3 Ways Caffeine Can Increase Anxiety And Stress (and How to Fix It)

caffeine habit

Caffeine is the most consumed stimulatory drug worldwide. Walk into any grocery or convenience store and you’ll come across a plethora of “energy drinks” containing crazy amounts of caffeine (and negligible amounts of vitamins).

Moreover, since Starbucks is taking over the world, coffee is pretty much available at arms length wherever you are, at any given moment.

By finishing just one Tall from Starbucks you are consuming double the suggested maximum daily amount of caffeine.

I know it’s part morning (or daily) ritual for a lot of us, I’m guilty of consuming too much coffee myself, but regardless it’s something to be aware of.

In addition, if you’re struggling with anxiety or high levels of stress, caffeine may be the enemy and not an ally.

Read on as this article will dive into the nature of this drug, its side effects, and how it can exacerbate anxiety.

And don’t worry if the jitter juice has you in it’s death grip, we’ll share some helpful tips on kicking the habit or at least reducing the amount you consume daily.

What Exactly is Caffeine?

On the molecular level, caffeine is an organic compound that belongs to a class of substances called methylxanthines (shown in the picture below). Methylxanthines serve to stimulate the central nervous system (CNS) and heart; these substances are naturally occurring in coffee beans, various tea leaves, some fruits and other foods/plants.

Physiologically speaking, methylxanthines serve as acetylcholinesterase and phosphodiesterase (PDE) enzyme inhibitors, the latter of which imparts many noticeable ramifications. PDE enzymes are responsible for the breakdown of key cell messengers called cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) and cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP).

Therefore, blocking PDE enzymes helps cAMP and cGMP levels increase. In turn, metabolic processes in your cells become more rapid, and you start to feel ‘on edge’ and ‘jittery’.

Primary Effects (and Side Effects) of Caffeine

You may recall that the CNS comprises your spinal cord and brain; it is the route through which your body sends and receives signals. Thus, after consuming CNS stimulants, a variety of short-term effects take place, including:

  • Increase in heart rate
  • Psychostimulation
  • Vasoconstriction
  • Increase (albeit not significantly) in metabolic rate
  • Increase urination/excretion frequency

Some of these above effects are desirable, while others are not particularly promising for anxiety (specifically vasoconstriction, rapid heartbeat, and frequent urination). For a look at a comprehensive list of caffeine side effects, see the image below:

It’s also important to note that the half-life of caffeine is rather short (about 3-4 hours). Unfortunately, this means that the “high” you feel after consuming caffeine quickly fades, leading to a “crash”.

The Ways Caffeine Can Impact Anxiety

It Can Be Habit Forming

While there may be benefits from caffeine use,  it can still be habit forming. Furthermore, the amount of caffeine you must consume gradually increases as you become resistant to its effects.

This is why most coffee drinkers can slam a large Starbucks Mochaccino and not feel any sort of ‘buzz’, or they get a short-lived burst of energy and crash 30 minutes later.

In the long-term, you can develop such a high tolerance for caffeine that practically no amount will give you the usual pep you’re looking for.

It Rapidly Increases Adrenaline

If you had the chance to read our article on how neurotransmitters work, you might recall that adrenaline is a stress hormone.

As such, large increases of adrenaline in your body can make you feel restless and uneasy (two things that anxious people already deal with enough). Naturally, caffeine tends to be counterproductive for easing anxiety.

It Impairs Your Ability to Rest

Really a no-brainer that consuming caffeine interferes with your ability to sleep.

The last thing you want to do in the hours before bed is pop caffeine pills or chug a 5-Hour Energy Drink because you will be tossing and turning all night.

If you already struggle to sleep as is, you might benefit from a supplement like Zhao Nutrition’s DriftOff. What we like about DriftOff is that it’s a blend of herbal ingredients scientifically proven to help calm the mind and aid in getting to sleep and staying asleep. Plus it’s non-habit forming.

It contains GABA, Typtophan, and Valerian Root to name a few.

How to Beat Your Coffee (Caffeine) Habit

If you’re like most caffeine lovers, drinking coffee or caffeinated drinks is probably ingrained in your daily routine.

If your goal is to kick the habit it’s best to back off either gradually or stop cold turkey (if you can handle the possible withdrawal symptoms).


Quitting “Cold Turkey” Vs. Tapering Off

The best method for you to kick your caffeine habit depends on how you handle the acute withdrawal symptoms.

If you choose the cold turkey route, prepare for the consequences (so to speak) that will likely take place a few days afterward. Generally, you will feel sluggish, lethargic, irritable and experience headaches.

On the other hand, if you choose to taper off caffeine, you may be able to avoid many of the withdrawal symptoms.

How aggressive you are with your dose tapering depends on how much coffee/caffeine you usually consume.

Considering cutting your dose in half each day until you’re taking in an insignificant amount.

For example, someone that normally drinks three 12-ounce cups of coffee daily (which is roughly 300mg of caffeine) might taper like this:

Monday–>Two 12-ounce cups of coffee: 200mg caffeine

Tuesday–>One 12-ounce cup of coffee: 100mg caffeine

Wednesday–>One 8-ounce cup of coffee: ~66mg caffeine

Thursday–>One 4-ounce cup of coffee: ~33mg caffeine

Friday–>No coffee (or switch to decaf)

Life After Caffeine: Alternative Supplements to Consider

If you’re looking for ways to boost your energy, motivation, cognition, and well-being without tons of caffeine, non-stimulant nootropics are the best bets.

We have several guides on AnxietyHack that discuss the many benefits of nootropics and herbal supplements, especially if you struggle with anxiety.

If you’re in a position where coming off of caffeine is interfering with productivity or you feel like you just don’t have that ‘edge’ without your morning cup of joe, we recommend looking at supplements that are effective at boosting cognition, focus, and energy.

There are many nootropics and supplements on the market that offer benefits similar to or better than caffeine albeit without the crash and possible dependence.

But most herbal cognitive enhancers have very specific functions and areas they target, whether it be focus, memory retention, reducing brain fog etc…

Because of this many people end up ‘stacking’ multiple supplements together to get all of the desired effects. This works great but tends to not be so friendly on your wallet.

So now manufactures of these nootropics are creating products that contain blends of ingredients in optimal dosages per serving.

One of these manufactures is Neurohacker Collective. They’ve created Qualia. Qualia is a premium nootropic blend designed to hit cognitive enhancement from all angles. Everything from increasing mood, memory, recall, and focus, to reducing stress and calming the mind.

It’s not a stimulant drug masking as a nootropic, which is what I’ve found is common in the market. No agitation, no dirty comedown.

It comes in a package of two separate bottles that you take in succession (Step One and Step Two), each of which contain unique cognitive enhancement ingredients such as L-theanine, N-acetyl-L-tyrosine, L-DOPA, and alpha-GPC.

Not only does Qualia contain a myriad of nootropics, it also comes packed with mitochondria supporting ingredients that can enhance longevity and cellular function.

For example, BioPQQ, a trademarked version of the antioxidant pyrroloquinoline quinone, appears to enhance the process of mitochondrial biogenesis in cells.

Mitochondria are the ‘powerhouses’ of cells, and having more of this key organelle is crucial for healthy metabolism and longevity.

Check out Qualia here and let them know we sent you. Use coupon code “ANXIETYHACK” to save 10% on your order.

Do note, though, that Qualia Step One contains a minimal amount of natural caffeine (90mg per serving).

If you’re looking for a completely caffeine-free regimen, standalone nootropics such as L-tyrosine, L-DOPA, and Rhodiola rosea are great options for boosting cognition, mood, and productivity.

Wrap Up

Overall, you will likely know when it’s time to give the caffeine/coffee a break either because you are no longer getting the desired effects that you expect from a nice cup of coffee in the morning, it’s causing you to feel more anxious/stressed, or the crashes are starting to suck and your’re getting that 10:30 feeling instead of that “2:30 feeling”.

Coffee is awesome and I’m as guilty as the next coffee lover of hitting the Keurig 2-3 times too many in one day but it won’t hurt to give your adrenal glands a break or switch it up every now and then. Starbucks will be there waiting, don’t worry.