Is coffee making your anxiety worse?

How caffeine intake could be linked to your mental health

Brown, bitter and a staple of homes and the high-street alike, coffee has permeated modern day-to-day life. From office workers to overworked parents, coffee culture has turned the beverage into the go-to pick me up when energy levels dip.

While the benefits of coffee are numerous, for those who suffer from anxiety it can tip the scales in the wrong direction. How and why does it do this, and can giving up coffee help those with anxiety disorders?

The caffeine in coffee – how does it work

It’s common knowledge that coffee contains caffeine, the same stimulant found in energy drinks and tea alike.

Caffeine temporarily increases the body’s metabolic rate by suppressing adenosine, the chemical in the brain which slows down nerve cells and causes drowsiness. By speeding up the messages travelling between the brain and the body, caffeine creates a spike in energy, alertness and focus.

Caffeine induced anxiety symptoms

Increasing the body’s metabolic rate also increases heart activity and breathing rate. While this is clearly a benefit to someone looking for a boost of energy, these effects can be indistinguishable from an attack of anxiety to a sufferer of the disorder.

In fact, the symptoms of caffeine consumption mirror the symptoms of anxiety[1]:

  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fast heart rate
  • Gastrointestinal problems

Those who feel anxious after a cup of coffee are often conflating the effects of the caffeine with the familiar feelings of anxiety.

Do I need to stop?

There are plenty of testimonials from anxiety sufferers who improved their anxiety and quality of life by reducing or completely removing caffeine from the daily routines. With the obvious comparisons between the physiological effects of the two, it isn’t difficult to see how effective this could be.

With that being said, the benefits of coffee are numerous and for most people, moderate intake is completely safe – a Harvard study in 2011 even showed that women who drank 4 or more cups of coffee a day were 20% less likely to become depressed.[2] The increase in energy levels and focus is often a large mood lifter for many coffee drinkers.

How to kick the coffee

A common practice is to replace coffee with an alternative, like green tea or if the taste of coffee is too good to give up, a decaffeinated substitute. This is effective in allowing coffee drinkers to continue their daily routines and consume similar drinks while drastically reducing their caffeine intake and the side-effects associated with it.

If you feel that coffee could be adding to your feelings of anxiety, reducing your intake is a good place to start. If you’re a regular to the heavy coffee drinker, going cold turkey can induce withdrawal symptoms and for a while could make you feel worse, so if you’re concerned about the process to consult a professional for guidance on the best solutions for you.

At Northern Healthcare, our professional team can create health and recovery plans tailored to each resident, this includes creating coping strategies for anxiety symptoms. We operate by a clinical referral process which is to be submitted by a health or social care professional.

Find out more about our referral process here:





Photo by Mike Kenneally on Unsplash

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