Does Coffee Exacerbate Anxiety? (Explained)

Coffee has become the daily dose of caffeinated boost for millions of people worldwide. It’s not only the most widely consumed beverage but also one of the major contributors to cash crops import.

The drink is not only appetizing but also packed with important health benefits. People are dependent on the drink for a positive mood boost, alertness, and an instant improvement in physical performance.

However, there have been debates regarding the side effects of too much coffee consumption. The stimulant caffeine is mainly responsible for the unpleasing side effects.

Anxiety is one of the most disturbing health outcomes of caffeine.

So is the coffee responsible for your anxiety issues?

Short answer: Coffee doesn’t exacerbate anxiety unless you’re putting too much of the caffeine stimulant in your body. Since caffeine is a psychoactive drug, it can significantly affect your neurological functions and trigger mental unrest.

To know how coffee can affect your mental health and behavioral issues, read the following sections.

What Triggers An Anxiety Attack?

Anxiety attacks can be triggered by a stressful life, illness, certain medications, addiction, or any traumatic event. However, there may be differences in the overall causes between individuals as their experiences differ.

It’s important to understand the triggering issues for anxiety attacks to avoid them in the first place.

Some of the most worrisome and commonly experienced triggers are:

  • Stressful lifestyle
  • Financial insolvency
  • Certain prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications
  • Negative thoughts
  • Addiction to drinking and drugs
  • Particular traumatic event
  • Conflicts in personal or professional relations
  • Personal Triggers

Other than these triggers, an overdose of caffeine, skipping meals, and even fear of public performance can also work as a contributing factor to the state of fear and tension.

Anxiety is a very sensitive health condition that takes a toll on both physical and mental stability. As a result, you need to watch out for the signs over the course of time and seek medical intervention as soon as possible.

These signs include:

  • Nausea
  • Trembling
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Persistent sadness
  • Issues with breathing
  • Dry mouth
  • Nervousness
  • Too much worrying
  • Restlessness

What Are the Side Effects of Coffee?

Coffee has several side effects such as anxiety, nervousness, headache, and shakiness. The side effects of coffee mainly stem from the presence of the stimulant caffeine.

Caffeine is considered to be a psychoactive drug that can increase the circulation of chemicals such as cortisol and stimulate the central nervous system.

Moderate consumption of coffee can give you a quick energy boost and alertness. Though coffee works with several health benefits, there’s a limit for the safe intake.

The U.S Food and Drug Administration recommends keeping the daily caffeine intake within 400 milligrams.

Personally speaking, 50-100 milligrams of caffeine is enough for a healthy individual, and consumption beyond this can trigger unwanted side effects like:

  • Anxiety
  • Nervousness
  • Headache
  • Shakiness
  • Insomnia
  • Urgency to urinate
  • Irritability and so on

The caffeine kick from the coffee can stay in your system for as long as 12 hours. The effects are rarely dangerous but since tolerance can differ among people it’s better to curb the consumption quantity.

As mentioned, anxiety is one of the widely experienced side effects of caffeine. Coffee might not be the real cause behind the tension but can act as a triggering factor to the mental state.

What is a Caffeine Induced Anxiety Disorder?

Caffeine-induced anxiety disorder is anxiety caused by caffeine intoxication. Caffeine intoxication is considered to be a DSM-5 according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed.

The diagnosis of this intoxication is related to the symptoms like nervousness, restlessness, anxiety, and insomnia. The persistent high doses of caffeine in such condition leads to the proclaimed caffeine-induced anxiety disorder.

As mentioned earlier, the effects of caffeine on the body will depend on the person’s tolerance level. A large amount of caffeine can trigger anxiety in certain people that needs necessary clinical attention. People who already have underlying medical issues such as panic and anxiety disorder or depression are more receptive to the situation.

In most cases, the anxiety is related to high doses of caffeine in the dietary routine. Individuals fail to recognize that caffeine contributes to their mental health and as a result, many become too dependant on the caffeine content.

How Do Coffee And Caffeine Affect Anxiety?

person with a mask having anxiety

Coffee doesn’t directly affect anxiety but caffeine can worsen the side effects triggering anxiety. In this case, if you’re already facing panic attacks or anxiety, the caffeine will lead to more compulsive symptoms in your body.

The general population tends to overlook the effect of too much caffeine in their diet. Studies have shown that the addition of high doses of caffeine to a regular diet has been associated with anxiety symptoms in many people.

A study on the Panic disorder and social anxiety disorder subtypes in a caffeine challenge test showed that when a dose of 480 milligrams of caffeine was given to two groups of patients, one having anxiety disorders and the other one not having the disorder, there were differences in the outcome.

The result found that more than 60% of the patients with anxiety disorders had a panic attack whereas none of the healthy patients had one.

A panic attack is commonly observed in patients with generalized anxiety disorder. In fact, this caffeine-induced disorder may take many different forms that include GAD, phobic symptoms, obsessive-compulsive symptoms, etc.

In this case, the best choice would be to stop the coffee intake and see the outcome.

What Exactly Happens When You Drink Coffee That Triggers Anxiety?

When coffee is ingested, the caffeine molecules interfere with the breakdown of cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP).

cAMP is the second messenger that is used for intracellular signal induction. As its breakdown is being disrupted, there are certain changes in the regular neurological and cardiovascular functions of the body.

As a reaction to these changes, your brain starts to signal all over the body that triggers a sensation of real vector in one’s mental scenarios. Your heartbeat rises and the adrenaline sparks simultaneously.

In this situation, your brain may start thinking about a past bad experience and overemphasize it leading to a severe mental breakdown.

Quick review on the connection between coffee and anxiety.

Should I Stop Drinking Coffee If I Have Anxiety?

the letters spelling anxiety laid out on a wooden platform

It’s probably best to stop drinking coffee if you have anxiety because coffee can worsen anxiety symptoms despite not being the cause of it. However, whether you need to stop drinking coffee completely or not, will depend on the present reactivity of your body to caffeine.

As caffeine can worsen the symptoms of anxiety, limit your consumption. Indulge in a minimum daily intake. Remember that caffeine is also present in other regular food products such as sodas, chocolates, chocolate flavorings, energy drinks, etc.

So only stopping coffee consumption won’t help if you’re getting enough caffeine from other sources. If a regular caffeinated boost is essential for you, switch to decaf coffee. This will provide you with the desired energy boost, minus the caffeine.

Most importantly, healthy dietary choices can be a significant step towards a better mental condition. You can remove the coffee completely from your diet but if you want a functional boost, try healthier options like herbal or green tea.

However, if you’re healthy and doesn’t have any anxiety issue, you don’t need to stop your favorite cup of joe completely. Just try to avoid the dependency on the caffeine content.

Is Coffee Bad For Both Anxiety and Depression?

Coffee can be bad for anxiety and depression, since anxiety and depression often occur together, the caffeine in coffee can worsen the situation for an individual.

Before digging into the negative impacts, let me tell you that coffee helps in a positive mood boost for a person in depression. The compounds such as chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, cafestol, ferulic acid, etc in coffee help in reducing the inflammation of nerve cells.

As mentioned before, the overall effect will depend on the body’s personal comfort and tolerance. Too much dependency on the beverage can worsen the situation. A study from 2019 showed that tea and coffee may be associated with the disruption of several important neurotransmitters including dopamine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).

Caffeine can also cause tremors, restlessness, and nervousness. Thus leading to an increased level of anxiety.

The boost given to mood and body by caffeine is temporary. As a result, when the caffeine content in the blood diminishes, you may experience a severe drop in mood.

This is why people with depression and anxiety should consume only if their body is comfortable with the intake.

How Do You Calm Down Caffeine-Induced Anxiety?

Anxiety is a mental state of restlessness that needs to be taken proper care of. If you’re having any of the symptoms of anxiety after having the coffee, follow the following steps:

  • Stop the caffeine consumption immediately
  • Drink lots of water
  • Practice deep breathing
  • Replace electrolytes
  • Consult with an expert
  • Take a walk
  • Get a good amount of sleep
  • Manage your stress with meditation

If you want to have coffee, have a small portion after a few days. Check for the quality of beans you’re choosing and maintain the proper timing for having the drink.

If you’re having an anxiety attack at the moment, try to calm yourself down with a glass of water and practice deep breathing. The effects may stay in your system for about 5-6 hours depending on the sensitivity.

Don’t forget coffee-related anxiety and disorders are the outcomes of extreme situations in most cases. So don’t overconsume it by any chance.

Headache and confusion due to caffeine.
Anxiety can cause severe headaches and restlessness.

Can 1 cup of Coffee Cause Anxiety?

No, one cup of coffee won’t cause anxiety. The real concern here is regarding caffeine. In general, caffeine worsens the side effects of coffee in people already dealing with anxiety.

However, a single cup of coffee will rarely affect your physical and mental condition. A cup of brewed coffee contains 95 milligrams of caffeine. This amount of caffeine is less likely to trigger an anxiety disorder.

There are many coffee varieties available in the market. Most of the grande caffeinated beverages in Starbucks contain a significantly higher amount of caffeine. As a result, the size of the cup or container for the coffee will affect your caffeine intake.

Let’s have a look at the caffeine content of some popular varieties of coffee:

Coffee varietyServing sizeCaffeine content (in milligrams)
Regular Brewed Coffee8 oz.95
Cold Brew16 oz.200
Mocha from Starbucks 16 oz.175
Latte from Dunkin’ Donuts14 oz.166
Espresso 1 oz.64
Brewed Decaf Coffee8 oz.2
Americano from Dunkin’ Donuts 14 oz.249
Flat White12 oz.130
Quick review on the caffeine content of various types of coffees.

The caffeine content will vary depending on the place you’re buying it from or the type of bean you’re choosing. However, this pretty much sums the content of caffeine in each serving. Grande drinks generally contain a higher dose of caffeine.

In this case, such a high dose of caffeine shouldn’t be consumed. Try to limit your intake to 100 milligrams in a single day.

Even if you won’t face anxiety symptoms, an overdose may cause headaches and unwanted jitters.

Do Caffeine Cause Panic Attacks?

Caffeine doesn’t cause panic attacks but it surely can trigger the symptoms of prolonged anxiety, especially from caffeine withdrawal.

Once you start to take coffee regularly, your brain craves more and more as the body builds a tolerance level.

If you stop taking the drink abruptly, the unwanted withdrawal symptoms predispose the body to anxiety disorder. As a result, this can trigger a spiral of sensations including sweaty palms, jitters, irregular heartbeat, lack of sleep, and a full-blown panic attack.

Panic attacks and anxiety have similar triggers such as a traumatized experience, mental health disorder, conflicts in the family, use of obsessive drugs, stressful events, chronic health conditions, and so on. Though the panic attack involves more severe symptoms, it’s still similar to anxiety.

Both the conditions involve stressful worries and fear happening at the back of the mind. Anxiety is a mental fear and a panic attack is simply the reaction to that fear.

A study on the Increased anxiogenic effects of caffeine in panic disorders revealed that the effects of caffeine on the patients were similar to the ones having panic attacks.

However, what makes you panic may be pleasant for another drinker. This is because people react to caffeine differently. Some people simply have higher caffeine tolerance or are in a better health condition that includes both physical and mental situations.

Susceptible people should curb their caffeine consumption to avoid disturbing side effects. Also if you’re having an anxiety disorder for any other triggering factors, the drink may lead to overall compulsive signs, triggering panic attacks as well.

Does Cutting Caffeine Help Anxiety?

Cutting caffeine won’t miraculously heal your anxiety disorder if you were already dealing with the underlying medical condition.

However, since caffeine works as a trigger, curbing the consumption may help you with getting less panicky feeling and less stress. Drinkers have stated in various reviews that after cutting caffeine, they found themselves to be at a more stable state and felt less jittery than before.

The final reasoning will depend on your body’s health state and your preference. If you’re healthy and got no anxiety issues, a cup of coffee won’t harm your nervous system. But if you feel you get several unwanted signs of anxiety after having the drink, consider cutting it out from your diet.

Anxiety and excitement are physiologically similar expressions so caffeine can also work fine for many people. It comes down to one’s personal comfort. If coffee works fine for you, just enjoy it without worrying. If it doesn’t, look for a healthier alternative.

Look for some tips to help with your caffeine cut.

Can You Flush Caffeine Out of Your System?

You can try to flush caffeine out of your system with water, however, the effects of caffeine will stay in your system for several hours, and honestly speaking, there’s isn’t much you can do to flush it out from your body.

After 5-6hours of ingestion, the caffeine naturally depletes into half in the bloodstream and the body gradually wears off the caffeine content.

Once it enters your body you can’t flush it on your own. However, if you want to minimize the side effects stop from further consumption of the drink and choose a decaf one if necessary.

How Long Does Anxiety Last After Quitting Caffeine?

The unwanted anxiety symptoms may stay in your system for about 12 to 24 hours until the caffeine content wears off.

For the first few hours, you may experience severe headaches, irritability, poor concentration, and a depressed mood.

These symptoms may last for about 2 to 9 days depending on the person’s sensitivity to the caffeine.

At first, this duration may seem to be intense and long if you’re occupied with displeasing symptoms. However, as your bloodstream gets rid of the caffeine, you’ll soon replenish the lost energy.

Final thoughts

Anxiety is one of the most common mental illnesses that have been taking a toll on both physical strength and mental happiness. In the US, about 40 million adults are affected due to anxiety every year.

Moreover, coffee is also the most consumed drink in the world. Considering the side effects of caffeine content, it might be concerning for many of us. People are nowadays work-oriented and coffee is what helps them in going on. The drink has a social aspect attached to it and the health benefits just add to the bonus.

Simply put, coffee doesn’t exacerbate the anxiety issues if drank in moderation. But if you’re considering more than 2-3 cups a day, the mood-altering effects of caffeine will affect you both physically and mentally.

There are always differences in sensitivity and tolerance as everyone is different. However, too much caffeine won’t amplify the boosting effects in any individual.

It’s wise for people with anxiety issues to avoid the drink. Don’t forget that coffee doesn’t cause anxiety but caffeine can exaggerate the symptoms. Indulge in a minimum intake of caffeinated drinks on regular basis.

People having no anxiety can tolerate the caffeine better so for you guys, just enjoy the drink in moderation.

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Matt Marshall

As I learn more and more about coffee and coffee products I want to share all my learnings with you here on this website. I hope you find my articles useful and entertaining to read.

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