Why do I have anxiety all of a sudden?


Sudden Anxiety Syndrome

You investigate, you suggest, you hypothesize … and you tell the truth. There is a world of difference between “diagnosing and treating” and investigating, suggesting, hypothesizing, and telling the truth. When a psychotherapist investigates, suggests, hypothesizes, and tells the truth, she is helping; when she “diagnoses the mental disorder of generalized anxiety disorder,” she is playing a game, illegitimately labeling, and creating a pseudo-patient who, like Jim perhaps, may prefer to be a pseudo-patient than deal with the turn his life has taken. When she does the former, she deserves a well-earned round of applause; when she “diagnoses,” she ought not to sleep well.

Consider the following. What if nothing unusual or provocative happened to Jim during his week away? Does that make Jim’s anxiety uncaused? Of course it doesn’t. It only means that we know even less about its source than if we had some obvious clues. In a certain sense that may even prove helpful, because without obvious clues we can’t leap to connecting up Jim’s sudden anxiety with some too simple “cause.” We would naturally presume that there are reasons for his heightened anxiety, reasons that we may never come to know, and even more adamantly invite Jim to collaborate in our investigation.

Let’s say that Jim does collaborate and that he lands on that audit as the source of his anxiety. We may not completely believe him; but should we dispute him or ignore his formulation of the problem? No: after we’ve said what we had to say, for example about his affair, we might then want to take Jim at his word and consider the possibility that the upcoming audit is indeed the primary source of his anxiety. Given that Jim has said so, we might take that as a working hypothesis. A working hypothesis is very different from a diagnosis. When a doctor says, “It might be this, it might be this, it might be this, or it might be this,” he is announcing his hypotheses. He hasn’t made a diagnosis yet. Nor should we as we begin our investigations. In medicine, you don’t diagnose until you can diagnose.

Will a moment come, in Jim’s case or in any other, when we can “make a diagnosis”? I think the answer is a clear no. What could such a diagnosis sound like? Audit-induced anxiety reaction coupled with denial-induced extra-marital affair-itis? Sudden Personality Change Syndrome caused by a plane’s engine catching fire? Unleashed Primal Lust For Younger Woman Syndrome with overtones of guilt and pleasure? These human events can’t and shouldn’t be “diagnosed” as if they were illnesses. Let us stop looking to diagnosis as a goal or as the Holy Grail. It isn’t either. Right now it is only a mechanism for turning human experience into mental health establishment profits.

Jim is newly anxious but he hasn’t contracted a “sudden anxiety syndrome” mental disorder. We really must stop saying such things. Even if Jim wants a mental disorder label, that doesn’t mean that we ought to give him one.


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Everyone gets anxious from time to time, and usually the cause is easy to pinpoint, whether it’s a stressful job, a strained relationship, or money worries. (Check out these effective solutions for anxiety.) But sometimes anxiety can be a warning sign of an underlying medical problem.

“A sudden, unexplained sense of anxiety could be a signal of something amiss in the body,” says Sarah Saaman, MD, a cardiologist in Plano, Texas, and author of Best Practices for a Healthy Heart. While you might be suffering from an anxiety disorder (which is serious in its own right), your symptoms could also be masking another ailment: Researchers recently published a “partial listing” of nearly 50 illnesses that may present as anxiety.

“It may not be a patient’s main symptom, but anxiety can still be an important tip-off,” says Donnica Moore, MD, a woman’s health expert in Chester, New Jersey. Here’s the scoop on five conditions where anxiety can act as heads-up—but don’t let this add to your anxiety! You could very well simply have chronic anxiety and nothing more—but it may be worth getting tested for these issues just in case.

(Discover the ONE simple, natural solution that can help you reverse chronic inflammation and heal more than 45 diseases. Try The Whole Body Cure today!)

Overactive thyroid

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When a patient with no history of anxiety issues starts complaining of feeling anxious, “hyperthyroidism is one of the first things I’d rule out,” says Moore. A condition in which the thyroid gland makes excessive amounts of thyroid hormone, hyperthyroidism increases your metabolic rate, which can lead to symptoms like a rapid heart rate, weight loss, and anxiety. The problem is generally easy to diagnose via a simple blood test to check the level of thyroid hormones. If you have it, you’ll probably need to treat it with radioactive iodine. (Find out what things in your home can cause thyroid problems.)

Hyperthyroidism is much more common in women, especially those over age 35; incidence also spikes again after age 60 (in both men and women). One caveat: Many symptoms of hyperthyroidism overlap with perimenopause and menopause, which can make it more difficult to suss out, says Moore. But it’s important to get the right diagnosis, since left untreated, an overactive thyroid can cause complications like heart disorders and brittle bones.

MORE: 4 Signs Of Thyroid Cancer You Should Watch Out For

Heart disease

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“It’s rare for anxiety to be the only symptom of heart disease, but when combined with unexpected shortness of breath with exertion or stress, or with excessive fatigue, it should prompt an evaluation with your physician,” says Samaan, who notes that severe symptoms warrant a visit to the ER. Studies confirm the link between anxiety and heart issues: When investigators asked women who suffered a heart attack about which symptoms they experienced in the month leading up to it, 35% reported feeling more anxious, stressed, and keyed up than usual.

Many of the women in the study also reported unusual fatigue (experienced by 70%), sleep disturbance (48%), shortness of breath (42%), and indigestion (39%). Interestingly, fewer than 30% of women reported chest discomfort leading up to their cardiac event—and 43% didn’t even experience it during their heart attack. (Here’s what you can do to prevent heart disease.)

Here are 5 signs your heart isn’t working properly:



Anemia occurs when you don’t have enough red blood cells or when they don’t function properly. Since red blood cells carry oxygen, a shortage means your body can’t transport oxygen effectively to where it needs to go. That may cause symptoms like shortness of breath and a fast or irregular heartbeat, which can make you feel like you’re in fight-or-flight mode. (If you think you might be anemic, to read more.)

“When someone is significantly anemic, the pulse may increase in order to circulate the available blood cells more rapidly,” explains Samaan. “This is the body’s natural way of coping, but the faster heart rate may create a sense of anxiety.”

Women who are menstruating or pregnant and people with chronic medical conditions—particularly rheumatoid arthritis or other autoimmune diseases, kidney disease, cancer, liver disease, thyroid disease, and inflammatory bowel disease—are most prone to developing anemia. And according to the American Society of Hematology, the risk increases with age. The most common form of anemia, iron-deficiency anemia, happens when you don’t have enough iron in your blood. Eating more iron-rich foods is one easy way to pump up the body’s iron stores. Find out here which foods contain the most iron.

PREVENTION PREMIUM: When It’s Okay To Play Doctor (And When It’s Not)

Nutritional deficiencies

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They’re rarely a doctor’s first thought when treating someone with anxiety, but nutritional deficiencies can trigger psychiatric symptoms, says Moore. Take zinc: While too little of this mineral is often linked to depression, a number of studies have also found that a zinc deficiency can lead to related symptoms, including anxiety. (90% of people are deficient in vitamin E—here’s the easiest way to get more without supplements.)

The average adult woman needs 8 mg of zinc a day (men require 11 mg), and like most vitamins and minerals, zinc can’t be made by the body. Since plants don’t contain as much zinc as animal proteins, zinc deficiency is common among vegetarians. Folks over 60 and those under a lot of stress are also prone to it. (Check out other signs you might not be getting enough zinc.)

Coming up short on B12 can also cause anxiety, along with depression. That’s because this vitamin is needed to create neurotransmitters that govern mood. Most adults need 2.4 micrograms a day, but some people (like vegetarians) don’t consume enough. Another factor is that your body becomes less able to absorb B12 from food as you get older. That likely explains why up to 20% of adults over age 50 have at least a borderline deficiency.

If you suspect you’re low on B12 or zinc, ask your doctor to run a blood test to check your levels.

Pancreatic cancer

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Anxiety seems to be a harbinger of pancreatic cancer, one of the top five cancer killers in both men and women. As one study reported, as many as half of people who ended up being diagnosed with the disease experienced symptoms of depression and anxiety beforehand, though it’s unclear why. There have also been two published cases of people having panic attacks prior to receiving their diagnosis. (Can a simple blood test find cancer before it spreads? Find out here.)

Here’s the good news: Pancreatic cancer is pretty rare; the average lifetime risk for both men and women is about 1 in 65, according to the American Cancer Society. The bad news is that it’s a difficult cancer to diagnose early, so survival rates are low. The pancreas is deep inside the body, so early tumors can’t be seen or felt during routine exams. And the initial symptoms—including jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), weight loss, fatigue, malaise, nausea, and back pain—are often subtle and come on gradually.

If you notice any symptoms, with or without anxiety, be sure to see your doctor.

Karyn Repinski Karyn Repinski is a deputy editor at Prevention.

How to Stop Anxiety Attacks and their Symptoms – The Anxiety Guide

Suddenly something feels very wrong. You feel like you might be losing control. You feel physical symptoms that mimic serious health problems and in some cases you feel as if death or doom is imminent.

The feeling builds up over time. It starts to get overwhelming. You feel one immense moment of pure fear as if this is your last moment on earth and then suddenly – out of nowhere – it fades away.

What you suffered from may feel as severe as a heart attack. But more likely what you suffered from is an anxiety attack. Anxiety attacks are intense moments of pure anxiety that cause real physical symptoms that create intense and devastating anxiety.

Introduction to Anxiety Attacks/Panic Attacks

Anxiety attacks are not a psychological term, so their definition can vary a bit depending on the speaker. But anxiety attacks are often used either synonymously with the term “panic attacks” (or as a way of referring to lighter versions of panic attacks that are a bit less debilitating but still very troublesome).

Panic attacks are short term (usually about 10 minutes) moments of anxiety so severe, it can feel like you are about to die. During an anxiety attack, you’ll often experience a host of physical and mental symptoms that can leave you severely frightened and incredibly drained once they pass. These include:

  • Rapid and pounding heartbeat.
  • Heart pressure.
  • Chest pains.
  • Sweating or hot/cold sensations.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Lightheadedness.
  • Muscle weakness or tingling.
  • Feelings of losing control.
  • Intense feeling of doom.
  • Depersonalization or feelings of going crazy.
  • Nausea or stomach discomfort.
  • Need to urinate or defecate.
  • Head pressure or headache.

It’s not uncommon to experience other unusual symptoms during an anxiety attack that all contribute to further fear. Anxiety attacks tend to peak around 10 minutes in and then slowly fade over the course of a few hours, often leaving the individual drained and anxious, and in some cases wondering what went wrong.

These panic attacks are rarely just feelings of nervousness or worry. They are very physical and mental events. Those that have never had a panic attack before don’t always realize that they had an anxiety attack. Some people have first-time anxiety attacks so severe that they call the hospital because they think something is going horribly wrong.

What Triggers an Anxiety Attack?

Anxiety attacks are unusual, in that they can be triggered under moments of heavy stress or fear, or they can be triggered by nothing at all. Often the first anxiety attack comes at a moment in a person’s life when they’re experiencing a lot of stress (although not always). But future panic attacks can be caused by almost anything:

  • Worry that they’ll have another panic attack.
  • Paying too much attention to how the body feels.
  • Absolutely nothing.

Once again, it is because anxiety attacks can seem and feel so random that not everyone that has them even knows or believes that they’re having an anxiety attack. Those that have panic attacks too often may even start to develop other anxiety conditions, such as health anxiety, because of how difficult it is to feel like their anxiety attacks are real.

Not everyone that has an anxiety attack once will have it again, however. Some people only experience an anxiety attack because they are under profound stress and exhaustion, or they’re faced with a dangerous situation. For example, if you almost got into a car accident you may experience a panic attack, but only because your anxiety in that situation was so strong that it was uncontrollable.

But many that have panic attacks will have them again. It depends on the individual.

What Anxiety Attacks Feel Like

Because of the very physical nature of anxiety attacks, they often are mistaken for some type of serious illness, and in some cases they may create a feeling of health anxiety. For many, the experience of an anxiety attack resembles that of more serious diseases, such as:

  • Heart Attacks.
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Lyme Disease
  • Brain Tumors
  • Heart Failure

Those who only experience an anxiety attack once may overcome it and their fears of a health problem may dissipate. For others, the experience of an anxiety attack may be so pronounced that it creates serious health fears that lead to hospitalization or several visits to the doctor.

It should be noted that only a doctor can rule out more serious conditions, so there is no harm in seeing the doctor for both a medical opinion of the causes of your experiences and to ease your mind. But note that when you suffer from anxiety attacks it can be very difficult for a doctor to convince you that you that you are healthy. Treating anxiety attacks is often the only way to find relief.

Alternative Anxiety Attack Definition

Earlier we mentioned that “anxiety attack” is not a medical term, but rather a descriptive term for intense moments of anxiety. Most people, including some medical professionals, refer to panic attacks as “anxiety attacks” simply because it is easier for people to understand. When you say “panic,” people tend to think of someone running away from Godzilla. When you term them “anxiety attacks,” people tend to understand it better.

But because anxiety attack is not a medical term, not everyone uses it the same way. Some people use anxiety attack as a way of describing severe symptoms of other anxiety disorders. For example, those with obsessive-compulsive disorder may have an “anxiety attack” when they encounter a trigger of extreme anxiety that forces them deep into their compulsions. Those with an upcoming test in school may call their significant worry about the test an “anxiety attack” even though they’re really just talking about being very nervous.

Keep this in mind when people describe anxiety attack, as the term may lead to a bit of miscommunication. For the purposes of this article, however, we’re talking about panic attacks, because panic attacks are a very real, very common anxiety problem that most people are referring to when they say they have these attacks.

Why Do Anxiety Attacks Cause These Physical Symptoms?

One of the most common reasons that anxiety attacks are such a frightening experience is because they cause physical symptoms that mimic more serious diseases. This causes many people to become incredibly fearful for their health, believing that there is no way something like anxiety can lead to such a physical response.

But anxiety causes a host of different physical reactions that can explain most of the anxiety symptoms, and the most common cause is hyperventilation.

What is Hyperventilation?

Even though your body needs oxygen to survive, and turns that oxygen into carbon dioxide when it’s been used up within the bloodstream, your body also expects a healthy amount of carbon dioxide in your circulatory system as well. Hyperventilation is the act of breathing either too quickly or incorrectly in such a way that you’re taking in too much oxygen while breathing out too much carbon dioxide.

Interestingly, during this time it may feel as though you’re not getting enough air, and your instinct may be to take deeper breaths. But by responding to that sensation by trying to take in more air, you’re actually making your hyperventilation worse, which is why those that try to get deeper breaths often feel their symptoms getting worse, causing further panic.

When there isn’t enough carbon dioxide in your blood, you experience the symptoms of an anxiety attack, including:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Chest pains
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Slurred speech
  • Numbness/tingling in the extremities
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness and more

Notice how each of these symptoms are the same as when you’re suffering from severe anxiety, which is why it often feels like an “attack” and why the symptoms feel so physical. They build on each other to create an experience that feels like something is terribly wrong.

The most likely cause of hyperventilation is breathing too quickly, which is a common response to anxiety. But it’s not the only cause either. You may also hyperventilate because:

  • You Breathe Poorly in General Those with anxiety often have alterations in their breathing that cause them to breathe in a way that is less than ideal for their body, either by taking in too much air or by breathing in an inefficient way. Anxiety attacks can also create poor breathing habits. This may be one of the reasons that people experience an anxiety attack seemingly out of nowhere, because they may be hyperventilating even when no anxiety is present.
  • You Think About Your Breathing Another common cause of hyperventilation occurs when you think too often about your breathing. Your body generally takes in as much air as it needs, often with very shallow breaths because your body only needs a very small amount of oxygen. Those that think about their breathing cause their breathing to be under their own control and many people will then try to take in deeper breaths than their body needs.

So while breathing quickly during stress and anxiety is the most common reason that people hyperventilate, it is not the only cause.

Hyperventilation from anxiety is not dangerous. All your body needs to do is regain its balance, which it will do once your anxiety attack starts to fade. But the symptoms of anxiety certainly feel dangerous at the time, which explains why so many people experience a rush of anxiety and panic.

Other Causes of Anxiety Attack Symptoms

Hyperventilation is not the only cause of anxiety attack symptoms either. Anxiety and stress have a tendency to cause your body to experience very strange sensations – often sensations that differ from person to person. Some people may feel like they can’t lift their head, or that something is wrong with their brain – these are all issues that may be caused by anxiety stress.

In addition, anxiety has a tendency to cause the brain to focus on sensations that would otherwise be normal. This is the result of over-sensitization – your mind is so tuned in to your body that it notices very small sensations that someone without anxiety would otherwise ignore.

Finally, the fear of getting anxiety attack symptoms can also trigger the symptoms. It’s unclear why this occurs, but most likely it is psychosomatic in some way (caused by your mind).

How to Control an Anxiety Attack

Anxiety attacks can be difficult to stop after they’ve started, but there are techniques that can help reduce their severity. If you believe you’re having or about to have an anxiety attack, try the following:

  • Remind Yourself it’s Anxiety It’s not going to stop an anxiety attack, but remind yourself that you’re having one. The symptoms you’re experiencing are very real and very stressful. In some cases, they may even be painful. But they’ll go away when the attack is over. The more you worry that something is wrong with your health, the more likely the attack will be worse.
  • Controlled Breathing Remember that hyperventilation is the most common cause of anxiety attack symptoms. If you can stop hyperventilating, the symptoms will decrease. Take slower breaths and don’t worry about trying to expand your chest. Breathe in through your stomach and breathe out very slowly. It can take a while to reduce the sensation that you need to get a deep breath, but it should stop the symptoms from getting worse.
  • Hold Your Breath at Peak For 2 or three seconds at the peak of each breath, hold your breath before breathing out. Remember, you want to give your body back a healthy balance of carbon dioxide, so holding your breath for a short time (not too long, but a couple of seconds) can increase CO2 in your body.
  • Tell People If you’re out with others, don’t be shy about your anxiety attack. Holding it in causes you to think about it too much, and that can increase your anxiety and feelings of doom. It may be a bit embarrassing to tell people that you’re suffering from a panic attack, but not telling people will not make the anxiety attack any better, and talking about it to others can reduce its severity.
  • Call Someone If you’re alone, calling someone on the phone and just talking to them can be a tremendous help. That’s because calling someone acts as a distraction. Remember, anxiety attacks are still caused by your mind and thoughts. When you’re on the phone talking with someone, you’re taken out of your own thoughts and engaging in conversation. This can have a powerful effect on the severity of your attack.
  • Other Distractions The more you’re taken “out of your own head,” the less severe your anxiety attacks will be. Try other things like going for a speed walk (if your legs are feeling strong enough), drinking water, turning on the TV, and anything else that keeps you from focusing too much on the symptoms.

Anxiety attacks are very difficult to stop once they’ve started, but by using the above tips you can reduce the severity. The less severe your panic attacks, the less you’ll fear them, and the easier they’ll be to control.

Anxiety Attack Prevention

Once your anxiety attacks are under more control, you’ll need to take steps to prevent them. Anxiety attacks can be one time things, but they’re still indicative of a larger anxiety problem and many people find that their anxiety attacks become recurring.

Prevention is about three things:

  • Controlling your overall anxiety and stress.
  • Controlling the way you react to severe stress.
  • Controlling the way you respond to anxiety attack symptoms.

Going to the doctor is always a good place to start. Make sure that you’ve had a full physical so that you will have greater peace of mind about your health. Try to stay away from panic attack medications, however – most cause severe fatigue and other symptoms that make them less than ideal for daily use.

Start exercising as well. Exercise is a known cure for stress – one of the most effective ways to relieve your daily anxiety. It’s also a healthy way to retrain your breathing. When you run, your body breathes as efficiently as possible, and this can help your body re-learn to breathe correctly.

Caffeine Challenge Induced Panic Attacks in Patients with Panic Disorder

June 22, 2007 — Patients with panic disorder or with major depression and panic attacks were more likely than control subjects to have panic attacks after drinking a high dose of caffeine, according to results of a small study by Isabella Nascimento, MD, and colleagues at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil.
These findings were presented in a poster at the American Psychiatric Association 2007 Annual Meeting, in San Diego, California. The study was also published in the May-June issue of Comprehensive Psychiatry.
“Caffeine is a substance that may induce anxiety symptoms, and in patients with panic disorder, it may even induce panic attacks,” Rafael C. R. Freire, MD, one of the researchers, commented to Medscape.
“Patients with depression with anxiety symptoms such as panic attacks have a predisposition to develop panic attacks with caffeine,” added team member Valfrido L. de Melo Neto, MD.
The anxiogenic effects of coffee have been shown in patients with panic disorders and patients with anxiety disorders, the researchers note. They sought to determine whether patients diagnosed with panic disorder or those diagnosed with major depression with panic attacks — based on criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed (DSM-IV) — would react in a similar way to an oral caffeine challenge test.
The study enrolled 29 patients diagnosed with panic disorder, 27 patients with major depression with panic attacks, 25 patients with major depression without panic attacks, and 28 healthy volunteers. The study subjects underwent a 4-week period with no psychotropic drugs. Then on 2 occasions, 7 days apart, the subjects participated in a randomized, double-blind challenge with either a 480-mg caffeine solution or a caffeine-free placebo solution that looked like coffee.
Dr. de Melo Neto commented that 480-mg caffeine is equivalent to about 5 cups of Brazilian coffee, which is much stronger than American coffee.
The patients were asked to rate their anxiety levels just before and 30 minutes after the caffeine challenge.
Compared with the depressed patients who did not have panic attacks or with the control subjects, the patients with panic disorder or with major depression with panic attacks were more sensitive to caffeine and more likely to have panic attacks.
Patients Who Experienced a Panic Attack After a 450-mg Caffeine Challenge

Outcome PD Group
(n = 29), n (%)
MDP Group,
(n = 27), n (%)
MD Group,
(n = 25), n (%)
Control Group,
(n = 28), n (%)
Panic attack 17 (58.6) 12 (44.4) 3 (12.0) 2 (7.1)

PD = panic disorder.
MDP = major depression with panic attacks.
MD = major depression without panic attacks.
No study subject had a panic attack after drinking the caffeine-free solution.
The patients with panic disorder or with major depression with panic attacks also reported feeling much more anxious after drinking 450 mg of caffeine.
SUDS Anxiety Rating* Before and After 450-mg Caffeine Challenge Test, mean ± SD
PD = panic disorder.
MDP = major depression with panic attacks.
MD = major depression without panic attacks.
*SUDS = Subjective Units of Distress Scale; Anxiety rating from 0 (no anxiety) to 10 (maximum distress).
The team concludes that not only patients with panic disorder but also patients with major depression and panic attacks are hyperreactive to an oral high-dose caffeine challenge and have increased risk of caffeine-induced panic attacks.
The study was supported by the Brazilian Council for Scientific and Technological Development.
American Psychiatric Association 2007 Annual Meeting: Abstract NR628. May 19-24, 2007.
Compr Psychiatry. 2007;48:257-263. Abstract

7 Terrible Days Without Coffee: An Anti-Anxiety Experiment Gone Wrong

Health and wellness touch each of us differently. This is one person’s story.

“But first, coffee.”

This phrase is essentially my guiding philosophy in life. Since my first cup of coffee 12 years ago at age 16, I’ve been completely dependent on multiple steaming cups a day.

I’m a naturally tired person. I also struggle to get restful sleep because I have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

I used to drink a respectable one or two cups of coffee each morning, but since I began working from home in January, my coffee intake has skyrocketed. When a blissful, full pot of coffee is just within reach, it’s challenging not to drink three or four cups before noon.

Although I relish the benefits that coffee provides — the primary one being increased energy — I know it’s a habit that potentially has its downsides.

Experts believe high caffeine intake can make anxiety and sleep problems worse. Despite therapy and other mindfulness strategies, I consistently struggle to keep the worrying and overthinking at bay.

It can also be a trigger for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) — which I have. My gastroenterologist has previously told me to stop drinking coffee to improve my acid reflux.

I also have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). I’ve always thought coffee helps with my gut issues, but I know caffeine can be a trigger for people with IBS.

I decided to try giving up coffee for one week, not only to see if my anxiety would improve, but to see if my GERD and IBS would, too.

All the things I thought during one week without coffee:

Day one involved me chiding myself for thinking I could ever take on this challenge without some serious struggles.

Here are my internal thoughts and observations about my health over my agonizing week without coffee.

‘I absolutely cannot do this’

It took me three days to actually begin my one-week challenge. On Day 1, my mind felt foggy and I struggled to focus on my work. I guiltily traipsed into the kitchen to allow myself half a cup of coffee.

On Day 2, I did the exact same thing, overcome by my inability to simply wake up without coffee.

Finally, on Day 3, I battened down the hatches and went coffee-free.

I was driving to visit my grandmother in another state, and therefore didn’t have any mentally taxing work to do. This ended up being the perfect day to start the challenge, as I primarily consume as much coffee as I do to focus on my work as a writer.

‘I knew I would get a migraine’

Several hours into the drive on my first day without coffee, I felt an all-too-familiar dull pulsing behind my right eye.

I was getting a migraine. I thought this might happen, as I knew that some migraine sufferers can get headaches from caffeine withdrawal.

As my head pounded and my stomach began to turn, I popped an Excedrin Migraine (which has caffeine). But the migraine just wouldn’t go away. I took some ibuprofen before finally admitting it was time to take one of my prescription migraine medications.

The following day, I got a mild migraine, though I was able to nip it in the bud with medication before it grew too unbearable. On my third day without coffee, I had a dull tension headache.

It wasn’t until my fourth day without coffee that I didn’t get a headache.

‘I haven’t taken my GERD medication in days, but I don’t even need it’

I’ve been on a daily GERD medication, omeprazole (Prilosec), since last July when my acid reflux could no longer be controlled by the occasional Tums. I typically take omeprazole in two-week treatment doses, meaning two weeks with medication, then one week without.

When visiting my grandma, I packed my GERD medication, as I was in the middle of a two-week dose. Several days after I got home, I realized I hadn’t taken the medicine on my trip or unpacked it yet, meaning I hadn’t taken it in nearly a week.

Although I had a bit of reflux over the week, it was nowhere near as severe as it usually is without medication, which is likely why I forgot to take it.

I eat a fairly healthy diet low in foods that exacerbate GERD, like garlic, alcohol, and fried foods.

Coffee is one of the only GERD triggers that’s part of my diet, and I’ve always wondered if it was the culprit.

‘I can’t poop’

I have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It’s secondary to celiac disease, which can wreak havoc on my gut health.

I’m constipation-prone, so I often have long bouts of constipation several times a year.

Around my third day without coffee, I realized I hadn’t pooped since before the challenge.

Caffeinated drinks are known to have laxative-like effects for many people, myself being one of them.

I decided to take MiraLAX, an over-the-counter stool softener, to help my constipation.

I ended up needing to take the stool softener several times during the challenge, but I was never fully regular.

‘The afternoon energy slump is real’

Although it wasn’t easy, I managed to get through most mornings without coffee.

The brain fog eased up each day, and although the start to my morning was slower, I eventually got work done.

The real struggle happened around 3 or 4 p.m., when I felt myself beginning to wane.

I’ve always enjoyed several cups of matcha green tea at night, as the caffeine content is minimal, and I find it settles my stomach.

I came to long for this small burst of caffeine each night, and began brewing matcha earlier and earlier in the day.

One night during my challenge, I had plans to see Journey at Wrigley Field, a long-awaited family outing. Right before we left, I joked with everyone that I needed a nap.

My twin brother — also a major caffeine addict — tossed me a 5-hour Energy Shot. I’d never tried one. But desperate times call for desperate measures.

I drank the shot and felt relief wash over me as my body filled with energy just 20 minutes later.

Maybe I’m not meant to live a life without caffeine, I thought.

‘I don’t think my anxiety has improved’

Unfortunately, my anxiety didn’t noticeably improve during this one-week challenge.

Everyone with anxiety finds solutions that work for them. For me, coffee isn’t it. I also didn’t feel any significant improvements to my sleep. I still tossed and turned like I always do.

I’m self-employed as a writer and often find my most productive time is from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m., when I’m full of caffeine and can plow through my work.

And the more work I get done, the less anxious I often feel. Without coffee, my morning productivity slowed. I didn’t write as quickly. My deadlines inched closer with less work than usual to show for my hours at the computer.

It’s almost as though coffee lessens my anxiety, as it gives me the energy I need to meet all of my deadlines.

If copious coffee intake is one bad habit of mine, I can live with that

Maybe it’s because my experiment was only for one week, but I never reached a place of comfort without coffee.

I still felt foggy most mornings, and unable to fully focus on my work. The headaches went away after just a few days, but my yearning for coffee did not.

I counted down the days until my challenge was over and I could once again enjoy several heavenly cups of coffee each morning.

I woke up on the first day after my challenge and excitedly brewed a pot of coffee, only to find myself stopping after one cup. My GERD had returned.

Although life without coffee didn’t improve my anxiety or IBS, it did improve my GERD.

I’ve been weighing whether the benefits I reap from coffee outweigh the need to take a daily medication for acid reflux.

The only way to know will be giving up coffee for longer than one week, and I’m not sure if I’m ready to do that quite yet.

Jamie Friedlander is a freelance writer and editor with a passion for health. Her work has appeared in The Cut, Chicago Tribune, Racked, Business Insider, and Success Magazine. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found traveling, drinking copious amounts of green tea, or surfing Etsy. You can see more samples of her work on her website. Follow her on Twitter.

Does Coffee Actually Cause Anxiety? 

Caffeine is a psychoactive drug that, according to research, can cause or enhance anxiety and other stress-related signs and symptoms in several ways. While the aroma, the taste, the routine, the warmth of the cup in your hands, and the feeling you get when you take your first sip in the morning may be cause for celebration, for some too much of a good thing can cause problems.

Even those with a high tolerance for caffeine (AKA everyone who drinks Death Wish) can experience these things if they’re not careful about their consumption. Here are a few of many ways that caffeine is linked to anxiety according to Be Brain Fit, and what you can do to combat it.

  1. Caffeine increases stress hormones.

Most people with anxiety would agree that they have a lot of weight on their shoulders. Caffeine adds to the burden. Similar to stress, caffeine increases heart rate, blood pressure, and levels of stress hormones. Caffeine -consumption can more than double your blood levels of the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine.

  1. Caffeine affects neurotransmitter balance.

Caffeine often gives us a desirable feeling- increased motivation, productivity, and brain power. This is a result of increasing brain chemicals dopamine and acetylcholine. However, caffeine hinders the calming neurotransmitter GABA, which puts the brain activity on hold when needed. GABA is married to happiness and relaxation, so it’s no surprise that having a low GABA level can lead to anxiety and panic attacks.

  1. Caffeine causes insomnia.

If your mind is stuck in a never-ending marathon at night time, caffeine can contribute to this problem. Caffeine-induced sleep disorder is actually a recognized psychiatric disorder. Getting good sleep is essential to our brains since this is when metabolic debris and toxins are washed away and repaired into new brain cells. It’s important to keep in mind that any caffeine you consume, even 6 hours prior to bedtime can significantly disrupt your sleep.

  1. Caffeine is linked to psychiatric disorders.

Enough caffeine can create symptoms of anxiety in a healthy person that are indistinguishable from those experienced by anxiety disorder sufferers. Caffeine has also been linked to mental disorders including anxiety, panic and depression, as well as sleep and eating disorders. Fact: In 1987, it was recommended that decaffeinated beverages should be provided in psychiatric wards. Taking schizophrenic patients off caffeine has actually been proven to help their anxiety, irritability, and hostility.

  1. Caffeine can increase anxiety when taken with many medications.

Caffeine is often consumed out of habit, making it an immense part of our daily life. That being said, it sometimes slips our mind that it’s a psychoactive drug and therefore, doesn’t mix well with other drugs. Check out drugs.com for a list of over 80 medications that should not be taken alongside caffeine. It is often added to over-the-counter drugs such as painkillers to make them more effective, however, consequently increases the number of side effects in asthma medications, antidepressants, and some antibiotics.

It’s no secret that coffee is a staple in many lives. In this case, looks, scents, and tastes can all be considered deceiving if you aren’t listening to your body and giving it the essential nutrients it needs. If you’re someone who deals with anxiety, you may want to try a more natural form of caffeine, such as green tea. I would recommend sticking to one coffee a day, but if you give a human a coffee, chances are, they’re going to want another.

Related: Here’s The Real Reason Coffee Makes You Poop

Watch this video:

Green tea may help to reduce anxiety

Many of us find comfort in a nice cuppa when we’re feeling stressed. Now, researchers at Kumamoto University in Japan has found that matcha, the deep green tea used in Japanese tea ceremonies, can help to reduce anxiety in mice.


Matcha is the finely ground powder of new leaves from shade-grown Camellia sinensis green tea bushes. In its native Japan, matcha has long been thought to be of medicinal use to help people relax, prevent obesity, and improve the condition of the skin.

  • Mice study suggests green tea and carrots may help to reduce Alzheimer’s-like symptoms
  • Is green tea better for you than breakfast tea?

The team placed mice in a raised, cross-shaped maze with two arms walled off and the others open with no barrier around the edge. This setup is commonly used as an anxiety test for rodents, the idea being that animals experiencing higher levels of anxiety will spend more time in the safer, walled-off areas. They found that animals that had been given matcha extract exhibited far less anxious behaviour.

The tea’s calming effect appears to be due to changes in the mice’s dopamine D1 receptors and serotonin 5-HT1A receptors found in the central nervous system, both of which are closely related to anxious behaviour.

“Although further research is necessary, the results of our study show that Matcha, which has been used as medicinal agent for many years, may be quite beneficial to the human body,” said Dr. Yuki Kurauchi. “We hope that our research into Matcha can lead to health benefits worldwide.”


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Why Drinking Coffee Might Be Fueling Your Anxiety

You already know that too much caffeine can bring on the jitters. Sip a second espresso after dinner, and you’re bound to feel a bit on edge. But could that 3 p.m. soy latte actually be messing with your mental health? If you struggle with anxiety, the answer may be yes.

“Overall, caffeine is often bad news for people with anxiety,” says Susan Bowling, PsyD, a psychologist at the Women’s Health Center at the Wooster Branch of Cleveland Clinic. That’s because the powerful stimulant naturally found in coffee beans jump-starts anxiety by speeding up bodily functions.

“The natural effects of caffeine stimulate a host of sensations, such as your heart beating faster, your body heating up, your breathing rate increasing—all things that mimic anxiety,” Bowling tells Health. “Psychologically, it’s difficult for your mind to recognize that this is not anxiety because it feels the same.” Restlessness, nervousness, headaches, sweating, insomnia, and ringing in the ears are other common signs of caffeine-triggered anxiety.

RELATED: 11 Real People on How They Deal With Anxiety

According to Bowling, some studies show that consuming more than 200 mg of caffeine (about the amount in just two cups of coffee) can increase the likelihood of anxiety and panic attacks in people sensitive to it. It is so powerful that “caffeine-induced anxiety disorder” is a subclass in the DSM-5 diagnostic manual, she adds.

Yet caffeine, which is the most commonly consumed psychoactive substance in the world, doesn’t affect us all the same way. The reason? “In part, it is the way your body is wired,” says Bowling. “Some people can handle a little caffeine and others are very sensitive to it. It’s based primarily on your genetics.” People who are sensitive to the effects of caffeine may simply metabolize it more quickly than others, for example.

If you’re prone to post-coffee anxious feelings, regular caffeine consumption can set you up in a vicious cycle. “ one has an anxiety attack, can’t sleep at night due to the caffeine-induced anxiety, feels very low energy in the morning, then drinks coffee to wake up…and then starts the cycle over again,” says Bowling.

Could your morning joe be behind your anxiety? There are ways to tell. Bowling suggests doing a mini-observational study on yourself to find out.

RELATED: Is Cold Brew as Healthy as Regular Coffee?

“Keep a journal of the impact of caffeine for a week,” says Bowling. Aside from counting every cappuccino and latte you sip, track other sneaky sources of caffeine you might consume, such as decaf coffee (yep, even decaf has a little caffeine), cola, chocolate, OTC pain medication, energy drinks, and infused mints or snacks. The next week, eliminate all caffeine while keeping the rest of your diet and activities the same. “For people who have anxiety, they often notice an improvement in their anxiety levels,” she says.

What if you don’t struggle with anxiety—should you still cut back on caffeinated coffee or tea for the sake of your mental health? Not necessary, says Lauren Slayton, RDN, nutritionist and founder of the private practice Foodtrainers in New York City. “It’s a question of dosage,” explains Slayton. “Coffee absolutely picks you up, and it improves cognition and athletic performance. too much of most things backfires.”

While there’s no one size fits all approach to caffeine consumption, experts suggest sipping coffee in moderation to reap the beverage’s purported health benefits, which include a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. ”We recommend one or two cups of coffee per day max, with no crappy sweeteners or creamers,” says Slayton.

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FRIDAY, July 19, 2019 (HealthDay News) — If you struggle with anxiety, you might want to skip that second cup of coffee, new research suggests.

For some people, caffeine may help with concentration and provide an energy boost, but it can cause problems for those with general anxiety disorder, said Dr. Julie Radico, a clinical psychologist with Penn State Health.

“Caffeine is not the enemy,” she said in a university news release. “But I encourage people to know healthy limits and consume it strategically because it is activating and can mimic or exacerbate the symptoms of anxiety.”

Low doses of caffeine are in the range of 50 to 200 milligrams (mg). Consuming more than 400 mg at once may lead to feeling overstimulated and anxious, and bring on symptoms such as racing heart, nausea or abdominal pain.

Anxiety is a common problem, but many patients and their doctors don’t think about caffeine as a potential contributing factor, said Dr. Matthew Silvis, vice chair of clinical operations in the division of family medicine at Penn State Health.

“We want people to consider whether there may be a connection between their caffeine consumption and anxiety,” he said.

As well as being a potential problem for people with anxiety, caffeine can interact negatively with medications for seizure disorders, liver disease, chronic kidney disease, certain heart conditions or thyroid disease, Silvis noted.

“Medical disorders that a patient may already have can become more difficult to control,” he said.

In terms of amounts of caffeine, an average cup of home-brewed coffee has about 100 mg, compared with 250 mg in a tall Starbucks coffee and as much as 400 mg in energy drinks. A can of Mountain Dew has 55 mg while a can of Coca-Cola has 35 mg.

Many vitamin and sports or nutritional supplements also contain caffeine, but many people don’t think to check the labels of those products, Silvis added.

For the first three days I was like a junkie in withdrawal, suffering from a bad headache, inertia and total exhaustion. But on day four I began to notice a change. I was less dehydrated and had more energy. There was a dawning lightness: no mood swings and far less brooding melancholia. And – crucially – the non-specific angst that has been with me for years melted away too.

My sister and my husband were both swift to comment on how much calmer I seemed. My husband, previously my partner-in-coffee-crime, suggested I should consider doing it for longer than a week. The strangest thing was, I agreed with him. I was and am so grateful that all I have to do to feel better, is to not do something.

It felt like a huge relief not to be constantly looking for my next fix. The preparation of the espresso pot and the searching out of the best coffee shop used to feel like a joyous ritual. I’ve replaced it with mint tea and am relieved I don’t have to interrupt my day to feed an addiction.

At first I wondered whether, with temptation on every street corner, I could keep it up. But having made the connection between my state of mind and my coffee consumption, I just don’t want it any more. It’s not worth it. So goodbye coffee. I’ll always love you, but I just don’t need you now.

Coffee-induced anxiety.

WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Gary Vogin

When patients have trouble with panic attacks and come to psychologist Norman B. Schmidt, PhD, he asks if they drink coffee and whether the anxiety strikes shortly afterward, say, in the morning on the way to work.

If their answer is “yes,” he has a surprising treatment: More coffee. But now these patients carefully sip their java while noting their physical reactions. That way, Schmidt hopes, they’ll learn to recognize their pounding hearts and quickened pulses for what those symptoms really represent: a caffeine-induced buzz.

With coffeehouses springing up on every street corner, researchers like Schmidt are increasingly concerned about caffeine’s role in panic and other anxiety disorders. Indeed, caffeine’s power has become so well recognized that the American Psychiatric Association has added three related disorders to its list of official diagnoses: caffeine intoxication, caffeine-related anxiety, and caffeine-related sleep disorders.

“Caffeine is the most widely used mood-altering drug in the world,” says Roland Griffiths, PhD, a professor in the departments of psychiatry and neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “People often see coffee, tea, and soft drinks simply as beverages rather than vehicles for a psychoactive drug. But caffeine can exacerbate anxiety and panic disorders.”

It’s no surprise that caffeine gets so much attention from scientists these days. After all, 80% of Americans drink it. In fact, occasional coffee consumption rose 6% in the last year alone, according to the National Coffee Association. At the same time, panic and other anxiety disorders have become the most common mental illnesses in the United States. When caffeine overlaps with these disorders, the result can be trouble.

“If you tend to be a high-strung, anxious person,” says Schmidt, “using a lot of caffeine can be risky.”

Runaway Anxiety

Technically, caffeine works by blocking the depressant function of a chemical called adenosine, says Griffiths. For most of us, the result is a pleasurable sense of energy and focus. Indeed, a British study published in the October 1999 issue of Human Psychopharmacology confirmed what most latte-lovers already know: Caffeine enhances alertness, concentration, and memory.

Drink more coffee than you’re accustomed to, however, and that same stimulant can cause the jitters. And in people predisposed to anxiety disorders, caffeine can trigger a spiral of sensations — sweaty palms, a pounding heart, ringing in the ears — that leads to a full-blown panic attack.

What makes some of us feel panic while others feel pleasantly alert? Susceptible people experience caffeine’s effects as signs of impending doom. Once that happens, anxiety can take on a life of its own. While many give up coffee, others give up whatever they were doing when struck by caffeine’s disturbing side effects. Someone who downs coffee at breakfast and then hops on the freeway to work, for example, may attribute feelings of panic to rush-hour traffic rather than to caffeine.

Caffeine is a psychoactive drug that can cause or exacerbate anxiety and other stress-related signs and symptoms in many ways. Learn what you can do.

What You’ll Learn Here

If you have an anxiety disorder, and you’re concerned that caffeine is making it worse, your suspicions are probably correct.

Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that can significantly contribute to anxiety disorders. (1)

There’s evidence that quitting caffeine can be even more beneficial for anxiety than taking prescription anti-anxiety drugs!

Here are 15 ways that caffeine is linked to anxiety … and what you can do about it.

1. Caffeine Increases Stress Hormones

Most people with anxiety would agree that they have too much stress in their lives — and caffeine adds to the burden.

Caffeine affects the body much like stress by increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and levels of stress hormones.

Caffeine consumption can more than double your blood levels of the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine. (2, 3)

2. Caffeine Affects Neurotransmitter Balance

Caffeine achieves many of its effects by blocking the activity of adenosine, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel sleepy and tired.

By increasing the brain chemicals dopamine and acetylcholine, caffeine imparts the feelings we desire — increased motivation, productivity, and brain power. (4, 5)

But for those with anxiety, there is a downside.

Caffeine also inhibits the calming neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). (6)

GABA slows brain activity when needed and has been called “nature’s Valium.”

It’s essential for feeling happy and relaxed, so it’s not surprising that a low GABA level is associated with anxiety and panic attacks.

Related on Be Brain Fit —
GABA Supplements for Stress and Anxiety (& which work best)

Serotonin is the neurotransmitter tied closely to happiness.

The relationship between caffeine and serotonin is complex.

Caffeine consumption initially increases serotonin, but there’s evidence that when consumed regularly caffeine may eventually lead to serotonin depletion. (7, 8)

3. Caffeine Causes Insomnia

One of the most common side effects of both anxiety and caffeine consumption is insomnia.

In fact, caffeine-induced sleep disorder is a recognized psychiatric disorder. (9)

If anxious thoughts make you restless at night, caffeine can compound the problem.

Caffeine particularly decreases sleep stages 3 and 4 during which deep, restorative sleep takes place. (10)

Getting adequate high-quality sleep is one of the most important things you can do for brain health and mental well-being.

It’s during sleep that your brain washes away toxins and metabolic debris, repairs itself, consolidates memories, and creates new brain cells. (11, 12, 13)

Caffeine consumed even six hours before bedtime can significantly disrupt sleep, so you may find you need to cut off caffeine earlier than you thought. (14)

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4. You May Have Caffeine Sensitivity

We all know people who can drink a pot of coffee after dinner and sleep like a rock.

If you have anxiety, you probably aren’t one of them.

The difference may be in your genes.

Scientists from Harvard School of Public Health have found several genes that directly influence how your body metabolizes caffeine. (15)

You may be sensitive to caffeine because you take longer than average to metabolize it.

The average half-life of caffeine is 5-6 hours, but everyone is different and the time it can take to eliminate caffeine varies widely.

It can take as little as two to as many as ten hours after ingestion to metabolize half of it. (16)

Related on Be Brain Fit —
The Effects of Caffeine on Depression

And there are other reasons you may be sensitive to caffeine.

Caffeine sensitivity increases with age, so you might not be able to drink caffeine like you used to. (17)

Men metabolize caffeine more slowly which makes them more caffeine sensitive than most women, the exceptions being women who are pregnant or taking birth control pills. (18, 19)

Caffeine sensitivity can be caused by an allergic reaction to caffeine, although true caffeine allergy is rare. (20)

More common is an allergy to mycotoxins, toxins produced by fungi and mold that are found in coffee. (21)

You may be taking medications that increase the side effects of caffeine.

Drinking alcoholic beverages slows down caffeine breakdown.

So do some healthy foods such as grapefruit and broccoli. (22)

Impaired ability to process caffeine is not unusual in people with liver disease, especially cirrhosis. (23)

5. Caffeine May Aggravate Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia occurs when your blood sugar drops too low.

A low blood sugar attack can leave you feeling jittery, sweating, irritable, and confused, with a pounding heart — a lot like an anxiety attack.

Related on Be Brain Fit —
25 Proven Natural Remedies for Anxiety Relief

Caffeine stimulates the release of the stress hormones cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, causing blood sugar levels to drop. (24)

If you suspect that your low blood sugar is exacerbated by caffeine, try going without it and notice if you experience any improvement.

6. Medications Plus Caffeine Can Increase Anxiety

Caffeine is so much a part of our culture, it’s easy to forget that it’s a psychoactive drug and, consequently, doesn’t always mix well with other drugs.

Drugs.com currently lists nearly 50 medications that should not be taken with caffeine.

Sometimes caffeine enhances the effects of some drugs — it’s often added to over-the-counter painkillers to make them work better.

But this same property also increases the number of side effects as is the case with asthma medications, antidepressants, and some antibiotics. (25, 26)

Sometimes caffeine undermines the effectiveness of medications.

Anti-anxiety medications, sleeping pills, and lithium for bipolar disorder fall into this category.

Pharmacist Suzy Cohen reveals some alarming interactions between caffeine and prescription drugs in her book Drug Muggers: Which Medications Are Robbing Your Body of Essential Nutrients — and Natural Ways to Restore Them.

She reports that caffeine can cause tremors, panic attacks, and insomnia when taken with antidepressants that are SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors).

Caffeine should be avoided when taking breathing medications that contain the stimulant xanthine.

When taken together, they can cause anxiety as well as dangerous heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and arrhythmia.

When caffeine is used with ADHD medications like Adderall and Ritalin, it increases nervousness, irritability, insomnia, and heart rhythm abnormalities.

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7. Added Caffeine Is an Unregulated, Synthetic Chemical

Coffee and various teas, including green tea, matcha, and yerba mate, contain caffeine naturally.

But the caffeine found in sodas, energy drinks, energy gel packs, and caffeine pills and powders is rarely extracted from tea leaves or coffee grounds — that would be prohibitively expensive.

The demand for added caffeine has far outstripped natural caffeine production since World War II.

Added caffeine is synthetically manufactured in pharmaceutical plants from chemical precursors like urea and chloroacetic acid.

It is usually made in China or sometimes in India or Germany.

Journalist and self-proclaimed caffeine addict Murray Carpenter, author of Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us, traveled to China to check out the world’s largest caffeine plant while doing research for his book.

It was not the high-tech facility he imagined.

Here’s how he described the caffeine factory in his book:

“… half the windows were smashed, and rags streamed out. Bags of stockpiled chemicals sat inside the broken first-floor windows. The place reeked — a chemical stench to make you gag — and a tall rusty tank leaked a tarry sludge.“

He reveals that if you drink soda or energy drinks, you’ve almost certainly consumed caffeine produced there.

Lastly, don’t be impressed if you see the words “naturally caffeinated” on a product label.

Unscrupulous manufacturers ignore labeling requirements and use the synthetic version anyway. (27)

Natural and synthetic caffeine are technically identical, yet can be told apart by carbon dating. (28)

Synthetic caffeine registers as “older” since it’s made from fossil fuels.

Oddly, synthetic caffeine can exhibit another telltale sign — sometimes it glows. (29)

8. Too Much Caffeine Is Linked to Psychiatric Disorders

It’s been recognized for decades that the symptoms of too much caffeine are very similar to those of many psychiatric disorders.

Enough caffeine can even create symptoms of anxiety in a healthy person that are indistinguishable from those experienced by anxiety disorder sufferers.

Some psychiatrists recommend that routine psychiatric assessments should include examining caffeine consumption since removing caffeine can be more beneficial than prescribing an anti-anxiety drug.

Related on Be Brain Fit —
11 Benefits of Tapping for Anxiety Relief

Caffeine use has been linked to mental disorders of all kinds including anxiety, panic, depression, as well as sleep and eating disorders.

Taking schizophrenic patients off caffeine has improved their anxiety, irritability, and hostility. (30)

Some experts are so convinced that caffeine is problematic, they’ve recommended that decaffeinated beverages be provided on psychiatric wards. (31, 32)

9. Caffeine Causes at Least Four Recognized Mental Disorders

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the American Psychiatric Association’s standard guide of mental disorders.

The most recent edition is the fifth version known as the DSM-5.

The DSM-5 now lists four caffeine-related disorders: (33)

  • caffeine intoxication
  • caffeine-induced anxiety disorder
  • caffeine-induced sleep disorder
  • caffeine withdrawal

The World Health Organization and many health care professionals recognize caffeine addiction as a clinical disorder.

For now, the preferred term is caffeine use disorder. (34)

It’s been included as a condition for further study in the DSM-5.

10. It’s Easier Than Ever to Overdo Caffeine Consumption

There are more sources of caffeine than ever before.

You expect to find it in coffee, tea, chocolate, and cola soda, but it’s also hidden in prescription drugs, over-the-counter painkillers, non-cola drinks, vitamin waters, brain tonics, and even in vitamins and herbal supplements. (35)

Caffeine is commonly added in so-called brain supplements, often as part of a proprietary blend which means the label won’t say how much it contains.

The amount of caffeine in energy drinks can be deceiving since some of the serving sizes of these drinks are so small.

5-Hour Energy Shot contains a jaw-dropping 100 mg of caffeine per ounce.

Another problem is that labels aren’t always accurate.

Sunkist orange soda lists 41 mg of caffeine on its label, but in fact was found to have almost six times as much caffeine at 240 mg per bottle. (36)

Caffeine’s effects are consistently underestimated, but here’s what escalating amounts of caffeine can do to you: (37)

  • 1/64 teaspoon will give you a subtle boost
  • 1/16 teaspoon (the amount in 12 oz of coffee) can lead to addiction
  • 1/4 teaspoon causes acute anxiety
  • 1 tablespoon is enough to kill an adult

It’s thought to be virtually impossible to drink yourself to death with naturally occurring caffeine.

But now pure caffeine pills and powder can easily and inexpensively be purchased online, making caffeine overdose a reality.

Sadly, there have been a few deaths caused by caffeine powder overdose. (38, 39)

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11. Caffeine Robs Your Brain of Essential Nutrients

Caffeine causes nutrients to be excreted from your body, some of which are particularly important for your brain health and mood.

One of the nutrients that gets depleted is magnesium, a mineral that has profound effects on your mental well-being. (40)

Magnesium plays a critical role in a number of brain-related disorders including: (41, 42, 43, 44)

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • addictions
  • ADHD
  • bipolar disorder
  • schizophrenia
  • Alzheimer’s disease

Related on Be Brain Fit —
8 Ways Magnesium Relieves Anxiety and Stress

Caffeine also robs you of the B complex vitamins, known as the “anti-stress vitamins.”

Anxiety is a common sign of B vitamin deficiency. (45)

Taking extra B vitamins can address imbalances of the brain chemicals GABA, serotonin, dopamine, and epinephrine that contribute to anxiety. (46)

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12. Caffeine Can Make Your Brain Supplement Useless

When you are anxious, blood flow to the brain is already reduced and caffeine can reduce it further. (47)

Caffeine restricts blood flow to the brain by as much as 27%. (48)

Blood flow is the delivery system for getting nutrients of all kinds to your brain including oxygen, water, glucose, vitamins, and minerals.

Many people take brain supplements and nootropics like ginkgo, citicoline, curcumin, and vinpocetine to increase blood flow to the brain not realizing that the caffeine they drink is essentially neutralizing this effect.

Caffeine’s effects vary depending on how quickly you process it.

If you are pregnant or taking birth control pills it can take longer to process caffeine than usual, up to twice the usual half-life of four to five hours. (49, 50)

This means you’ll get double the boost and side effects from any caffeine you consume.

Caffeine also increases symptoms of menopause including anxiety, insomnia, hot flashes, bone loss (by leaching calcium), heart palpitations, and mood swings.

Likewise, caffeine can also worsen the anxiety, fatigue, and irritability experienced by women with premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

14. Caffeine Induces “Panic Attacks on Demand” for Scientific Research

It’s notoriously difficult to study panic attacks since you can’t get study subjects to experience them on demand.

Or can you?

Caffeine so reliably induces panic attacks that it’s used for that purpose in studies.

By giving participants with social anxiety disorder 480 mg of caffeine, 61% of them experienced caffeine-induced panic attacks. (51)

Researchers have also used caffeine to induce auditory hallucinations (i.e., hearing non-existent sounds) in test subjects. (52)

15. Caffeine Withdrawal Causes Anxiety

If you have anxiety, caffeine gets you coming and going.

Not only does it make you feel anxious when you drink it, it also makes you anxious when you quit drinking it!

Caffeine withdrawal is a recognized mental disorder. (53)

Related on Be Brain Fit —
If you’ve decided that eliminating caffeine would be a good idea, learn how to quit caffeine with minimal side effects in our article on caffeine addiction and withdrawal.

Withdrawal symptoms include anxiety as well as brain fog, depression, irritability, fatigue, insomnia, muscle aches, and nausea.

This may put you off trying to quit, but it’s still worth it since the worst of caffeine withdrawal usually lasts only a few days.

The Worst and Best Caffeinated Drinks If You Have Anxiety

Not all sources of caffeine are equally beneficial or detrimental.

Soft drinks contain synthetic caffeine, loads of sugar, and have no nutritive value.

Energy drinks are no better even though they may contain some added herbs or vitamins.

The International Society of Sports Nutrition has concluded that any performance enhancement from energy drinks comes from caffeine and sugar, NOT from these added nutrients. (54)

Traditional caffeinated drinks like coffee, tea, and yerba mate contain antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and phytonutrients that offer major health benefits and actually build a better, healthier brain.

If you’d like to continue to drink some caffeine to stay alert and productive, there’s no better drink than green tea.

Green tea will help you stay simultaneously calm and focused due to two unique compounds, EGCG and l-theanine.

EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) is a potent antioxidant that can improve your mood and make you more resilient to stress by increasing the calming neurotransmitter GABA. (55, 56)

One study found EGCG to be as effective at relieving anxiety as the anti-anxiety medication benzodiazepine. (57)

L-theanine is a relaxing amino acid that causes an increase in alpha brainwave activity, putting you in a state similar to that experienced during meditation. (58)

The caffeine, EGCG, and theanine in green tea work together to induce a desirable state of calm alertness. (59)

Caffeine and Anxiety: Take the Next Step

Caffeine is not the innocuous substance it might seem to be.

The evidence is overwhelming that this psychoactive drug can exacerbate or cause anxiety.

It’s been linked to a handful of recognized psychiatric disorders.

Caffeine causes anxiety by many mechanisms — increasing stress hormones, reducing calming neurotransmitters, depleting nutrients, and reducing blood flow to the brain.

If you’re going to drink any caffeinated drink, make it green tea which contains relaxing compounds.

READ NEXT: All About Caffeine Addiction and Withdrawal & How to Quit

Does Coffee Cause Anxiety?

Anxiety is a serious issue. Anxiety is essentially long term stress – and stress is damaging to the mind and body. Stress from anxiety can lead to DNA damage as well as potential long-term health problems such as gastrointestinal issues, respiratory problems, heart disease, memory loss, and more.

In the short term, anxiety is damaging as well. Regular, persistent anxiety causes fatigue and negative thinking that takes away from any of life’s joys. It may also cause physical symptoms like nausea, indigestion, and muscle aches that can make it difficult to remain active.

Overall, when you experience anxiety regularly, it is something that needs to be treated. Prevention of anxiety can be done by identifying your triggers for it. One common item that people claim causes anxiety is coffee.

Anxiety and Diet

In general, anxiety can have any number of different causes. Upbringing certainly plays a role, as the behavioral interactions you’ve experienced throughout your life may contribute to long term stress. We know that genetics can lead to anxiety, as can illnesses.

Diet may also lead to anxiety. Some foods can actually help fight anxiety, providing you with nutrients that act as sedatives and give your body more rest. Other foods can exacerbate anxiety – either through causing anxiety itself or contributing to anxiety symptoms.

Some anxiety experts will tell you that one food that consistently contributes to anxiety is coffee. These experts recommend that those experiencing anxiety refrain from coffee or other caffeinated beverages in order to control anxiety symptoms.

The origin of this is not that clear.

It seems as though people assume coffee causes anxiety because the symptoms of too much caffeine mimic those of anxiety. For instance, excess caffeine consumption (greater than the recommended daily limit of 400mg of caffeine per day) can cause some problems such as upset stomach, heart palpitations, nausea, dizziness, and more.

But in moderation, caffeine is fairly mild, and those with a tolerance often experience few symptoms at all. In fact, if we look at the research, it’s possible that caffeine may actually be good for anxiety.

Potential Benefits of Coffee/Caffeine on Anxiety

It’s important to note that we are talking about those with generalized anxiety or daily anxiety – not necessarily those with other anxiety disorders (more on that later).

We’re also talking about only one to four cups of coffee or tea per day, with no added ingredients. Many people add sugars, creamers, and other ingredients to their caffeinated drinks, and these may cause their own issues. We are focusing 400 milligrams of caffeine, or less, in black coffee or green tea.

With those parameters in place, there is reason to believe that caffeine has no negative effect on anxiety, and may actually be beneficial for those that have mild to moderate general anxiousness.

Several studies examined the relationship between caffeine and anxiety. They found that there were interesting changes to the body that occurred when people with anxiety consumed caffeine. For example, those with anxiety may not need as much caffeine to experience the same effects. But, the research also showed that anxiety scores were no different between those that consumed caffeine and those that did not.

Few studies appear to confirm the theory that caffeine has a negative effect on anxiety.

What several studies have found is the opposite – that caffeine may actually help those with anxiety, stress, and possibly even mild depression. A study in Brazil found that many of those with moderate caffeine consumption experienced less depressive symptoms and fewer cognitive failures, indicating that those that consumed caffeine actually felt better, not worse. In the same study, only a “rare, high dose” of caffeine caused what the authors of the study termed “anxiety” – a level of caffeine that few habitual coffee drinkers consume.

An interesting summary of the possible benefits of caffeine consumption was published by the New York Times. They showed several of the known benefits of caffeine, including:

  • An Effect on Mood Those that consumed caffeine tended to have an “improved sense of wellbeing.” It appears that caffeine itself has the natural ability to, in layman terms, “lift the spirit.” Studies have shown that caffeine may reduce mild depression and calm the mind. Many people also feel better about themselves, with a greater level of happiness that could, in theory, reduce the amount of anxiety they experience.
  • Increased Energy Mental and physical energy are an important part of living with anxiety. While anxiety could be described as pent up energy, the reality is that anxiety tends to cause fatigue and general indifference to life events. Exercising, maintaining an active social life, and completing tasks all require energy, and for many, caffeine provides that energy.
  • Cognitive Benefits Studies have also shown that caffeine has a beneficial effect on memory and cognition. Intelligent decision making and comfort with one’s own memory are valuable tools for dealing with life’s stresses, and so caffeine could conceivably provide some level of additional support for dealing with the day.

Research has shown that there are also other potential benefits, such as drinking coffee socially (which provides social support – an important tool for combatting anxiety), lowering the risk of developing Type II diabetes, and more.

There may also be benefit to the routine itself. Routines are a natural form of comfort. The more you get into a routine, the more comfortable you feel with yourself and your surroundings. Those that drink coffee regularly often start to need it as a way of avoiding withdrawal symptoms (and simply as an enjoyable drink to start the day). These routines, like visiting a regular coffee shop or brewing at home every morning, can allow you to begin each day more comfortably.

Each of these represents a potential reason that caffeine may benefit those living with anxiety. Yet even if one doesn’t believe in these benefits, the reality is that there is very little, if any, evidence that those living with general anxiety are negatively affected by caffeine.

Caffeine and Panic Attacks

As mentioned earlier, however, there are other anxiety issues beyond generalized anxiety. It is possible that caffeine and coffee do provide some type of anxiety-related consequence for those that suffer from panic attacks.

Are You Having Panic Attacks?

Panic attacks are a symptom of Panic Disorder and other anxiety disorders. Panic attacks are instances of intense fear usually characterized by their physical symptoms, rather than normal everyday worries, and peak within 10 minutes.

Panic attacks are immensely physical events, and many people that have panic attacks are hospitalized because they think they’re suffering from a heart attack. Those that suffer from panic attacks are, or become, overly sensitive to their body’s physical sensations. At any moment, they may feel something in their body that triggers a rush of anxiety which cascades into a full blown panic attack, which has a number of physical symptoms that can cause considerable health fears.

Panic attacks are often misunderstood because they are nearly impossible to control without treatment. The health triggers can be as simple as not feeling as though the person got a deep breath, or getting some slight discomfort in their chest. Once they notice this feeling, those with panic disorder are flooded with uncontrollable anxiety leading to a debilitating panic attack.

Panic attacks appear to be the one area that caffeine negatively affects. The reason for this has to do with how attuned the person is to the reactions caused by caffeine:

  • Slight increase in heart rate.
  • Excess energy.
  • Occasional stomach discomfort or bloating.

These things are relatively harmless, and often go unnoticed by those without panic disorder. But those with panic attacks can’t help but notice them because they are hypersensitive to these sensations.

After drinking coffee and experiencing just the slightest increase in heart rate, those with panic attacks immediately feel it much more pronounced than before, and a panic attack may be triggered. Simply the rush of caffeine itself may lead to some type of sensation that triggers an attack.

Therefore, it is possible to say that caffeine affects anxiety, but only as it relates to panic attacks, which are a very specific type of anxiety problem.

Other Issues That Could Link Caffeine and Anxiety

It is possible that one of the reasons that a link is considered present is because anxiety is a subjective experience. Most people can feel caffeine when it gets into their system. Those that feel it and are asked about their anxiety levels may simply be attributing their extra energy to anxiety retroactively. Anxiety is a subjective experience, and generally subjective experiences make for inconsistent anecdotal evidence.

Furthermore, it’s possible that studies about the effects of caffeine do not take into account tolerance. It’s possible (although once again, the research doesn’t support this claim) that those that have not had caffeine in the past react strongly to the drug moreso than those that are tolerant. This could also create a feeling of energy that is attributed to anxiety, but is generally nothing more than caffeine related energy.

Finally, we mentioned earlier that what you add to your caffeinated beverages could affect anxiety as well. Refined sugars can be harmful to the body, so sodas and heavily sugared caffeinated drinks may not be ideal.

All of these could potentially link caffeine and anxiety, as well as coffee and anxiety, but none of them are evidence that coffee causes generalized anxiety – only that there are reasons that others may subjectively report anxiety while on caffeine.

Choosing Whether or Not to Drink Coffee

Those that live with anxiety deal with a considerable amount of stress every day. That stress can have a powerful effect on day to day living, and those that suffer from that level of anxiety should consider everything they can to improve their quality of life.

If this means you want to try cutting out caffeine from your diet, then you should cut caffeine from your diet. The potential anxiety benefits of caffeine are mild at best, and people react differently to different dietary changes, so it may be worthwhile quitting caffeine and seeing if your anxiety feels like it is decreasing.

Nevertheless, research has yet to show a strong link between coffee and anxiety, and other research seems to show the opposite effect – that not only does caffeine not affect anxiety, it could benefit it as well. As long as you’re limiting your caffeine consumption to healthy levels (no more than 400mg per day) and not suffering from panic attacks, there is little reason to believe that you need to stop drinking that next cup of coffee.

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