In Western society, 80% of the population drinks coffee, soda, and tea in amounts large enough to impact brain activity, specifically our neurotransmitters.
One study showed that individuals who were naturally prone to anxiety could be more sensitive to the effects of caffeine than those without anxiety. So much so that the DSM-V, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, has classified Caffeine Use Disorder as an area for further study. The American Psychiatric Association has also added caffeine intoxication, caffeine-related anxiety, and caffeine related sleep disorders to its list of diagnoses.
“[Consuming] caffeine [when you have] anxiety is like pouring gas on a fire,” says clinical psychologist Dr. Chris Barnes. “Caffeine increases excitability. When you are anxious, you are already excitable. Also, the physiological effects of caffeine can mimic anxiety. As a result, people may not even be anxious, but the effects of the caffeine trick them into thinking that they are, and then the cognitive floodgates open.”
Below are five reasons why quitting caffeine could reduce anxiety in certain individuals:
1.Caffeine alters your natural brain chemicals
Caffeine stimulates your central nervous system. When caffeine hits the brain, it suppresses the neurotransmitter adenosine, which oversees sleep, attention, and alertness. When adenosine is blocked your brain is effectively tricked into staying awake. In the process, caffeine activates the dopamine centers in the brain.
2. Caffeine produces physical symptoms that can make you feel on edge
Although researchers are not entirely sure why, people who regularly drink caffeinated beverages have higher blood pressure, on average. Caffeine has also been shown to increase your heart rate, body temperature, and can lead to tremors. These jittery sensations can be even more pronounced in people who are prone to panic attacks.
3. If you are already anxious, caffeine can make your anxiety worse
As a stimulant, caffeine increases excitability and awareness. When paired with anxiety, it can amplify certain fears. “If you are already on the anxious side then you are constantly scanning your environment for threats,” Barnes explains. “If we then drink a bunch of coffee, it is increasing your sensitivity to your already anxious environment, and if we are already feeling on edge everything is going to feel more intense.”
4. You’ll sleep better without it
Anxiety-prone individuals may already suffer from sleep disorders, and caffeine has been proven to disrupt sleep. Plus, sleep deprivation has been linked with anxiety and negative moods. “Many of the people I work with they say they have more energy when they don’t drink caffeine and they are getting more deep, restorative sleep, so they don’t even have the desire to ingest caffeine throughout the day,” Barnes says.
5. You may feel more clear without it
As caffeine-induced anxiety decreases, your mental lucidity may actually increase. In Barnes’ experience, his patients with anxiety disorders have reported feeling increased cognitive clarity after they have stopped drinking caffeine. Barnes says. “They spend so much mental energy over-thinking, so when we can turn the volume down on that it everything becomes brighter.”