Have you been feeling unusually anxious recently? The multiple cups of coffee you drink before you start your day may be the culprit. Anxiety refers to feelings of nervousness, worry, and agitation. The caffeine in coffee is a stimulant which increases your heart rate and can lead to anxiety.
If you already have an anxiety disorder, caffeine can cause panic attacks. Even if you don’t usually suffer from anxiety, caffeine and anxiety can often become intertwined.
What Is Caffeine?
Caffeine is a stimulant obtained from over 60 different types of plants and it is said to be the most commonly used psychoactive drug in the world. Its effects can last for up to three hours. The US Food and Drug Administration considers a moderate intake of caffeine to be “generally recognized as safe.” Common sources are coffee, tea, sodas, energy drinks, chocolate and medication.
How Caffeine Works
Caffeine spurs on the body’s central nervous system and temporarily increases the body’s metabolic rate. It works by suppressing adenosine, a chemical in the brain which slows down nerve cells and causes drowsiness. The human body can’t tell the difference between caffeine and adenosine so when caffeine is released into the bloodstream, it treats caffeine as if it were adenosine. This causes that familiar spike in energy as well as interactions between nerve cells.
Caffeine And Anxiety
This chemical reaction causes an increase in heart rate with some people reporting a pounding sensation and even panic attacks. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, a panic attack is the abrupt onset of intense fear or discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes and includes at least four of the following symptoms:
- Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
- Trembling or shaking
- Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
- Feelings of choking
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Nausea or abdominal distress
- Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or faint
- Chills or heat sensations
- Numbness or tingling sensations
- Feeling of unreality or being removed from oneself
- Fear of losing control
- Fear of dying
Caffeine can also cause headaches, difficulty sleeping, and irregular heartbeat. Some people report feelings of guilt and dread. Since anxiety can cause your chest muscles to tighten, feeling chest pain is not uncommon and is one of many relations between caffeine and anxiety.
When To Avoid Caffeine
As with any other substance, everyone’s body responds differently. Some people use caffeinated drinks in the morning for a boost of energy or in the afternoon when their energy starts to flag and report no adverse symptoms. Some people develop a tolerance and have to drink more and more to get the same effect.
While caffeine can help some people to feel more focused and energetic people already prone to anxiety often feel more nervous. They may also feel a sense of impending doom. The National Institute of Mental Health cautions people who suffer from anxiety disorders to avoid caffeine since it can make their conditions worse.
Experts say using a lot of caffeine can be risky for people who tend to be high-strung and anxious. Such people should stop using caffeine. Stopping suddenly may cause withdrawal symptoms since the body can become addicted. They may therefore need to gradually reduce their consumption instead of going cold turkey.
If you have not been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder but you still feel symptoms of nervousness after using caffeine, you should see your doctor and reduce your intake. You may find that you’re more focused after two cups but jittery after three. If you continue to feel anxious and jittery even after you’ve stopped using caffeine, consult a therapist for further assistance.