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Caffeine and Anxiety: Is There a Connection?

Updated on April 3, 2013
Coffee could be causing your excess anxiety.
Coffee could be causing your excess anxiety. | Source

Picture this, you have an Anxiety Disorder and your are starting to get stressed out because there is so much to do, not enough time and you are already exhausted. What is the first thing you do? If your like me, you probably grab a cup of coffee, energy drink of almost anything else with caffeine. You wait for it to kick in so that you can start checking things off your to-do list like superman or woman. But, even though you got so much done, you feel like your head is spinning and your more stressed out than ever. Caffeine could be the culprit.

What is an Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety can actually be a serious mental disorder and can really have an impact on your life. There are a few different types of anxiety disorders.

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: The presence of constant fears or worries that make you feel like you have to perform certain rituals to relieve yourself of bad feelings.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Usually triggered by a memory or familiar situation similar to one that caused a traumatic event.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder: Overwhelming feelings of self-consciousness in social situations. Fear of judgment and embarrassment.
  • Phobias: These can be anything from an extreme fear of height to flying and everywhere in between.
  • General Anxiety Disorder: This is typically the excesses or unrealistic fear, worry and tension over things that you may not be able to control.

For more information visit The Anxiety and Panic Disorders Health Center.

Symptoms of Anxiety

  • Feelings of panic, fear or that something is just not "right"
  • Obsessive thoughts that seems to control you
  • Constant thoughts of traumatic events
  • Nightmares
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Repeated and ritualistic behaviors. (ex. checking to make sure you locked to door 5 times.)
  • Cold or sweaty hands and feet
  • Shortness of breath or feeling like you just can't breathe
  • Nausea
  • Muscle stiffness, pain or tension
  • Dizziness
  • Not being able to sit still or relax
  • Dry mouth
  • Heart palpitations

Fight or Flight

The fight or flight response prepares your body to face the impending threat. Your body is prepared to fight that threat or run away from it.

Your body does the following things to prepare you:

  • Heart rate acceleration
  • Increases breathing rate
  • Digestion slows or stops
  • Dilatation of blood vessels to the muscles
  • Constriction of blood vessels in other areas
  • Tunnel Vision
  • Relaxation of bladder
  • Shaking
  • Loss of hearing

All of these things are necessary to increase your chances of success against a threat.

The Body's Reaction to Anxiety

Anxiety is completely natural and in normal cases, is beneficial to survival. When you sense a threat, your brain tells your body that their is danger.The body then reacts with the flight or flight response to help your body and emotions deal with the threat of danger. This reaction can save your life in situations where there is adequate reason for anxiety.

The problem with anxiety and panic disorders is that this fight or flight response in on overdrive. Your mind is telling your body that their is danger when their isn't any true threat to your life. The physiological response to the adrenaline, caused by fear, is what sets off the physical symptoms of your anxiety.

Read more about Your Body's Response to Anxiety.

The Body's Reaction to Caffeine

When you eat of drink something with caffeine in it, your body reacts a certain way. One of the first things to happen is that your body responds by producing nor-epinephrine and epinephrine. These are commonly known as adrenaline or that "rush" you feel and increases the rate and force at which your muscles contract.

The chemical message of these products cause the Fight or flight response. The heart beats faster and your blood pressure increases. This is to get more oxygen to your muscles and brain to respond to a threat faster.

Read more about How Caffeine Affects the Body.

Caffeine Makes Anxiety Worse

As you can see by the affects of anxiety on the body and the affects of caffeine on the body, they are very similar. Both caffeine and anxiety cause the heart to beat faster, muscles to tense up, and all of the other effects that come with the fight or flight response.

So, it makes sense from this information, that taking in caffeine is just going to cause your anxiety to become worse if you are already experiencing it. Also, if you are prone to anxiety or panic attacks, caffeine could just create one for you.

If you suffer from any kind of mental illness, it is best to stay away from caffeine all together. This is because it causes a chain reaction and interrupts normal functioning of the chemicals in your body.

Chocolate has a lot of caffeine.
Chocolate has a lot of caffeine. | Source

How Much Caffeine is Okay?

There is no specific amount of caffeine stated as safe for those who suffer mental disorders. However, it is recommended that healthy adults do not consume more than 400 mg of caffeine per day. To understand this, you need to know how much caffeine are in things you may be eating and drinking on a daily basis.

Caffeine Content

2 oz. 5 Hour Energy
207 mg
12 oz. Mt. Dew
46 - 55 mg
8 oz. Monster
80 mg
8 oz. Green Tea
24 - 40 mg
McDonald's 16 oz. Coffee
100 mg
1 oz. Espresso
50-75 mg
28 Dark Chocolate Covered Coffee Beans
336 mg
NoDoz Maximum Strength
200 mg
1 cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
104 mg
2 Excedrin Extra Strength
130 mg

Do you have an anxiety disorder?

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Did this help you understand your anxiety better?

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