Caffeine & Anxiety: Is There A Link? 

Posted by Naomi Rohr on

If you enjoy a deep-roasted Arabica bean and suffer from anxiety, you may have heard the two aren’t the best of friends. But is there any merit in that old wives tale or can you keep knocking back your almond flat white with abandon? 

Let’s investigate. 

Caffeine: The Good Stuff 

Caffeine is a stimulant which is why Australians are reaching for it on the reg. It can be found in coffee, tea, soft drink, chocolate, energy drinks and even some vitamins. When consumed it’s been shown to increase motivation, and productivity and enhance brain function. 

Importantly, caffeine increases dopamine production in the brain. Dopamine, known as the happy hormone helps with focus,  attention, memory, mood and cognition. 

Sounds too good to be true, right? It is. 

Caffeine: The Bad Stuff 

Caffeine has been shown to negatively impact heart rate, blood pressure and stress hormone levels. Most notably, cortisol. 

Cortisol is essential for regulating your body’s stress response. It tells your body how to use fats, proteins and carbohydrates so you’ve got them in reserve. This is all well and good when you’re faced with actual danger but when the danger at hand is synthetic (ie: too much caffeine) it’s bad news. Not only is living in fight or flight bad for your physical health, but studies have also shown once you’re there you are unable to use the reasoning section of your brain since the amygdala (emotional response) is on fire. 

In addition, caffeine hinders GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) levels. GABA levels are closely linked to feelings of calm, happiness and relaxation.  Caffeine inhibits the release of GABA which means low mood and irritability. 

You’d think the good and bad stuff would just cancel each other out but unfortunately, that’s not the case. 

Caffeine + Anxiety

Can the two play nicely? According to Harvard Medical School, yes. Too much caffeine can mirror some symptoms of anxiety including nervousness, increased heart rate, restlessness and insomnia. Further to this, some medications interact negatively with caffeine too. 

Long black, flat white, americano and…a side serve of anxiety? The bottom line is, you can enjoy sweet sweet coffee but you do need to limit your consumption. Stick to 1-2 cups per day and make them good ones. If you have trouble sleeping, don’t consume caffeine after 2 pm and ensure you are drinking plenty of water to counteract it.

NOTE: please speak with your doctor for personalised medical advice regarding caffeine and interactions with medication. 

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