I’ve recently given up coffee. And at first even I thought I was crazy. For the first few days I struggled; my head hurt, my brain was foggy and I really missed the ritual of making coffee each morning before work. Why would anyone do this I hear you asking? Well, I wanted to see just how much coffee (caffeine) was contributing to my usually anxious state. It seems I am on a life-long journey to make friend with anxiety. I am grateful to be overly sensitive and intuitive – it helps me to connect to people in a meaningful way. What I don’t like though is being consumed for hours by worrying thoughts, and being kept awake by a tight chest and a knotted stomach.
Turns out coffee may be contributing to my anxiety levels quite a lot. So far it has only been 17 days but I have found an increase in a more stable energy and less of the agitated / anxious style energy I am used to. I wake up most mornings around 5am (the curse of growing up on a farm) and instead of reaching for the coffee cup I am already bursting with energy. It feels natural and definitely more sustainable than what I was previously doing. Although I have noticed a bit of a slump around mid afternoon, I am being kind to myself and remembering that a habit that took years to form may take a bit of self-care to break. So I choose to either make myself a cup of tea (the organic / no caffeine variety) or to do a 15 minute yoga practice. I know it sounds counter-productive to do exercise when you are feeling slumpy but I have found it builds my energy back up again and I can get through the slump and on with my day.
Anyway, after experimenting on myself I decided to do a bit of research into coffee and anxiety. Here is what I found:
- Caffeine messes with your brain. Quite literally! Caffeine in the brain mimics a neurotransmitter called adenosine, which then blocks the receptors for your brain’s actual adenosine – thereby stopping the brain from winding down and allowing stimulating hormones (dopamine and glutamate) to stimulate away and keep us awake. It’s not the caffeine that stimulates, but the fact that it is keeping the doors locked so that these party animals can keep going.
- Caffeine can also mess with your body. Some short-term effects of caffeine on the body include; muscle contractions (twitching), increased urination and heart rate and the liver releases more sugar into the bloodstream. In the long-term caffeine intake has been linked with cardiovascular disease, increased blood pressure and heart complications.
- Caffeine messes with your sleep. If you have a coffee after around 1pm you might find it harder to sleep. You will also only experience deep sleep for shorter periods. Therefore, you will feel less rested. I don’t know about you – but if I haven’t slept my anxiety levels multiply!
I’m not completely cured of anxiety, and I doubt I ever will be, but without coffee I have noticed some small improvements and more moments of calm. I react less. If you do decide to quit caffeine, how long it will take to recover will depend on many factors – however, you should expect around 10 days of symptoms like headaches, fatigue and a general shouty feeling. If you have any experience with anxiety and / or coffee I’d love to hear about it – please comment below 🙂
About Kerryn Nilsson-Linne: Kerryn is the director of West Coast Wellness, where she coaches clients to reduce stress, overcome addictions, eat well and relax more. Kerryn’s mission is to “encourage and inspire others to value their bodies and live a life they love”.