Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 4/29/2022
Caffeine is a fan favorite. In fact, 70 percent of Americans drink at least one cup of coffee every week. Pretty impressive, right? We all know the purported health benefits of this liquid gold, but can it have negative effects?
In some instances, it may. For instance, when talking about caffeine and anxiety, the combination may be worth avoiding.
Of course, that depends on a few different things. Do you presently suffer from anxiety? How severe are your symptoms of anxiety?
Do you suffer from panic attacks? How sensitive are you to the effects of caffeine? All these questions matter, and may affect how precarious a combination caffeine and anxiety are for you.
Let’s dig in.
Caffeine is a stimulant and diuretic, typically found in coffee, kola nuts, tea and cacao. It’s naturally occurring, and often used by folks for its ability to help combat drowsiness and fatigue.
Caffeine affects the adenosine receptors in your brain. Adenosine is a multi-functional protein in your brain that affects a variety of your body’s functions — from the way you sleep to your mood and even physical health.
Once caffeine enters your system and begins to work its magic on your body’s adenosine, the result is improved breathing.
When the caffeine hits, parts of your body take (an albeit limited, five-hour) beach vacation and sink right into a state of loving stimulation. In some respects, you’ll feel as though you’ve never had it better.
You might also find yourself pacing a little quicker on your morning run or bench pressing a few more pounds than you expected.
Better yet, you might find yourself intensely focused on a work crunch you figured you’d never get out from under.
But for all of caffeine’s benefits, you might — after a cup or two of your favorite French roast — find yourself wondering why your anxiety has increased.
In fact, you might be someone who doesn’t typically suffer from any form of anxiety, yet all of a sudden you’re feeling that creeping sensation — tension, unwanted thoughts, sweating.
Before delving further into the links between caffeine and anxiety, it’s important to touch on what exactly anxiety is, as well as what causes anxiety itself.
Anxiety can manifest in a variety of moods, ways of speech and interpreting the world itself.
For example, for most people, a pleasant walk in the woods is just that — a pleasant walk in the woods. For someone with anxiety, that pleasant walk can be something that stirs up tension, intrusive thoughts, worry and distress.
Anxiety can come in a variety of colors and from a variety of sources. And anxiety levels can vary, depending on the person and what they have experienced in life, as well as what they’re experiencing in the present.
Sometimes it can creep up and make you notice it, but the anxiety itself won’t wreck your day.
In other cases, however, anxiety can be debilitating.
To better help you understand it, here are some more anxiety symptoms:
Physical or emotional tension.
Restlessness and impatience.
Irritability — even anger.
Intrusive thoughts, as well as the perceived inability to totally control the thoughts at all.
Generalized state of worry.
As far as what causes anxiety is concerned, the answer is complicated.
Anxiety can have a number of sources, all of which deserve one’s time, attention and care.
Some of the most common triggers for anxiety include:
The most common side effect of anxiety is fear.
Fear can manifest in a number of ways. Things like a fear of heights, a visit to the doctor’s office or getting on an airplane, can all prompt fear.
For some people, going to a party or heading to a restaurant may be the perfect way to blow off some steam.
For others, however, those same scenarios can be nightmares.
Social settings are never as easy as we let on, but for some, they can be seriously anxiety-provoking.
Separation anxiety most commonly affects children when they’re separated from their parents, but that doesn’t mean it can’t hit adults.
Trauma can be a bear.
Trauma’s effects are multiform, its causes multivariable — and both can be severe when not properly cared for.
The roots of trauma can be things like going through an abusive situation, witnessing or participating in violence or any other negative experience. Trauma can — and often does — result in anxiety.
How robust is the research linking caffeine and anxiety? Believe it or not, there’s quite a bit of research on the matter.
For the most part, caffeine has positive effects on people. There are even certain studies that say folks’ response to caffeine may reduce anxiety. However, those results certainly aren’t the norm.
What’s constant among the research, however, is that the amount of caffeine one consumes has been proven to affect the anxiety one feels after caffeine consumption.
Should you drink caffeine if you already have anxiety?
Well, the answer is: it might not make a huge difference.
That’s right: you might not have adverse effects depending on how many cups of coffee or energy drinks you consume. Whatever behavioral effects or psychiatric disorders you may have will not be incredibly impacted by a dose of caffeine.
In fact, here’s something you weren’t expecting: the data says that it might help your anxiety to add a little caffeine into your daily routine.
Researchers in one meta-analysis set out to determine the connection between increased anxiety and caffeine.
They concluded that the connections between anxiety and caffeine had so many underlying features — lifestyle, sleep habits, physical fitness, psychological background, etc. — that to simply link the effects of caffeine consumption to one’s anxiety is a stretch.
However, that’s not to say that caffeine isn’t linked at all to anxiety — it is.
The simple fact is: if you take a certain quantity of this stimulant, you might find yourself wishing you hadn’t at all.
When it comes to connecting coffee and anxiety, data has shown that moderation is your friend — and that caffeine isn’t necessarily the enemy. What’s important is understanding the underlying causes of your anxiety and addressing them head-on.
Part of that improvement process begins with your mental health.
Caring for your mental health has never been more prioritized — or important — than today.
Whether you find yourself with some heightened anxiety, depression or another mental health challenge, you should understand that there are resources available right now to help you such as online counseling and psychiatry.