“Does caffeine cause anxiety?” –I get this question a lot as an anxiety therapist. Often it is a pleading look, asking: “Do you think if I just gave up coffee, my troubles with anxiety will be over?” At other time, it is a pleading voice “Please don’t tell me to give it up-I Love my coffee!” Before you quit having your daily fix, please read this article. The answer is nuanced and I will explain my thoughts on this complex subject.

Caffeine is a stimulant and is considered safe in moderation. It is commonly found in chocolate, coffee, teas, colas and energy drinks. A daily dose below 300 milligrams per day (roughly this translates to 3 — 6 ounce cups of brewed coffee) is generally considered safe. Some coffeehouse coffee is brewed to be much stronger—for example a tall Starbucks coffee has about 300 milligrams of caffeine, so buyer beware.

Other than dosage, you also want to consider your personal response to caffeine. Some people are caffeine sensitive and respond negatively even to to very small doses. What this means is that you can monitor your own subjective feelings on days that you consume caffeinated foods and beverages. If you experience negative symptoms, such as strong heart palpitations, irritability, a heightened sense of anxiety or sleep disruptions—it is time to re-evaluate your caffeine intake.

While moderate caffeine consumption may not affect your overall anxiety levels, if you experience Panic Attacks, you may want to reconsider your caffeine intake. Caffeine intake may potentiate panic attacks, by stimulating the “fight or flight response.” This means that it can serve as a trigger to an already sensitive system. If you are currently struggling with Panic Attacks, chances are that caffeine is doing more harm than good. I suggest that you work at gradually reducing your caffeine intake as you work to eliminate it. It is important that you use the gradual approach, as stopping caffeine intake abruptly can cause rebound anxiety.

If you are in the Chicago area and need help with anxiety, please give Dr. Helen Odessky a call at (847)529-8600 to see if she can help.