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How To Reduce Anxiety When Drinking Caffeine

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How To Reduce Anxiety When Drinking Caffeine

Do you love coffee? Does the aroma of warm coffee grounds make you crave the first taste?  Do you love the warmth of the mug in your hands? What about the feeling as the caffeine courses through your body, waking up your limbs and senses? Do you think your love of coffee could be causing health problems?

Caffeine has been called the most widely used drug in the world. A cup of coffee is so easily available it’s easy to forget what a powerful stimulant it is. [1]

Caffeine is a psychoactive drug - this means it stimulates the central nervous system and can alter brain function. This can result in changes in perception, mood, consciousness, and behavior. [2, 3]

While a small amount of caffeine can help you focus, reduce fatigue and increase productivity, too much can make you jittery and may even contribute to serious anxiety disorders.

Do you want to indulge in your love of coffee and enjoy the brain-benefits without experiencing the side-effects?

Read on to find out how.

How does Caffeine Cause Anxiety?

Caffeine and Stress Hormones

Caffeine is a stimulant which means it triggers the release of stress hormones, the body’s natural response to danger. [4]

Studies have shown that caffeine can more than double the amount of the stress hormones epinephrine and cortisol in your system. [5]

This means that consuming caffeine can trigger your fight or flight response just like a physical attack, or a worrying email from your boss.

Caffeine can cause similar symptoms to anxiety disorders in otherwise healthy people. You may experience an increase in blood pressure and heart rate, panic attacks, mood swings or excessive worries.

This means caffeine in your system might turn a mildly stressful situation such as a traffic jam or a sharp word from your partner into an anxiety attack.

Read more about how to reduce stress naturally.

Caffeine Can Make Existing Anxiety Disorders Worse

If you already suffer from an anxiety disorder, caffeine can make your symptoms worse.

Caffeine has been linked to anxiety-related conditions such as panic attacks, depression, and eating and sleeping disorders. [6]

In fact, caffeine is so good at causing panic attacks it is sometimes used by scientists to induce them in test subjects so they can be studied. [7]

Studies show that cutting out caffeine can improve symptoms of anxiety, hostility, and irritability in people with disorders such as schizophrenia. [8]

Caffeine and Neurotransmitters

Do you ever reach for a cup of coffee to help you over the post-lunch slump? Or use caffeinated drinks to combat fatigue when working late?

Caffeine can help you focus and keep you awake - this is because it blocks the neurotransmitter adenosine which makes you feel sleepy.

Caffeine also increases the amount of dopamine and acetylcholine in your system. These brain chemicals are known to help with concentration, productivity, and motivation. [9]

But it’s not all good news.

Research suggests that consuming caffeine can also inhibit the neurotransmitter GABA that is known to help you maintain a state of calm. GABA has been called “nature’s valium” as it is crucial for promoting happiness and relaxation. Reduced levels of GABA can lead to anxiety and panic attacks. [10]

Similarly, there is evidence that excessive caffeine consumption can deplete levels of the happiness-hormone, serotonin, which may also lead to anxiety. [11]


Caffeine and Sleep

Sleep is essential for healthy mental wellbeing. While you sleep, your brain flushes out toxins, repairs damaged cells and generates new ones. Because of this, if your sleep is often disturbed, you are more likely to suffer from anxiety. [12]

Caffeine affects stages 3 and 4 of the sleep cycle - which is when most of the restorative effects of sleep take place. [14]

In a study, subjects were given 400 mg caffeine 0, 3 or 6 hours before bedtime. The quality of their sleep was then tracked using a sleep monitor. Even the group who consumed caffeine 6 hours before they went to sleep experienced major disruptions to their sleep patterns. [15]

Caffeine has, on average, a half-life of 5-7 hours. This means it takes around 6 hours to metabolize half of it, then 6 hours to metabolize half of that, and so on… So, even caffeine consumed on your morning coffee break could remain in your system long enough to affect your sleep at night. [16]

Caffeine Sensitivity

Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others. While the half-life of caffeine is 5-7 hours for most people, for some it can be as much as 10 hours. [17]

The difference may be caused by your genes but you may also become more sensitive to caffeine as you get older. [18, 19]

Men metabolize caffeine slower and are therefore more sensitive to its side-effects. [20]

Pregnant women and women who take birth-control pills also metabolize caffeine slower.  Caffeine can also increase symptoms of menopause and PMS - including anxiety. [21, 22]

Other things that can slow down the metabolization of caffeine include medications, alcohol, and even healthy foods such as grapefruit and broccoli.

Caffeine and Nutrients

Caffeine can also deplete your body of essential nutrients, such as magnesium and B-complex vitamins, low levels of which have been shown to contribute to anxiety. [23, 24]

Caffeine may also restrict blood flow to the brain by up to 27%, reducing the amount of nutrients reaching your most essential organ. This could result in your brain not getting the oxygen, water, vitamins, minerals, and glucose that it needs. [25]

Caffeine and Medications

If you regularly take medicines you’re no doubt careful about mixing drugs, as you’ll be aware that they may interact with each other.

As I mentioned earlier, caffeine is so widely available and socially acceptable, it’s easy to forget it’s a psychoactive drug.

Caffeine can inhibit how well other medications work, including anti-anxiety meds, lithium, and sleeping pills. It can also cause increased side-effects if taken with medicines for conditions such as asthma and depression, and even antibiotics. [26]

Sometimes drugs already contain caffeine, so consuming coffee on top of your medications could mean your intake is much higher than you think.

If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety while taking medications, speak to your doctor who may advise you to reduce your caffeine intake.

How Much Caffeine is Too Much?

The FDA recommends a maximum daily intake of up to 400 mg for most people - this is the equivalent of 4-5 cups of coffee. This is only a guideline, however, as some people are more sensitive to caffeine and metabolize it more slowly.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women should limit their caffeine intake. People with certain medical conditions (including liver and cardiovascular diseases) and people who regularly take other medications should consult their doctor about caffeine consumption. [27]

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children should not consume caffeine, even in sports drinks. [28]

How to Reduce Anxiety when Drinking Caffeine

But what if you love coffee? And depend on a little caffeine hit to boost your mental performance?

Is it possible to enjoy the positive effects of caffeine without experiencing side-effects?

Read on for our top tips about how to enjoy caffeine while reducing anxiety.

Don’t Drink Too Much (Or Too Late)

Track your caffeine intake to make sure you don’t drink more than the FDA-recommended 400 mg a day.

It’s easy to consume more caffeine than you think. As well as being found in tea, coffee, cola, and OTC pain meds caffeine is also present in most sodas, vitamin waters, and even some health supplements. Make sure you read the labels and include all sources of caffeine in your daily-intake calculations.

Also, track when you consume caffeine and the quality of your sleep. Try to leave a 6-hour gap between your last caffeine hit and bedtime, but remember this might not be long enough if you metabolize it slowly.

Read more about how to fall asleep fast and naturally.

Consider Your Lifestyle

If you lead a healthy lifestyle by exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, and sleeping well, caffeinated drinks are less likely to cause anxiety.

By improving your lifestyle, you might be able to reduce your symptoms of anxiety and prevent caffeine from making them worse.

Drink Caffeine with Other Foods and Drinks

Some scientists believe you can reduce the effects of caffeine by consuming it in conjunction with or after protein.

Rather than starting the day with coffee, have a protein-rich breakfast first - such as eggs or a protein smoothie - and leave at least an hour before your first coffee break. Your body naturally produces cortisol in the morning anyway to help you wake up, so save your caffeine hit for a little later in the morning when you need an energy boost.

Also, drinking more water and less alcohol is thought to lessen the side-effects of caffeine.

Find Alternatives

Remember, all caffeinated drinks are not created equal. Reduce the amount of caffeinated soda you consume by replacing it with water or other soft drinks to stay hydrated and increase mental focus.

Caffeinated sodas are more likely to include synthetic caffeine that is produced in pharmaceutical plants rather than natural caffeine that’s found in tea and coffee. Synthetic caffeine is unregulated.

Soft drinks and energy drinks commonly contain high levels of unregulated, synthetic caffeine and sugar and often have no nutritional value.

Tea and coffee contain natural caffeine plus nutrients that have health benefits such as antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.

If you need to cut down your caffeine intake but enjoy the taste of tea and coffee too much, try drinks with lower levels of caffeine such as decaf coffee or green tea.

Green tea is probably the caffeinated drink with the most health benefits as it contains ECGC and L-theanine.

ECGC is an antioxidant that improves your mood, makes you more resilient to stress and promotes the calming neurotransmitter, GABA. [29]

The amino acid L-theanine is known to aid relaxation in a similar way to meditation by increasing your alpha brain activity. [30]

You might also consider taking a smart-caffeine supplement, which enables you to enjoy the benefits of caffeine such as increased concentration and energy without the unpleasant side effects.

How to Reduce Your Caffeine Intake

When cutting back on caffeine, it’s best to do it gradually. Caffeine withdrawal is recognized as a mental disorder and can lead to symptoms such as brain fog, depression, irritability, fatigue, insomnia, muscle aches, and nausea. [31]

Although caffeine withdrawal is not considered dangerous it can be unpleasant, and you’re more likely to fail if you simply go cold turkey.

To reduce caffeine intake:

  1. Reduce the number of cups of coffee you drink gradually until you’re consuming 1 a day
  2. If you wish to eliminate coffee altogether, replace it with half-caf, followed by black tea, followed by green tea and then give up caffeine entirely
  3. After a week of caffeine-sobriety, examine your anxiety - are your symptoms reduced? Has your sleep improved? How’s your mood?

How to Reduce Anxiety When Drinking Caffeine

There’s no doubt that too much caffeine is bad for your health. Your morning cup of coffee might smell and taste great, but it might also trigger a stress response that causes anxiety or makes an existing anxiety problem worse.

It might also prevent your brain from getting the nutrients it needs and block essential neurotransmitters that keep you calm. It can stop essential medications from working effectively and make side-effects from drugs even worse.

Caffeine can disrupt your sleep, even if you make an effort not to drink it before bedtime, and lack of rest can have a profound effect on your brain, inducing symptoms of anxiety.

It might seem unfair, but some people metabolize caffeine slower and are therefore more sensitive to its effects.

If you love your caffeine, though, there are things you can do to reduce the ill-effects.

Track your caffeine intake and make sure you don’t exceed the recommended 400 mg daily limit. Monitor when you consume caffeine and how well you sleep. Take a look at your lifestyle and assess if you can improve your diet and exercise routines to reduce your symptoms of anxiety and stop caffeine making them worse.

Consider alternatives such as reduced caffeine drinks or a smart- caffeine supplement that enable you to enjoy the benefits of improved motivation, productivity, and concentration without the jitters.

What are your favorite alternatives to coffee? Tell us in the comments.


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