Many people reach for a coffee or caffeinated energy drink when they need an energy boost or need to continue on working when their body is telling them it’s time to rest. The energy release can keep you alert till knock off time or jump-start your day, but there can be some very negative consequences for those dealing with anxiety.
Caffeine depletes the B vitamins like thiamin that’s needed for the production of the calming neurotransmitter GABA. Caffeine also increases the release of stress hormones that not only keep you in an alert state but can also increase the feelings of anxiety. Caffeine intake increases dopamine and norepinephrine (the activating neurotransmitters) and blocks the absorption of adenosine (a relaxing neurotransmitter)—so you become ‘wired’ and hyper alert.
Caffeine also messes with your sleep if you take it in the afternoon or evening. It suppresses the deepest stages of sleep and the Rapid Eye Movement stage of sleep, so you end up not feeling rested, irritable and lacking concentration the next day.
If you are dealing with anxiety and drink a lot of coffee or caffeinated drinks, then you will likely have difficulty overcoming anxiety because you are lacking the relaxing neurotransmitters (like GABA and adenosine uptake) and have too much of the activating transmitters in your system. One of the worst things you can do is to start your day on just a coffee (or two) and nothing else as you race out to the office. Not only have you missed out on vital nutrients at breakfast time, to feed your brain the basic elements (like your B vitamins) needed to synthesise the right balance of neurotransmitters, but you have increased your cortisol and other stress hormones that will ‘put you on edge’ unnecessarily. After a few hours you’ll crash from the caffeine rush and feel fatigued, unable to concentrate, and probably reach for another coffee or a simple carbohydrate (like a donut) to lift you up again—and the cycle continues!
Limit your caffeine intake to under 250 mg a day (no more than 2 or 3 cups of brewed cups—depends on their strength) and if you are struggling with anxiety it would be best to wean yourself of caffeine for a season until you have dealt with the anxiety. Make sure you are getting all the vitamins and minerals your body needs, get off the sugar, hydrate yourself, stop the alcohol, and learn some mindful mediation techniques.