If you’re a coffee drinker, you’re in the majority. A recent study commissioned by the National Coffee Association found that 64% of Americans drink a cup of coffee every day. And while drinking your daily brew can feel great (hello energy, alertness, and focus), we have some bad news. It turns out coffee and other forms of caffeine can increase your likelihood of experiencing anxiety and panic attacks––ugh. In fact, Susan Albers-Bowling, a psychologist at Cleveland Clinic told Health that there’s an official diagnosis for the phenomenon, caffeine-induced anxiety disorder.
Basically, “caffeine promotes the release of cortisol (the stress hormone), triggering a stress response in the body,” explains Ellen Vora, M.D., a holistic psychiatrist. “For some people, a stress response is synonymous with anxiety and panic, and it can contribute to other unpleasant states, such as mood swings and rumination,” she adds. Caffeine consumption can also lead to anxiety-like symptoms such as increased heart rate, body temperature, and breathing rate, effectively tricking your body into thinking you’re anxious even when you’re not. “Psychologically, it’s difficult for your mind to recognize that this is not anxiety because it feels the same,” explains Albers-Bowling.
So what’s a perpetually anxious, yet devoted coffee drinker to do? Consider cutting back. Albers-Bowling suggests keeping a journal of your caffeine intake for a week, and make note of any changes in your mood and anxiety level. Then the next week, try decreasing your caffeine consumption to see how you feel. But don’t go cold turkey, warns Vora. “Instead, go from a few cups of coffee daily to one, then to half-caf, then to black tea, then to green tea. Eventually, you’ll be down to a few sips of green tea and from there, go caffeine sober,” she suggests.
Once your body is completely free from caffeine, Vora recommends doing another check-in. “How’s your anxiety? Any recent panic attacks? How’s your mood? How’s your sleep?” Vora notes that these questions provide important insight into how caffeine is impacting your mental state. Albers-Bowling agrees, explaining that people who struggle with anxiety generally notice an improvement in their symptoms after cutting out caffeine. If you don’t notice a chance, or your anxiety symptoms become debilitating, contact your general practitioner, or seek out a therapist. Anxiety isn’t something you need to manage alone.