Is Coffee Making You Anxious?

It’s fair to say the world has had an anxious year. Between David Bowie and Donald Trump, we could all use a bit of a lie down.

We tend to use coffee as a bit of a coping mechanism. We drink it to wake up, to get over a hangover, to perk up before a meeting if we’re feeling low. It’s a bit of a catch-all – but could our coffee habits be making our anxiety even worse?

During a particularly tumultuous year, it’s probably worth checking to see if our coffee habit could be doing us in.

The main ingredient that could be causing you trouble is, of course, caffeine. We’ve already explored how too much caffeine can be bad for you, but what are the links between caffeine and anxiety?

First up: caffeine is essentially stress in chemical form.

When you consume caffeine, your body responds by increasing your heart rate, blood pressure and stress hormones. It’s telling your body to act as though there is a threat – so it increases your senses and keeps you on alert.

In small doses? This is fine. But when you begin to take too much of it, it can be a problem.

There’s another problem. Caffeine cuts off your brain from something called GABA – a chemical that some scientists believe is distributed throughout the brain in order to reduce anxiety or stress. When you consume caffeine, your GABA can be cut off.

What does this mean? Essentially, every time you take caffeine not only are you telling your brain that it needs to be alert, but you cut out the opportunity for the brain to calm itself down.

It’s important to remember that coffee, on its own, can’t magically cause you to have anxiety. There’s no special chemical within caffeine that can cause anxiousness. Instead, what it can do is amplify anxiety signals that are already present and do a good job of mimicking that anxiety.

So, if you’re already quite anxious about anything – your job, your relationships, the state of the world in general – and you’re chugging down on coffee, it’s probably not going to help you calm down.

If that’s you, and you find yourself jittery and nervous, try doing a few things to calm yourself down:

  • Drink less coffee. You don’t need to give it up altogether, but think about cutting back by a cup or two. You could notice a difference pretty quickly.
  • Change the time of the day you drink. While this won’t have any chemical effect, it could change how you feel. Drinking in the afternoon, for instance, rather than in the morning when you’re stressed about getting to work could help you out.
  • Drink coffee every other day. Again, you don’t have to give it up. But if you’re finding anxiety too overwhelming, maybe try going one day off, and then another day on again. It couldn’t hurt to try.

Remember, it’s important to know that coffee doesn’t cause anxiety. But it could be making your anxiety worse. Understand the role coffee plays in your diet, and you’ll be pretty equipped to handle any negative effects.