In the previous year, I consumed up to four cups of coffee per day.
I frequently work early shifts, so I felt I needed that boost, and I discovered I drank more coffee while recovering from COVID and isolating myself with my coffee maker.
Simultaneously, I noticed my anxiety increasing.
Occasionally, I had shallow breathing, a pounding heart, uncontrollable racing thoughts, and more frequent panic attacks.
Then, I had a panic attack live on the radio one day.
When a friend told me earlier this year that she had switched to decaf to help manage her anxiety, I began to wonder if my coffee consumption was exacerbating my condition.
As an experiment, I gave up caffeine in January and have been decaffeinated ever since.
Does caffeine cause nervousness?
I’ve had clinical anxiety and panic attacks for nearly half of my life, so I’m familiar with how my body and mind function, but shortly after giving up caffeine, a few things changed.
Surprisingly, the only side effects I experienced were a few mood swings.
Rather, I’ve felt more relaxed on a daily basis, find it easier to wake up, have fewer instances of sweaty palms, and my heart rate has slowed.
According to clinical pharmacist and pharmacologist Dr. Treasure McGuire, this reaction is explicable.
She claims that caffeine is a stimulant that can “lead to jittery body effects.”
Dr. McGuire explains, “Thus, we would not say that caffeine causes anxiety, but it can contribute to anxiety in a dose-dependent manner.”
According to Dr. Melissa Taitimu, a psychologist from the Gold Coast, caffeine energizes the “fight or flight” portion of the nervous system.
“Substances such as alcohol, caffeine, and sugary foods stimulate the sympathetic nervous system and, consequently, exacerbate anxiety,” says Dr. Taitimu.
“Caffeine exacerbates anxiety because it raises your heart rate.”
According to Beyond Blue, research indicates that consuming large amounts of caffeine after a caffeine-free period temporarily heightens anxiety in people with panic or anxiety disorders.
It is noted that there is currently insufficient evidence to demonstrate conclusively the effects of caffeine reduction on mental health disorders.
Dr. Taitimu explains that while reducing coffee consumption may have positive effects for some individuals, there may be other causes for anxiety and other mental health issues.
“Just [cutting it out] would absolutely move the dial, but it would always require a larger look at a person’s life and their actual stressors, as well as an individualized plan that works for them,” Dr. Taitimu says.