Does Caffeine Make You Anxious?

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How often do you visit a coffee shop? These days there seems to be one on every street corner full of people talking and laughing and being very continental.

When you are there, what coffee do you drink? Most importantly how does it make you feel? And, if, for some reason you do not have your coffee hit are you then in withdrawal? Caffeine is a powerful drug. We don’t just get a caffeine hit only from our espresso or skinny latte you will find caffeine in sports drinks, Red Bull etc. It is supposed to give us a boost (or wings), and it does but there can be other emotional side effects as well.

 I am aware, reading articles in the science and psychology press, of a growing realisation of the connection between caffeine and feelings of anxiety. I stopped drinking caffeine a long time ago, though I do like the taste and the smell of coffee and so I came to a compromise. We use a Nespresso machine that makes great coffee but the magic is that they do decaf. So now I can have my morning espresso but without the caffeine. If at this point you are thinking “well what is the point of that?”, then you are probably a caffeine addict, though you may not realise it.

I started to ask people around me about how much coffee they were drinking and how they tolerated the caffeine. It became obvious to me there is a correlation between the amount of coffee drunk and how highly wired the individual. Then I started asking people about sleep patterns and the same things began to emerge. So, I thought, time for an experiment.

This morning I was on my way to a meeting. I had a little time to spare so, after a visit to the shoe menders I went onto a coffee lounge. There I have two double espressos and waited to see what would happen. Considering that my body is just about caffeine free the hit was almost instantaneous. Within a few minutes I had the head rush and the speedy feelings. Next came the visual effects with a little peripheral flashing and distortion. However it was when I left the lounge to walk back to the car that the real effect kicked in. My heart started racing with some interesting arrhythmia. My heart rate continued increasing then came some respiratory effects. “Now” I thought “this feels just like anxiety”.

Let’s suppose that I had been going to my place of work or that I had been going to a difficult meeting, how easy would it have been for me to associate these physical effects with what I was doing rather than realising it was the effect of caffeine. It is a short step between feeling that life is anxious and a problem rather than I have just drunk too much coffee.

We know from how the brain and the body work that any substance that we are taking becomes normalised in our system. If, for example, we have our very first alcoholic drink we can get drunk quite quickly. Over time we can tolerate more and more alcohol but the damaging effects of the alcohol on our system are just as bad. We now have a great increase in alcohol related diseases in young women because of their increased consumption.

Current research would suggest that the symptoms of caffeine consumption are mainly to do with increased levels of anxiety. According to diagnostic criteria for the psychiatric disorders related to caffeine as described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR) are caffeine intoxication, caffeine-induced anxiety disorder, caffeine-induced sleep disorder, and caffeine-related disorder not otherwise specified (NOS).

It could just be that we are contributing to the levels of anxiety and general uptightness in society by drinking too much caffeine in coffee and sports drinks and so on. If you are having any anxiety issues it might be useful to check out your caffeine intake. Sadly you will also find more caffeine in tea than there is in coffee.

Hey ho, perhaps water is the best bet!

Take care

Sean x

Photo copyright to Rie Orford

My name is Sean Orford. I am a therapist based in the UK, working for a variety of public and private organisations. I am also a speaker, writer and published author. I hope you enjoy my weekly blog. If you'd like to know more then please do get in touch.

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