200mg of caffeine and me.
October 23, 2011 2:11 PM   Subscribe

Help me understand the role caffeine might play in moderate to severe anxiety, intrusive thoughts (that I'm in danger) and occasional panic attacks. I'm perplexed by elimination of what I consider to be relatively low caffeine intake. Interested in others' experiences.

I'm a 41 yr old male, 100% healthy as of last physical, who recently cut back and eliminated caffeine from my diet in an attempt to discover the role it plays in a 20 yr history of anxiety, intrusive thoughts and panic attacks. Intake had generally been one morning cup of drip coffee daily (around 100mg of caffeine), no sugar. I would occasionally have a 16 oz. Dr. Pepper in the afternoon. Since cutting out caffeine, I am sleeping better and my mood has improved. I feel less social anxiety and intrusive thoughts seem to be going away. I asked this related question 7 months ago.

tldr; Are some people extra-sensitive to caffeine and can intake cause excessive anxiety, social anxiety, intrusive thoughts and panic attacks? And am I wrong thinking that ~200mg daily is a relatively low amount of caffeine?
posted by punkfloyd to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Coffee can definitely cause anxiety. I quit to be supportive of a friend who had to quit for medical reasons, and noticed myself sleeping better, waking up more refreshed, and stressing out much less.

The wikipedia page for caffeine claims that anxiety is only related to dosages over 300mg daily, but I was drinking less than that but noticed an unexpected reduction of anxiety when I quit.
posted by idiopath at 2:17 PM on October 23, 2011

I used to drink only one cup of coffee a day, before 9 a.m., and no soft drinks. After having to cut it out for a stomach issue, I also found that I was less jittery and anxious, and my mood improved. It surprised me, too.
posted by thinkingwoman at 2:20 PM on October 23, 2011

I have found that when my baseline stress is high due to environmental factors, I have to eliminate my single daily cup of coffee in order to not have anxiety problems. When I'm doing fine it doesn't bother me, but if my baseline is already high, one cup pushes me over the top.

Anecdotally I've seen that age has a lot to do with sensitivity - amounts of caffeine that would not have been problematic for me or my friends in college can cause sleeplessness now that we are in our thirties.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:22 PM on October 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

I used to drink a single cup of black coffee at about 8:30 AM, and then not touch caffeine (and we're talking about a Coke or a Red Bull) until well after 5 PM. Every morning I could expect (but not necessarily get) anxiety, panics, tunnel vision, sweats etc. My doctor told me to completely cut the caffeine out -- morning to night -- and it more-or-less stopped. So, yeah, it is a relatively low amount but not for you (or me) apparently.
posted by griphus at 2:23 PM on October 23, 2011

I split my caffeine in half recently (from what was the equivalent of four shots of espresso at home to two, so like 300 mg down to 150) and I was really sort of amazed at how much the general anxiety level cloud that was always over me had lifted. I still get anxious and nervous but I'm not plagued by it in the same way and I don't get the racing thoughts much at all. This has been part of a general overall "get healthier in the mind" program so I've also been exercising a little more and etc, but I noticed the difference just changing the amount of coffee I drank in the morning.
posted by jessamyn at 2:25 PM on October 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I cut back to an iced green tea in the morning and one can of coke (or less) around lunchtime and it has helped me feel much more relaxed. Situations that would have had me tearing my hair out are still stressful, but I don't feel like the world is coming to an end.
posted by Mouse Army at 2:28 PM on October 23, 2011

Are some people extra-sensitive to caffeine...?

From a purely technical standpoint, caffeine metabolism is genetic, via mostly the liver. 20-30% of people have quicker metabolism on that particular pathway and are the folks that can go to sleep after espresso at dinner.
posted by cobaltnine at 2:35 PM on October 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Caffeine is a stimulant that we tend not to consume in exact doses. You probably weren't using exactly 200 mg per day, not by a long shot. And stimulants have benefits, but one of the disadvantages of stimulants is that they can increase anxiety.
posted by Yowser at 2:51 PM on October 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

This article might interest you, in particular:

What makes some of us feel panic while others feel pleasantly alert? Susceptible people experience caffeine's effects as signs of impending doom.

Also, in addition to eliminating caffeine, you may want to consider small snacks at intervals. A Greek style yogurt mid-morning, and a handful of nuts at 3 or 3:30 in the afternoon.

And exercise: I don't notice huge improvements when I exercise (weight maintenance and lower blood pressure, for sure) but I notice a huge downturn when I don't exercise. And when I exercise, it's better to do 15 minutes more than I think I can (i.e., doctors recommend 30 minutes but 45 minutes helps more).

Also, for you and anyone else with anxiety and depression, get your Vitamin D levels checked. My husband, who is normally cheerful, had severe depression a couple of winters ago and his Vitamin D was really low. It took him calling me crying in his car to get him to go see a doctor, and while family members insisted he needed SSRI's, what cured him was doctor prescribed Vitamin D, plus recommended OTC D supplements.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 3:19 PM on October 23, 2011

Response by poster: Susceptible people experience caffeine's effects as signs of impending doom.
Boy, do I get that on caffeine!

My blood test showed slightly low vitamin D levels. My doctor said to "get more sun".

Thanks to all for sharing their experiences.
posted by punkfloyd at 3:37 PM on October 23, 2011

Back when I was more baseline anxious I really couldn't have coffee without becoming panicky. My grandpa was the same way, my mom too - though tea doesn't seem to have the same effect. Now that I'm less anxious overall I've been able to have a cup a day without any of that doom and panic. It's definitely an individual reaction, and good on you for discovering what works for you.
posted by ldthomps at 4:28 PM on October 23, 2011

Back when I was more prone to panic attacks, my doctor told me to cut out all caffeine, and I hadn't been a heavy caffeine drinker as it was. It wasn't the caffeine that was causing it, but the slightly increased heart rate that I used to not really notice was suddenly enough to trigger an attack in an already vulnerable me. So, cutting it out wasn't enough to fully stop the attacks, but they were certainly less frequent.

Interestingly enough, my blood tests also showed low vitamin D, and I take supplements now.
posted by katillathehun at 5:15 PM on October 23, 2011

I gave up caffeine years ago to try to reduce anxiety, and it seemed to have no effect, and eventually I started using it again. About a year ago, my partner and I noticed that we were both extremely irritable and anxious when a housemate accidentally served us full-caf coffee instead of our usual half-caf a couple of days in a row, and that suggested to us that we were more sensitive to it than we had thought. We weaned off it. It's been pretty clear to both of us since then--especially me, as I tend to drift in and out of my caffeine habit--that we are much more sensitive to caffeine than we were when we were younger. We both get irritability, and sleep disturbances with relatively low amounts--like one cup of full-caf coffee in the morning, or a Coke in the early afternoon. We are 46 and 45 now, and this seems to be one of the many little things that come along with being middle-aged for us.
posted by not that girl at 6:16 PM on October 23, 2011

I'd say caffeine has a pretty linear anxiety effect on me (GAD, FWIW). However, I take lorazepam as needed, which is a powerful soporific, and MUST use something to counter that... so caffeine it is.

Perversely, I find caffeine to have a slight euphoric effect on me, at the same time that it's increasing my anxiety... They aren't the same emotions/reactions, and can coexist in my head at once, apparently.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:13 PM on October 23, 2011

In my experience, people differ a lot in how they react to caffeine; I've known people who drink pots and pots of coffee all day long and don't seem to be affected and others who can't have more than a cup a day. I find that I can do two cups of coffee a day; if I have more than that, I start getting irritable; my boyfriend can have a caffeinated soda and go right to sleep afterward.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 10:05 AM on October 24, 2011

when I was already suffering from anxiety, 2 cups of very milky coffee *guaranteed* nervous twitching that day (random big 'ol startle-twitch), and 1 cup would most of the time.

So yeah - makes me too jittery, even at one cup.

No caffeine at all for me, if I am anxious.

(Can get away with a cup of tea, more often).
posted by Elysum at 10:26 PM on October 24, 2011

« Older Remedy my teenage angst   |   Am I pregnant? I sure hope so! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.