We have so many words for coffee, and for so many of us, it is an essential part of our day. It wakes us up in the morning, and gives us a jolt of energy during an afternoon slump. We add ice and milk for a refreshing drink in the summer. But, what is coffee exactly? And, should we really be drinking it?
Coffee is made from the roasted or baked seeds of several species of an evergreen shrub. Once they are ripe, coffee berries are picked, processed, and dried to yield the seeds inside. Depending on the heat of the roasting, the seeds have different flavors. Those roasted seeds are then ground and brewed to produce coffee.
Coffee is acidic and has caffeine, which is the key ingredient we will be focusing on. Caffeine is a naturally occurring stimulant called trimethylxanthine. It stimulates the central nervous system and temporarily wards off drowsiness. A German chemist, Friedrich Ferdinand Runge, discovered caffeine in 1819. He called the compound “kaffein,” which later became “caffeine” in English.
Numerous studies have been performed to figure out whether caffeine has a positive or negative effect (or no effect at all) on those who drink it in moderation. For those who have anxiety or depression, the studies’ findings are particularly relevant.
Caffeine and Anxiety
There are multiple types of anxiety disorders. Two of the most common struggles with anxiety are panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.
Panic disorder is accompanied by panic attacks, which include feelings of fear and dread that come with no warning. Those feelings are associated with sweating, chest pain, irregular heartbeats, and trouble breathing. Many times, the sufferer mistakes these panic attacks for heart attacks.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is the least specific, but perhaps one of the most prevalent. People with generalized anxiety disorder feel severe tension and worry even when there is little or nothing to provoke that fear.
When it comes to caffeine and anxiety, caffeine has often gotten a bad rap. For years, people assumed that caffeine causes anxiety, perhaps because it causes increased heart rate and “the jitters,” which people can confuse with a panic attack.
Caffeine in excess can cause problems such as upset stomach, muscle tremors, and insomnia. But, in moderation, caffeine might even have some benefits – to those who suffer from anxiety as well! A quick caveat: in this article, when I refer to anxiety, I am referring to the most prevalent anxiety disorder – generalized anxiety disorder – not those with panic attacks.
The New York Times health section recently outlined caffeine’s benefits on one’s state of mind. In moderation (under 200 milligrams per day – the amount in a 16-ounce coffee), participants in several caffeine-related studies, including studies done by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and by Harvard University reported:
- Enhanced sense of well-being, happiness, and energy, alertness, and sociability.
- Improved memory and the ability to problem solve.
- Greater endurance when exercising.
- Decreased risk of getting Type 2 diabetes and Parkinson’s Disease.
The first three points are all easily correlated with anxiety. If you have an enhanced sense of well-being and sociability, you are less likely to be anxious. If you are better able to problem solve, you will be less anxious. And, research clearly shows that exercise decreases anxiety.
The bottom line: If you suffer from generalized anxiety disorder, it might be a good idea to have your morning coffee. Aside from that temporary lift, your body might experience surprising benefits that combat anxiety.
If you are experiencing panic attacks, that is another story. Since caffeine speeds your heart rate and stimulates your central nervous system, these side effects can feel like triggers for those who suffer from panic attacks. Therefore, for those suffering from panic attacks, caffeine can be a very bad idea.