There are several studies that support your experience that caffeine lessens depression. One recent Australian study found that caffeine boosts the transmission of serotonin and dopamine (feel good chemicals in your brain). Of course, there are other studies showing that caffeine has no effect on depression, but our anecdotal research seems to support the idea that moderate caffeine intake does help—whether chemically or psychologically, we can only guess. One important thing to note, however, is that stopping caffeine suddenly can lead to both physical withdrawal symptoms and worsening feelings of depression.
On the other hand, anxiety has a much clearer connection to caffeine consumption. In addition to releasing feel-good neurotransmitters, caffeine also releases hormones, including adrenaline and norepinephrine—the “fight or flight” chemicals which trigger the anxiety response: rapid heartbeat, shakiness, nausea, etc. One important study done in the 1970s argued that ingesting high doses of caffeine creates symptoms so similar to those of anxiety disorder that it is difficult to distinguish between the two. And several studies suggest that even small amounts of caffeine can exacerbate panic disorder and social phobia.
So the consensus in the literature seems to be that, because caffeine is a stimulant, it may be helpful for depression sufferers who need stimulation and not so helpful for anxiety sufferers, who, by definition, are already hyper-stimulated.
Also, we know caffeine can cause sleep disturbance, particularly when ingested closer to bedtime. Lack of sleep definitely worsens both depression and anxiety. So there’s that.
Abs & I find it too anxiety-provoking to contemplate giving up our morning coffees, so we could never recommend that to anyone else, even though many anxiety “experts” (doctors, mostly) counsel people with anxiety disorders to eliminate or greatly minimize caffeine consumption. We need it to wake us up and we love how it smells and tastes—one cup per day is part of our self-care regimens.
It is important to understand, however, that caffeine is hidden in lots of strange places. So, while one large cup of morning java may be fine, we need to take into account the caffeine we may unwittingly be ingesting throughout the day. Below is a list of some of the culprits:
Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee (14 oz) 210 mg
Starbucks Coffee, Pike Place Roast (12 oz) 235 mg
Maxwell House Ground Coffee (12 oz) 100 mg
Starbucks Espresso (2 oz) 150 mg
Starbucks Chai Latte Tea (16 oz) 95 mg
Starbucks Hot Chocolate (16 oz) 25 mg
Black tea, brewed (8 oz) 50 mg
Green tea, brewed (8 oz) 30 mg
Lipton Lemon Iced Tea (20 oz) 25 mg
Mountain Dew—diet or regular (20 oz) 90 mg
Diet Coke (20 oz) 76 mg
Coca-Cola, Coke Zero, or Diet Pepsi (20 oz) 57 mg
Sunkist Orange soda (12 oz) 41 mg
5-hour Energy drink (2 oz) 200 mg
Monster Energy drink (16 oz) 160 mg
Red Bull (8 oz) 80 mg
V8 V-Fusion+Energy (8 oz) 80 mg
Ocean Spray Cran-Energy (8 oz) 55 mg
VitaminWater’s Energy flavor 50 mg
Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate Bar 31 mg
SumSeeds Energized Sunflower Seeds (1 svg) 140 mg
Excedrin Migraine (2 tablets) 130 mg
Bayer Back & Body (2 caplets) 65 mg
Keep in mind that herbs such as Echinacea and medications such as decongestants, some pain relievers, and anti-histamines interact with caffeine to intensify its effects. And caffeine can show up in your yogurt, granola, or ice cream if it is coffee-flavored or labeled “energy.”
As Anxiety Sisters, we don’t think that there are hard and fast caffeine rules. Each person has a very different body chemistry and has to find out what works for her/him. The recommended daily maximum intake of caffeine is 400mg (4 8-oz cups of coffee home-brewed or 2 large Dunkin’ Donuts coffees). Some people, like Abs, find that they can only ingest half that amount before anxiety symptoms set in. Others can comfortably have more. You are the expert on your own body!
If you are a Caffeinated Sister, you may want to experiment with lowering your intake. One solution many anxiety sisters have implemented is to have caffeinated coffee in the morning, and decaf later in the day.
Anyone have experiences or suggestions to share?