Can drinking coffee really cause anxiety and panic attacks? Experts weigh in

·5 min read
Experts say not everyone should be drinking coffee, especially if it impacts their mental health. {Photo via Getty Images)
Experts say not everyone should be drinking coffee, especially if you have anxiety. {Photo via Getty Images)

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.

Whether you start your day with a latte or need a cup of Americano for an afternoon pick me up, many people depend on coffee to get through the day.

According to the Canadian Association of Coffee, Canadians drink nearly three cups of coffee every day But even though it may be part of your daily routine, experts say not everyone should be drinking coffee, especially if it impacts their mental health.

On March 5, Ireland Baldwin took to Instagram to share a photo of herself sitting on her bathroom floor in the midst of a panic attack which says was caused by having just “one cup of coffee on an empty stomach.”

"Coffee is major esophageal irritator and reflux trigger for me which leads to anxiety," Baldwin told followers. "If you are an anxiety sufferer like myself, coffee isn’t your friend! You’re probably asking why I drank it in the first place? Well that’s because I’m a silly goose. Writing this and being open with y’all about my struggles helps it pass."

Susan Albers, a psychologist with the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, says there is a clear link between caffeine and anxiety, but many people may not be aware of it because the two produce similar symptoms.

Can drinking coffee cause anxiety? What about other caffeinated beverages?

Caffeine is the stimulant in coffee, tea, chocolate and soda that reduces tiredness, increases alertness and gives you a boost of energy. However, consuming too much caffeine make you jittery and cause your heart race.

One of the primary reasons Albers says that caffeine impacts people who have anxiety is because the symptoms coffee produces “mimic anxiety.”

When working with patients who experience anxiety, the psychologist reviews their caffeine consumption right off the bat.

Experts suggest drinking no more than 400 mg of caffeine per day. (Image via Getty Images)
Experts suggest drinking no more than 400 mg of caffeine per day. (Image via Getty Images)

“We know caffeine is one of those socially acceptable drugs that we don’t really think about having an impact on our mental health,” she tells Yahoo Canada.

Can drinking coffee on an empty stomach cause a panic attack?

The Harvard School of Public Health says the body absorbs caffeine within 45 minutes after consumption, and “peaks in the blood anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours.”

Drinking coffee while eating food high in fibre will slow the process of when caffeine takes effect in your body. However, drinking coffee on an empty stomach will make you feel the effects faster and can trigger symptoms of anxiety or panic.

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“What is in your stomach makes a difference because it impacts how quickly you metabolize the caffeine,” Albers says. “An empty stomach plus caffeine is, for somebody who has an anxiety disorder, a recipe for danger triggering an anxiety attack.”

How to cope with caffeine-induced anxiety

If you experience a panic attack or anxiety after drinking coffee, Albers says it’s helpful to remember that caffeine is the root of the problem— and not a sign of a more serious condition.

As for coping mechanisms for caffeine-triggered anxiety, she recommends deep breathing to help “slow down the fight or flight response that your body is going through,” and drinking water to rehydrate your body.

For anybody who has anxiety, Albers suggests keeping a journal to keep track of food and caffeine and how it affects you.

Caffeine can mimic the symptoms of panic attacks. (Image via Getty Images)
Caffeine can mimic the symptoms of panic attacks. (Image via Getty Images)

Coffee can create a vicious cycle for many people. We drink it to stay awake during the day, but then it can also affect how well we sleep.

“Even if it’s early in the day [caffeine] is impacting their sleep, which makes them more vulnerable to anxiety and panic attacks because they’re losing sleep,” she explains.

The good news is caffeine will leave your body, but you may have to wait up to 10 hours for it to do so, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

How much coffee is too much?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says healthy adults should not consume more than 400 milligrams of coffee a day, which equates to about four to five cups. However, the amount depends on age, gender, weight and genetics.

It’s also important to keep in mind that caffeine isn’t just in coffee, but can be found in tea, decaf coffee, energy drinks, pop and chocolate.

For anyone who experiences panic attacks and anxiety after drinking a cup of coffee, giving up caffeine may be a good solution.

If you plan on giving up coffee, it’s recommended to ween yourself off gradually to reduce the risk of experiencing withdrawal symptoms like headaches, anxiety and nervousness. If giving it up completely is too much, you may want to try limiting your daily caffeine intake.

Experts say drinking coffee or your favourite caffeinated beverage in low amounts can be beneficial. Caffeine can not only boost energy, but it can also improve physical and mental performance and help you burn fat.

“It’s when it gets past a certain level that it becomes detrimental to your mood, to your cognitive performance,” Albers says. “A little bit is a good thing, too much is not.”

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