Does Caffeine Really Cause Anxiety?

Even for those who sleep well, early mornings can be a challenge. Mustering enough energy to get the day rolling can sometimes feel like pushing a boulder up a hill. Once it’s there, it’s easy to get back down. But the hard part is getting it moving in the first place.

It’s no wonder caffeine has such a tight grip on the hearts and minds of the world.

Caffeine is a stimulant that - for many people on a daily basis - increases alertness and improves a slew of mental abilities like reasoning, thinking, remembering and problem solving. That sounds great! If you’re feeling sleepy or struggling to lock in on a task, more alertness or cognitive ability may be just what you’re looking for.

But, as the old movie trope goes, some have to be careful what they wish for.

Too much caffeine is almost a sure fire way to end up with some level of a panic attack. But the definition of too much caffeine has a very different meaning for everyone. We all know someone who can have three or four cups of coffee without issue … and someone else who is too sensitive to caffeine to have a can of soda. 

Almost everyone should try and consume less than 400 milligrams of caffeine daily. But what about those who can’t do any caffeine? 

In some folks, that alert, focused feeling may end up presenting itself as pure, uncut, anxiety.

Can caffeine cause anxiety?

The short answer? Kind of. At the very least, it can simulate the overall anxiety experience.

Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system and increases the production of adrenaline, a hormone that prepares the body for the fight or flight response. This can cause a range of physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, jitteriness, and restlessness. These physical symptoms can cause racing thoughts, nervousness, and feelings of apprehension - also known as the core tenets of anxiety that all too many people are familiar with.

So what’s really going on in the brain when you consume caffeine? Specifically, caffeine can impact the production of certain neurotransmitters like serotonin and GABA. Think of neurotransmitters as chemical delivery drivers. They carry signals like “relax” or “pay attention” to and from neurons in your brain. Your brain is a miniature Amazon warehouse full of thought and impulse packages and these neurotransmitters are working 24/7.

Caffeine blocks “adenosine”, a neurotransmitter that helps to promote sleep and relaxation. When adenosine levels in the brain rise, they bind to adenosine receptors, which can help to promote drowsiness and relaxation. To prevent that rise, caffeine binds to adenosine receptors in the brain. How devious.

The “missing” adenosine receptors lead to an increase in the activity of other neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine (think of these as your “reward” and “fight or flight” neurotransmitters), which can contribute to caffeine's stimulant effects.

But it’s not just your brain telling you you’re either feeling great or feeling anxious. Your body reacts to caffeine.

How does your body react to caffeine?

That fight or flight response in your brain leads to vasoconstriction - the narrowing of blood vessels. Vasoconstriction occurs when the smooth muscles that surround blood vessels contract, causing the vessels to become narrower. Narrow blood vessels mean a greater challenge for your blood to flow. The more challenging that becomes, the harder your heart has to work to pump it.

The rise in heart rate may feel like anxiety to some, but it’s not always all bad though.

On the positive side, caffeine-induced vasoconstriction can help reduce inflammation, relieve headaches, and improve blood flow in certain parts of the body, such as the brain. There’s a  reason headache medicine so often has caffeine in it!

However, vasoconstriction can also have negative effects, particularly in people with underlying cardiovascular conditions and anxiety. The narrowing of blood vessels caused by vasoconstriction can increase blood pressure and decrease blood flow to vital organs, potentially increasing the risk of heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular events. And the rise in heart rate can trigger anxiety symptoms.

So how long does the anxious feeling from caffeine last?

If you experience caffeine-induced anxiety, the best way to manage it is to reduce or eliminate caffeine consumption. It can take several hours for caffeine to be metabolized and eliminated from the body, so symptoms may persist for several hours after consuming caffeine.

So if you’re a “caffeine results in anxiety” kind of person, it’s possible that coffee can cause anxiety hours later. And once it’s there, it’s hard to get rid of anxiety after consuming too much caffeine.

But, fortunately, there’s light at the end of this tunnel. Caffeine anxiety can be controlled. By adding the vasodilator-friendly amino acid l-theanine, you can avoid  the negative side effects the caffeine in your coffee may be causing.

How to drink caffeine without getting anxiety

L-theanine works to mitigate caffeine’s side effects, while enhancing its focus benefit. L-theanine is an amino acid found in the leaves of green tea. Where caffeine causes a constriction in your blood vessels, l-theanine keeps them from constricting. Your stress response is not triggered and you can enjoy the alertness and cognitive benefits a morning caffeinated beverage gives so many.

To summarize: adrenaline plus no relaxation equals focus … but it can also equal a sense of panic for some. It’s almost cruel that where some people get to feel great, others feel anxiety. For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction, we suppose.

Individual sensitivity to caffeine can vary widely, and some people are simply more sensitive to the “caffeine anxiety” symptoms than others. Additionally, the amount and timing of caffeine consumption can also play a role. Consuming large amounts of caffeine or consuming it close to bedtime can disrupt sleep, which can also contribute to anxiety symptoms.

But l-theanine and other vasodilators can help act as a bridge between the benefits so many get from coffee and those among us who are prone to a bit more anxiety.

Blossom’s Superfood Latte Mixes

If you are one of those individuals who experience anxiety from caffeine, it's crucial to manage caffeine consumption. However, if you still need that morning or afternoon energy boost, Blossom's instant superfood latte mixes can be a good option.

Our products contain 100mg of caffeine extracted from green tea and guarana, along with 200mg of l-theanine for focus and alertness, and 100mg of GABA to support stress and anxiety. This superfood combination allows you to get the energy and focus you desire from caffeine, without the jitters and anxiety.

The morning latte mixes are plant-based, organic, gluten-free, and come in four delicious flavors: matcha, chai, cacao, and turmeric. We also offer a vanilla lavender sleep latte to help you unwind at the end of the day. Give our lattes a try today and see how they can help you with your energy and focus needs without the caffeine-induced anxiety.