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Last Updated on August 16, 2021

Can Coffee Cause Anxiety Or Depression?

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Can Coffee Cause Anxiety Or Depression?

Waking up groggy, eyes adjusting to the light, everything is a little blurry, you stumble into the kitchen and get your first cup of joe brewin’. The smell hits you first—a nice dark roast perhaps, and then finally, your first sip, ahhhhh . . . You begin the rest of your morning routine and that beautiful, aroma-filled beverage in your cup kick-starts your day.

But have you ever wondered if your morning coffee ritual is actually contributing to anxiety or depression? If so, I got some answers for you in this article

We’ve become a coffee-crazed culture—drinking it for pleasure, to relax, as a treat, drinking it to socialize, and not least of all, for energy. Suffice to say, all that coffee craze can lead to an unhealthy dependency. How else can we keep our energy up, treating ourselves along the way, to accomplish all the things we need and want to get done in life?

So, here’s the lowdown on coffee, anxiety, and depression.

Coffee and Depression

There’s some very interesting research out there about coffee and depression. It turns out that coffee might actually be a protective factor against depression and is even correlated with a reduction in suicide.[1] That’s a pretty amazing finding for coffee lovers and those who deal with depression or suicidality!

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In fact, studies have talked about this very interesting outcome. However, before we get too excited, let’s hit the pause button and clarify a few things. I do say “might” because research is research, and although this gives us some evidence, it’s always important to remember that each of our bodies reacts differently to different environments, circumstances, or substances, and there are a lot of variables at play, so nothing is 100%—but it is a good indicator for sure!

Some of the variables to consider in these studies include the overall lifestyle of subjects and control groups as well as a super important one—whether the coffee they were drinking is caffeinated or decaffeinated as much of the research isn’t clear. So, there’s some more work to be done there, but that’s encouraging!

And that’s not all. Coffee, which is most often connected to unhealthy habits, was taken off the WHO’s list of carcinogenic foods in 2016, a somewhat rare move. The WHO even reports that coffee may protect against cancer of the uterus and liver. And they are not alone, several other, well-known and esteemed organizations, such as The World Cancer Research Fund and the US Department of Health and Human Services, have also declared that coffee consumption in moderation (three to five cups per day) can have positive effects on your health and protect you from various forms of cancer.[2][3]

When it comes to depression, it was found that it may not be only the caffeine at play, as there are other impactful components in coffee. The more notable are chlorogenic acid, ferulic acid, and caffeic acid, all of which have been found to reduce inflammation of nerves which is found to be a factor in the brains of people suffering from depression. More good stuff!

Coffee and Anxiety

The research on coffee and anxiety, however, is not quite as positive for those who suffer from anxiety as it is for those who suffer from depression. And it’s not all that surprising either, but there was something that I did find interesting in all of the reading I did on this subject.

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By and large, it was found that if you don’t suffer from anxiety, coffee will likely not have too much of a negative impact on you when consumed in moderation. However, when caffeine doses increase to more than 400mg per day, symptoms associated with anxiety may appear, such as restlessness, jitteriness, and trouble sleeping. In those who suffer from anxiety, it will take far less to exacerbate their already present symptoms of anxiety—not too surprising.[4]

But anecdotally, there is a lot of documentation about people quitting coffee for a period of time and writing about the impact on their anxiety, which was found to be fairly negligent. So, overall, if you suffer from anxiety, there is a good chance that moderate coffee consumption will not have too much of an impact on your anxiety, though it certainly won’t help it.

How Does Coffee Affect Your Mood?

When it comes to your overall mood, the thing you should think about is how your body responds to caffeine as this is the primary issue for most people—depression or anxiety aside—and our bodies have different sensitivities to caffeine.

Some people can drink espresso right before bed and have no trouble sleeping but for others, it could guarantee a night of restlessness with lots of tossing and turning! And poor sleep contributes to irritability, less resistance to dealing with life stressors as well as other poor health indicators, and hence, lowered mood.

Getting a good night’s sleep is essential especially when dealing with chronic anxiety. So, if you fall into this camp, then it might be good for you to moderate your coffee consumption or even just evaluate and assess for yourself to see what the impact might be on a period of time with no caffeine.

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It’s important that you get to know your body and how it reacts to different substances and environments. Running a little experiment on yourself can be a fun way to get to know and understand your body and how you metabolize caffeine.

The Bottom Line on Coffee, Anxiety, and Depression

Overall, the research says that there are potentially a few health benefits when it comes to depression and coffee drinking than on coffee and anxiety—where it is found to have a negative or neutral impact. Furthermore, there is an array of other potentially beneficial health impacts from drinking coffee.[5]

Given all of this various research—some of it very promising (around depression) and some of it not surprising (anxiety)—coffee is not going to eradicate any mental health concerns, though it does not necessarily seem to cause them. The most important thing to consider when thinking about the impact of coffee drinking on your anxiety or depression is that it can aggravate sleep issues, which is a really important piece of your self-care when dealing with depression, anxiety, or any mental health issue for that matter.[6]

Want to Cut Back on Your Coffee Drinking?

If you are looking to cut back a little on how much coffee you drink or even just run that little experiment on yourself that I was referring to, then you can start with a few simple tips.

1. Cut Back Gradually

Caffeine is a stimulant, and you will likely feel some physiological symptoms, such as a headache, brain fog, and general fatigue. This will last for a day or two, possibly more depending on how much caffeine you have been consuming. Before you start cutting back, it is good to know about how much caffeine you are drinking in a day. That way you can gradually cut back by a beverage each day or so.

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2. Make Sure You Stay Hydrated

Coffee—or caffeine for that matter—is a diuretic, which means that it will naturally dehydrate you, so cutting down will most likely help with dehydration. However, with that said, it is still important to make sure you are drinking enough fluids as that will help minimize the effects of the withdrawal.

3. Get Plenty of Rest

You will naturally feel a little tired when cutting back on caffeine/coffee, make sure you get enough rest, giving your body a chance to adjust and recuperate from the withdrawal.

4. Increase Your Physical Activity

Try to increase your physical activity a little. Physical activity is known to increase mood, which will counter the irritability you may feel when cutting back on your coffee intake.

5. Take Notes

Keep a little log or journal to write down how you are feeling on different days and how much, if any, caffeine you are drinking at various points in your “trial.” Think about your mood, how you feel, how you are sleeping, and possibly how you feel it is impacting your relationships and your daily activities. When you go back to look at your data, you will be able to assess the impact of caffeine and coffee intake more accurately.

Keep in Mind

How much coffee we drink and its impacts vary widely depending on many, many factors. The best bet for you is to know yourself, pay attention to how coffee impacts you, talk to your doctors, and consider your personal life circumstances. Taking all of these steps will help you to make an informed decision for yourself, which will likely change over time.

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Featured photo credit: Drew Coffman via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Meredith Flanagan

Embracing a strengths-based approach to life, passionate about creating opportunity out of adversity.

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Published on October 15, 2021

Does Anxiety Make You Tired And Why?

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Does Anxiety Make You Tired And Why?

When you think of anxiety, several scenarios may come to mind: the endless tossing and turning of a restless night, dread over potential future events, pandemic-related overwhelm, or full-blown panic attacks. Even if you’re not diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, you’ve likely experienced anxiety symptoms at some point in your life. In these situations, you might feel a queasiness in your stomach, racing heartbeat, excessive sweating, chest tightness, some tension in your jaw/neck/shoulders, or worrisome thoughts as you prepare for the worst possible scenario. But does anxiety also make you tired?

After experiencing these symptoms, you may indeed feel fatigued. The sensation could fall anywhere on the exhaustion spectrum, from feeling like you just ran a marathon and need to sleep for two days, to just a little worn down and wanting a quick nap to recover.

Below are 7 ways anxiety zaps your energy and how to restore it.

1. Stress Hormone Overload

Anxiety can make you tired via overloading your body with stress hormones. The “fight or flight” response is a key connection between anxiety and fatigue. In fact, this process is made up of three stages: Alarm, Resistance, and Exhaustion. Anxiety triggers our body systems to go into high alert. This is a natural, involuntary reaction that developed in the human brain for survival.

When humans lived with the real, imminent threat of being attacked by a predator, it made sense for our bodies to spring into action without much preparatory thought. Such dangers are rare in modern times, but our brains continue to respond in the same way they did thousands of years ago.

The hormones and chemicals that flood our bodies to prepare us for safety can both affect and be affected by several body systems, and this interaction itself contributes to exhaustion. Adrenaline and cortisol are the two most notable hormones to address here. First, adrenaline is sent out, tensing the muscles and increasing heart rate and blood pressure in preparation to run. Later in the stress response, cortisol is released, enhancing the brain’s use of glucose. This is one of our main fuel sources, so it’s no wonder this contributes to fatigue (see #2).

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You can regulate baseline levels of these stress hormones by regularly practicing yoga, breathwork, meditation, and/or engaging in aerobic exercise.[1] It’s easier to lean into these routines for relief during stress when you’ve already mastered using them during times when you feel calm.

2. Elevated Blood Sugar Levels

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), which is shown to be associated with anxiety in diabetic patients.[2] Many people who experience hyperglycemia report feeling tired all the time regardless of their quantity or quality of sleep, nutrition, or exercise.

Although this connection has shown more prevalent and prolonged effects in diabetics, it also occurs with nondiabetics exposed to psychiatric stress.[3] In fact, for all people, the natural stress response elevates blood pressure and heart rate as well as cortisol levels, all of which increase blood sugar levels.[4] This means that anxiety causes a double-hit of exhaustion related to blood sugar fluctuations.

Instead of reaching for comfort foods like chocolate during times of stress, take a calming walk around the block. Gentle movement alone is a great stress reliever that incidentally also helps to regulate blood sugars.[5]

3. Negative Mindset

Anxiety can also make you tired because of repetitive negative thinking (RNT), which is a common symptom of anxiety. RNT involves continuous thoughts via rumination (dwelling on sad or dark thoughts focused on the past) and worry (angst regarding the future). Some researchers argue that having a longtime habit of RNT can harm the brain’s capacity to think, reason, and form memories.[6] While the brain is busy using its energy stores to fuel negative thought patterns, the energy available for these other more productive endeavors is thereby reduced.

Negative thoughts can also disrupt or prevent healthy sleep patterns, keeping our minds racing at night and effectively wreaking havoc on daytime energy. (See #7)

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Reduce these patterns by reframing your feelings over anxious thoughts. Instead of staying stuck on “what if,” focus on what you can do in the here and now. What activity can you engage in for five minutes (or more) that brings you joy? What are you grateful for, no matter what’s going on around you?

4. Digestive Issues

It’s common for people to experience both intestinal and mental issues simultaneously. This suggests a strong connection between the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which is known as the gut-brain axis.[7] Simply put, what happens in our digestive tract (and as a result of what we eat) affects the brain and vice versa.

The gut microbiota is a complex population of GI tract microorganisms. When its balance is altered, the body can develop conditions that affect the gut-brain-endocrine relationship. The endocrine system produces and manages adrenaline, for starters. And the gut bacteria’s production of feel-good hormones (serotonin and dopamine—see #5) ties into this relationship as well.

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors are also found in gut bacteria. GABA is a natural brain relaxant that makes us feel good by helping the body to unwind after a stress-induced neurotransmitter release (e.g., cortisol and adrenaline). When GABA activity is low, it leads to anxiety, depression, insomnia, and mood disorders. These are just a few of the manifestations that demonstrate how gut bacteria influences behavior. All of these contribute to feeling both physically and mentally tired.

You can minimize the symptoms of depression and anxiety by keeping your gut microbiota balanced with probiotic-rich fermented foods. Yogurt with live cultures, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, kimchi, miso soup, and tempeh are great foods to include in your diet.[8]

5. Depression

Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand. Research continues to indicate a complex relationship between depression and decreased serotonin—a key neurotransmitter for regulating mood and feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Anxiety is also a direct symptom of serotonin deficiency. Serotonin helps with healthy sleep, mood, and digestion.

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Serotonin is produced in the gut, almost exclusively, at an estimated 90 percent. However, a small quantity is also produced in the hypothalamus, an area of the brain that is pivotal for transmitting energy balance signals. This small cone-shaped structure receives and relays signals transmitted via the vagus nerve from the gastrointestinal tract. It has a central role in mediating stress responses, regulating sleep, and establishing circadian rhythms. It senses and responds to a myriad of circulating hormones and nutrients, directly affecting our mood and energy.[9]

Dopamine is another mood-boosting neurochemical that is depleted in depression. It creates feelings of alertness and wakefulness and, when the body is operating normally, is released in higher amounts in the morning (allowing for daytime energy) and lower at night (preparing for healthy sleep). Stress is one factor that can deplete dopamine, thereby leading to depression, sleep disorders, and fatigue.

Studies show that dopamine levels in the brain can be elevated by increasing dietary intake of tyrosine and phenylalanine.[10] Both of these amino acids are naturally found in protein-rich foods like turkey, beef, eggs, dairy, soy, peas, lentils, and beans.

6. Breathing Problems

Breathlessness and anxiety are closely linked, and this is one of the ways anxiety can make you feel tired. Anxiety can lead to shallow breathing, which can cause shortness of breath while feeling breathless can exacerbate anxiety.[11] It’s a vicious cycle that often leads people to take rapid and shallow breaths, breathing into their upper chest and shoulders.

This type of breathing minimizes oxygen intake and usability. Despite comprising only two percent of the body, our brains consume 20 percent of the body’s oxygen supply. Oxygen is fuel for both mental and physical tasks. When breathing patterns compromise healthy oxygen levels, this can cause considerable fatigue.[12]

End the anxiety-fatigue cycle with focused breathing exercises. It’s important to practice this regularly while you’re not experiencing anxiety or stress, as this will help you to be prepared should a moment of breathless anxiety hit unexpectedly.

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There are several different styles of breathing exercises. There’s an easy one to try, called “Resonant Breathing.” Simply breathe in slowly through your nose as you count to five, then exhale for a count of five. Repeat this for a few minutes. It’s helpful to bring your awareness to any tension, deliberately relaxing your neck, shoulders, and jaw in particular.

7. Sleep Issues

Most of the elements we’ve already discussed inherently tie into sleep issues, which is often the reason why anxiety can make you feel tired. But it’s important to note that this is not always a directly linear cause-and-effect process. Much of it is cyclic. If we don’t get enough quality sleep, we increase our risk of excessive cortisol production, elevated blood pressure and blood sugar levels, depressed mood and mindset disorders, and dysregulation of appetite/craving hormones that affect our digestive health.

Sleep is obviously the number one antidote to feeling tired as a result of anxiety. But at the same time, many of these elements—including anxiety itself—lead to less-than-restorative sleep. We can improve our energy levels by addressing each element discussed here, as well as taking a proactive approach to our sleep health.

One simple habit to help recalibrate your circadian rhythm for healthy sleep patterns is to get outside in the morning. Sunlight exposure in the early hours of the day regulates melatonin production, helping us to feel sleepy at night.

You Don’t Have to Live Your Life Anxious and Exhausted

Times of extreme stress, like driving in heavy traffic or nerve-wracking situations like public speaking, can easily induce an anxiety response. Even “normal” everyday stressors, like feeling overwhelmed with work and home responsibilities, can build up to anxious feelings over time.

Our bodies’ response to stress and anxiety affects many of its functions in complex ways. When we unravel the interconnections of these processes, we can see how each part plays an intrinsic role in contributing to fatigue. By addressing each element individually, we can make simple lifestyle changes that resolve anxiety and diminish the ways it makes us tired as a result.

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Featured photo credit: Joice Kelly via unsplash.com

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