When it comes to anxiety, drinking coffee is like fuel to the flame - it can’t help but exacerbate your symptoms…
If you go to see a CBT therapist about suffering from anxiety, they will likely ask you about your diet and lifestyle habits.
You may be thinking, “What on earth does the mess in my head have to do with what I eat for breakfast?”
But the reality is, there can be an integral link between our behavioural patterns and the mental health battles that we face.
This isn’t always glaringly obvious (for example, we all know boozing every night will make you depressed).
Instead, it can be in the little things that are easy to overlook or dismiss; which is why it’s so important to look at the wider picture when it comes to conditions like anxiety.
A case in point is coffee, or any types of caffeine. This seemingly innocuous habit brought to task in a new piece by New York holistic psychiatrist Ellen Vora.
“I have nothing inherently against it [coffee],” Vora writes for the website Mind Body Green. “However, if you happen to suffer from anxiety, panic attacks, OCD, insomnia, or depression, and you consume caffeine, it’s time to recognize that caffeine very likely plays a role in your symptoms.”
Of all the many clients Vora sees at her busy city practice, they nearly all have two things in common: anxiety and a penchant for coffee.
So, why exactly is coffee bad if you’re prone to anxiety?
Anxiety is, in part, a chemical condition prompted by a surge in the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol.
These are useful hormones, normally, but in cases of generalised anxiety disorder, they run amok in a way that out of proportion to the situation that you find yourself in. It’s your body’s fight-or-flight reaction going into overdrive and spilling out of control.
As Vora explains, drinking coffee is unhelpful in this scenario, because it promotes the release of the stress hormone cortisol.
“It makes your nervous system eager for a fight at all times,” she says. “If you introduce a stressor, like public speaking or a troubling email from your boss, before you know it, your heart is pounding, your hands are trembling, your throat is dry, and your whole body feels shaky and faint.
” Your body might even feel OK, but your mind gets tripped into a ruminative spiral as a result of caffeine and its power to sabotage your ability to cope with stressors and control your fight-or-flight response.”
This effect can be far more subtle than you think - especially when it comes to insomnia, a common symptom of anxiety.
“I hear the same refrain over and over,” says Vora. “How could one cup of coffee in the morning affect my sleep at night?”
But even a small amount of caffeine is disruptive, she says, no matter when you drink it.
Vora advises people suffering from anxiety to try gradually decrease their intake to the point where they drink no coffee for a week and then see what impact it has.
“Open your eyes to the role this powerful substance plays in symptoms you thought were just who you are,” she says.
By not drinking coffee, “your stress response loses the wind from its sails. As a result, the anxiety response is less likely to happen, and it’s less intense if and when it does happen.”
When it comes to tackling anxiety, there’s no big fix. You simply have to rewire your lifestyle and thought habits, one small step at a time. And cutting out caffeine is an important step forward in this process.