Caffeine & Anxiety

Know this feeling…?

I love coffee, I mean I actually love it. There was a time when I would get up in the mornings and get stuck straight in and drink the stuff throughout the day, sometimes drinking between six to eight cups before the evening when I’d eventually stop because, you know, sleep.

These days not so much. The stuff ruins me.

Truth be told I still occasionally have a solitary cup in the mornings because old habits die hard and as it happens I’m sipping one right now, but more often than not I’ll finish that cup and then I’ll suddenly feel very very nervous.

For the average person on the street a cup of coffee will perk them up and make them more alert, confident and productive. For the average anxiety sufferer it’s a very different story. Caffeine acts much like stress by increasing blood pressure, heart rate and also increases stress hormones. In fact a cup of normal strength coffee can over double the amount of stress hormones in your blood.

On top of that caffeine also affects your sleeping pattern, it’s well known that a good nights sleep is essential to being in a positive mood and not leave you feeling tired the next day. Tiredness has been shown to increase activity in the regions of the brain that contribute towards worrying, so not only are you making yourself nervous by drinking coffee you’re also setting yourself up for a bad start the following day. Add to this the fact that caffeine pushes out important nutrients from your body such as vitamin B and magnesium, two of the best for feelings of well being, and you’re all set for an anxiety build up.

What about energy drinks?
Again another one of my former loves. Many moons ago I worked in a retail outlet next to a supermarket that sold Red Bull equivalents for 29p. First thing in the morning I would quickly run in and grab four of these bad boys and keep them in the fridge for the day ahead, drinking one before I’d even made it to the canteen and just in time to throw the empty can in the bin. Then I’d stick the kettle on. One cup of coffee later after reading the newspaper I’d crack open another can, hide it under the counter and secretly sip on it when the customers weren’t looking. By 10am I would be wired. By 11am I would want to crawl under the desk and take a nap, or die.

I’m pretty sure I’m right when I say energy drinks are much worse than coffee, much much worse. Not only do you have an unspecified amount of caffeine in the can but you also have a ridiculously large amount of sugar to go with it. A can of Monster for example apparently has up to twenty teaspoons of sugar in it. Twenty! When would you ever have twenty teaspoons of sugar with anything?

The problem is when you suffer from anxiety you are very aware of every sensation in your body. Every ache and every pain, dizzy feelings, muscle twitches and tiredness in general are all exacerbated by anxiety. Sugar stimulates various sensations in your body and if you’re already anxious then you are going to notice things even more than usual and that’s going to increase your chances of having a panic attack. All that sugar you’ve just taken on board needs countering so your body releases insulin to break it down. This is when you start to feel fatigued, the blurry vision kicks in, the headache starts, you find it hard to concentrate and you start to suffer all the other unwanted side effects. Then before you know it you’re in trouble and that’s when the dreaded panic attack creeps up on you from behind and then slaps you in the face.

Of course if you like your caffeine I wouldn’t just go and give it all up right away, instead ween yourself off of it slowly as you might suffer withdrawals. But it’s definitely something you should look in to.

So if you suffer from anxiety, have a think before you switch on that kettle or grab that can of sugar. Maybe switch to decaf if you can’t live without the taste, but ultimately you probably really should just knock it on the head.

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