Coffee is the world's favourite mood-altering drug. Not only is caffeine tasty, cheap, and socially-accepted, but people love how it makes them feel— focused, uplifted, and ready to take on the world!
As a nation, we have a universal love affair with coffee. In fact, 80 percent of North Americans drink coffee daily. Although caffeine provides many mood-altering benefits, there are side effects that can affect your mental health— especially your anxiety levels.
How Does Caffeine Affect Anxiety?
Caffeine is a psychoactive drug that stimulates the central nervous system. It tricks our brain into releasing “happy hormones” (serotonin and dopamine), as well as stress hormones (adrenaline and norepinephrine). Stress hormones are life savers in a “fight or flight” situation. But what if they're being continuously fired off— at the office or at our child's soccer game?
One study conducted by Winston, Hardwick, and Jaberi, found that drinking 1,000mg of coffee a day is linked to anxious symptoms including heart palpitations, irritability, and shallow breathing. Now, that is a lot of coffee considering a “tall” Starbucks dark roast has about 130mg of caffeine. On average we don't drink 8 cups of coffee a day. However, their research holds a nugget of wisdom.
The psychiatrists I worked with at Royal Columbian Hospital informed me caffeine can exaggerate anxiety. We worked with a lot of women who struggled with Pre and Postpartum anxiety, and one of the standard questions we asked our patients was what their coffee intake was. If it was high, we'd advise them to cut down. Often my patients would notice a slight difference in their anxiety levels.
Here are 5 things you can consider before reaching for your next caffeine fix:
1. Caffeine Increases Stress Hormones Caffeine acts a lot like stress— increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones (cortisol and epinephrine). When stress hormones are released continuously in the body, this can cause agitation, irritability, and anxiety.
2. Caffeine is Linked to Sleep One of the most common side effects of caffeine consumption and anxiety is sleep disturbances. If anxious thoughts cause your mind to spin restlessly at night, caffeine can compound this problem. Actually, caffeine decreases stages 3 and 4 of our sleep cycle. These stages are important for the deepest and most restorative sleep. How do you feel when you're not rested? Does the day seem more overwhelming or more manageable?
3. Caffeine Robs Your Brain of Essential Nutrients Caffeine depletes our bodies of key nutrients, including magnesium and B vitamins. Magnesium is known as nature's “original chill pill” and B vitamins are often coined as “anti-stress vitamins”. Dr Carolyn Dean, author of The Magnesium Miracle, says that hands down magnesium is THE mineral for anxiety.
4. Caffeine and Genetics We all know someone who can drink a cup of coffee after dinner and sleep like a baby. And if you've ever travelled to Italy, this breed of people are plentiful. However, if you have insomnia and anxiety, you probably aren't one of them. The difference could be in your genes. Some people are genetically predisposed to be more sensitive to caffeine. If your hypersensitive to caffeine your body may take longer to metabolize it— and jitters, insomnia, and anxiety can arise as a result.
5. Women May Experience More Hormone-Related Issues The effects of caffeine varies, and are dependent on how quickly your body processes it. If you're on birth control or are pregnant, it can take longer to process caffeine. Which means you'll get an extra boost expresso and more side effects. Caffeine also increases menopausal and PMS symptoms including insomnia, hot flashes, mood swings, and heart palpitations.
The effects of caffeine are unique to each and every one of us. Yet there is overwhelming evidence that caffeine can exacerbate anxiety. If you do feel anxious and are an avid coffee or black tea drinker, you can always try an experiment. Cut down on your cup of joe or opt for green tea. At the end of the day ask yourself, "do I feel more or less anxious?" If you do feel less anxious, perhaps you may have motivation to continue the experiment— until it becomes a life style.