In day-to-day American life, you are likely to run into some kind of drink or even food that contains caffeine. It appears in a variety of items, including coffee, tea, energy drinks, snack bars, etc. As much as 90% of Americans have caffeine regularly, with around half intaking 300 mg each day. It is known as America’s most popular drug.
Caffeine functions as a stimulant for your brain, to encourage energy boosts that often results in a crash later after it filters through your body. It blocks a neurotransmitter in your brain that stimulates the feeling of being tired, which explains the eventual return toward feeling tired as the day progresses. Because it effects your brain and mood, it is also considered a psychoactive drug.
What some people may not realize, is that while caffeine can give that extra boost of energy, it can also induce anxiety-like symptoms. Higher doses especially increase the heart rate, alertness, and indigestion, which are commonly found in those struggling with anxiety. Caffeine can also trigger an adrenaline release, which relates to a flight, fight, or freeze response to a situation. If you or someone you know struggles with anxiety and drinks caffeine, the consumption of this drug could be elevating anxiety symptoms.
Many who struggle with anxiety feel worse symptoms when their physiological systems are off. For example, their heart rate may go up for something not anxiety related, but because they associated elevated heart rate with their anxiety, they begin to feel anxious. The same thing can happen when caused by caffeine. This may be why some can be considered to have caffeine intolerance.
If this sounds like it could be you, experts suggest switching to decaf drinks or limiting doses of caffeine. Avoiding triggers for anxiety can be important towards maintaining more “stable” mental health. Experts suggest that daily caffeine intake should be limited to 400mg or under as well, to avoid negative health effects including anxiety-like symptoms.
Another note: to avoid symptoms of caffeine withdrawal (which can cause even more negative side effects), slowly adjust the level of caffeine that you intake. You can even make your coffee as half-caf for a time in order to let your body slowly adjust to the caffeine leaving your body!
Written by Emma, Undergrad Intern 2021
If you would like to speak to a professional counselor or psychologist about this and are in the Chicago area, please feel free to contact Olive Branch Counseling Associates, Inc. at 708-633-8000. We are located at 6819 West 167th Street in Tinley Park, Illinois 60477