Caffeine is by far the most widely-consumed psychoactive compound in the world.
Tablets and cacao aside, both caffeine supplements and caffeinated drinks are regularly consumed across a range of cultures.
Though typically consumed for its ability to provide a quick boost of energy, caffeine can adversely affect the body in a number of other ways as well.
In this post, we’ll focus on what caffeine is and how it relates to anxiety, briefly discussing popular forms of caffeine and some of the key differences between them.
1. What Exactly is Caffeine?
Caffeine can be found in a variety of food items and beverages, as well as over-the-counter medications including pain relievers and cold remedies.
Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that increases alertness and can temporarily improve focus and concentration.
It does this by binding to adenosine receptors in the brain that regulate our sleep-wake cycles.
In small doses, caffeine can function as a versatile pick-me-up that can improve your mood, but inordinate consumption can lead to jitteriness, feelings of anxiety, headaches or even cause difficulty sleeping.
It’s also considered by some to be addictive, because it increases the release of dopamine and other neurotransmitters that contribute to feelings of happiness and well-being.
When supplementing with caffeine, it’s important to moderate consumption on an individual basis.
2. A Crash Course on Anxiety
Anxiety is a persistent feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease which can range from mild or severe.
When an individual with severe anxiety experiences an anxiety attack, they may feel like their heart is racing or that they can’t catch their breath — with accompanying sensations of dizziness, nausea or lightheadedness.
Anxiety is a normal human emotion, and it’s perfectly natural to feel anxious about important events like an upcoming job interview or business pitch.
Everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their life, but for some people it’s a chronic problem that affects everyday activities, and can be exacerbated by liberal use of stimulants.
If you’d like to know more about anxiety and its symptoms, there are numerous articles on Healthy Minded, which cover issues related to anxiety as well as various psychological conditions.
3. Can Caffeine Really Trigger Anxiety?
Most experts agree that the daily recommended intake of caffeine shouldn’t exceed 400mg.
This is a reliably harmless amount for most, but if you’re unsure about how your body processes it, start with small doses then gradually increase intake over time.
The amount of caffeine required to be considered a “large dose” is different for everyone and depends on an individual’s metabolism and physiology.
If you’ve ever had too much coffee or a potent energy drink, then you know how uncomfortable the side effects can sometimes be: trembling hands, an accelerated heart rate, having to use the restroom frequently, feeling like your thoughts are racing — all of which are symptoms also associated with anxiety.
Not quite anxiety
Caffeine is a psychoactive drug with stimulant properties.
As stated in a Medical News Today article, consuming too much of it can lead to multiple anxiety symptoms because of its ability to directly affect the central nervous system.
It’s important to keep in mind, however, that caffeine-induced anxiety isn’t the same as having formal anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders can cause physical symptoms like sweating, trembling, and headaches all of which are commonly associated with the overconsumption of caffeine products.
Misleading symptom overlaps
Caffeine’s effects on the body include increasing the release of stress hormones like adrenaline, which can contribute to feelings of anxiety.
A 2005 paper published by the Royal College of Psychiatrists found that “excessive caffeine ingestion leads to symptoms that overlap with those of many psychiatric disorders.”
Amplified symptoms due to increased sensitivity
People with anxiety disorders are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine and some people are generally sensitive to caffeine, which causes the body to react adversely to even tiny amounts.
This can cause anxiety-like symptoms after consuming as little as one cup of black tea or a small energy drink.
People who are sensitive to caffeine actually metabolize it more slowly, which can make symptoms last for several hours.
If you have some form of anxiety or caffeine sensitivity, it’s important to observe how caffeine affects you at conservative doses and either limit your intake or avoid it altogether.
4. Popular Forms of Caffeine
Caffeine is found in numerous plant species, and many people prefer theirs organically-sourced, but it’s also available in more concentrated (i.e. synthetic) forms.
Below we’ll go over some of the most commonly used forms of caffeine among regular consumers.
Tea is available in a wide range of varieties that are available pre-brewed or in the form of dried tea flowers or leaves.
For centuries people of different cultures have been consuming tea for its wealth of health benefits.
Today, black tea is one of the most widely consumed teas for its high caffeine content which can range from 64-112 mg of caffeine per 8fl oz cup.
Other popular high-caffeine coffee replacement teas include green tea, oolong, and white tea.
Coffee is one of the most popularly consumed forms of caffeine. Coffee beans are the seed of the coffee plant, which produces coffee cherries.
Once ripe, coffee cherries are picked, processed and dried to create green coffee beans.
These beans are then roasted to varying degrees, depending on the desired flavor, before being ground and brewed to create the various coffee drinks you can find in cafes.
Tablets of pure caffeine are usually available in 200mg dose sizes. Most companies make them easy to split so consumers can customize individual doses.
Tablets that are synthetically produced are common and typically very easy on the wallet; meanwhile naturally sourced caffeine manufactured by a reputable company that is also vegan-friendly is harder to find and comes at a premium.