Some research indicates that caffeine might be associated with increased anxiety.
There’s no doubt that many people love a good cup of coffee.
According to the National Coffee Association, 7 in 10 Americans drink coffee each week, and more than 6 in 10 drink coffee each day. The average coffee drinker in America drinks more than 3 cups per day.
But how much coffee is too much?
Experts have investigated the link between anxiety and caffeine — and what it means for you, your health, and your beloved cup of joe.
Some research suggests that excessive amounts of caffeine may cause or worsen symptoms of anxiety.
Dr. Hassaan Tohid, a neuroscientist and California board certified clinician in drug and alcohol abuse, says “There’s a strong relationship between anxiety with caffeine intake.”
Tohid shares that caffeine is an “upper drug,” meaning that it’s a brain stimulant or a psychoactive drug. “People take caffeine to remain active and reduce sleepiness,” he says. “But too much caffeine isn’t good for health and can lead to anxiety.”
Tohid points to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR), which recognizes anxiety caused by caffeine as a “caffeine-induced anxiety disorder.”
According to the DSM-5-TR, three criteria are required for a diagnosis of caffeine-induced anxiety disorder. This includes:
- withdrawal symptoms if you stop consuming caffeine
- a persistent desire for caffeine or the inability to control your use
- continued use of caffeine despite harm
Caffeine can be naturally found in a variety of foods and beverages besides coffee, such as:
- energy drinks
Symptoms of caffeine-induced anxiety can be similar to symptoms of a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
Tohid notes possible symptoms could be:
- increased heart rate
- excessive worry
- feelings of fear
Everybody will experience caffeine-induced anxiety differently. Your symptoms may look different from someone else. These symptoms may also vary in intensity.
If you already drink coffee, you might wonder how much is safe.
“A person who already has anxiety shouldn’t take caffeine or reduce the intake as much as possible,” Tohid suggests.
“Usually, a dose of 50 to 400 mg per day is considered standard for people without GAD,” he adds. “But a person who already has anxiety shouldn’t even take this much caffeine. Some people can tolerate 1 cup easily while others may not.”
Too much caffeine (e.g., more than the typical 400 mg per day) may make your anxiety symptoms worse.
Caffeine and anxiety-related symptoms vary from person to person. According to Tohid, if you’re worried about caffeine and anxiety, consider speaking with a healthcare or mental health professional.
Several actions might help reduce any caffeine-induced anxiety you experience.
Limit your intake
For starters, you can try to limit how much caffeine you eat and drink.
When it comes to coffee, Tohid recommends, “One to two cups per day or a maximum of 4 cups if you don’t have any anxiety-related issues.”
If you already have anxiety, he suggests limiting your coffee intake to 1 cup or less a day. Consider speaking with your doctor to determine the daily amount of caffeine that’s right for you.
More and more coffee alternatives are popping up on the market. From mushroom coffee to kombucha, there are several tasty caffeine-free alternatives to explore.
If you’re after a boost of energy, tea or green tea may be a suitable substitute. These drinks contain caffeine, but less than coffee, so they may help you cut down.
On the other hand, if you’re more into the taste of coffee, try drinking decaf. “I had trouble with anxiety myself, and I couldn’t tolerate anxiety caused by coffee,” says Tohid. “So, I used only to take decaf coffee if I had cravings for coffee.”
Practice a healthy lifestyle
To reduce anxiety caused or worsened by caffeine, it can be helpful to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Exercising, drinking plenty of water, spending time outdoors, and eating serotonin-rich foods are all great options to consider.
If you’re really craving the coffee caffeine boost but want to cut down on your coffee intake, try distracting yourself with a soothing cup of herbal tea or a big glass of water.
You can also release some energy by exercising or waiting out the jitters by practicing deep breathing.
Regularly drinking coffee or enjoying the occasional caffeinated beverage doesn’t necessarily increase your chances of experiencing anxiety.
Similarly, if you already have anxiety, consuming caffeine may not worsen your symptoms.
You can still enjoy your coffee. Being aware of the potential link between caffeine and anxiety can help you manage the symptoms if they arise.
Moving forward, consider being more curious about how and whether caffeinated beverages such as coffee affect your mental well-being.
Consider speaking with a healthcare or mental health professional about how much caffeine may be best for you and your unique needs. If you’re unsure where to start, you can check out Psych Central’s hub on finding mental health support.