Therapies & Solutions

Eliminate Stimulants to Fight Anxiety

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10, 2020

Eliminate Stimulants to Fight Anxiety

There is no single anxiety treatment. What you need is a combination of effective anxiety treatments and lifestyle changes that promote a more relaxed life. With that in mind, many of those suffering from anxiety need to immediately do one important thing: cut stimulants from their diet.

Most people don't realize how often they allow stimulants to create anxiety. It's not necessarily that stimulants cause anxiety themselves (though they can in large quantities) – it's that they can exacerbate anxiety symptoms, making it harder for you to control the way anxiety affects you.

What Are Stimulants?

Stimulants are chemicals that excite your central and/or peripheral nervous system. "Excite," in this case, means to release more chemicals or send more/faster messages through your nervous and body. Most people think of stimulants in terms of illegal drugs, like cocaine. But the truth is that there are many stimulants that have become a common part of the everyday diet:

  • Caffeine
  • Ginseng
  • Nicotine
  • Theobromine

Even alcohol in small doses is considered a stimulant, although in higher doses it is considered more of a depressant. Each of these excites the mind and body, and can create energy that is transformed into anxiety.

How Do Stimulants Create Anxiety?

There is a great deal of debate about whether or not stimulants create anxiety themselves, or whether they just make symptoms worse. Most likely, as long as they're used in very small doses, they just make anxiety symptoms worse but don't cause anxiety on their own.

However, that doesn't mean that they aren't harmful for anxiety. Stimulants can cause issues for those trying to recover from anxiety, including:

  • Fear of Symptoms Anxiety can create itself. If you fear your anxiety, your fear becomes anxiety that ultimately makes your anxiety disorder become more difficult to cure. So if stimulants are making your anxiety symptoms worse to the point where they cause you to be more upset about your anxiety, it may create a worse disorder.
  • Triggering Attacks While stimulants may not necessarily create anxiety themselves, those that have panic attacks or anxiety attacks may find that when they take stimulants they're more likely to get these attacks. That's because stimulants can speed up your heart and create unusual physical sensations which may trigger an attack.
  • Unused Energy Unused energy is a problem for many of those with anxiety, which is why exercise is such an important part of any anxiety reduction strategy. Stimulants create more energy, so if you're already inactive, your anxiety may become worse.

The more of any given stimulant you take, the worse your anxiety may get. That's why it's so important to eliminate stimulants from your diet.

Coffee and Anxiety

One of the most common stimulants is caffeine, and caffeine is often found in coffee. It should be noted, however, that caffeine may be found in a variety of other products as well, including:

  • Chocolate
  • Tea
  • Soda

Chocolate also has theobromine, which is another stimulant. But coffee is by far the most well known drink and the most popular.

One cup of coffee in the morning is unlikely to cause too much anxiety – although different people react differently, so it may contribute to more anxiety symptoms. But the more coffee you drink, the more likely you'll feel the effects of coffee on your health. Coffee also creates other issues that may make your anxiety worse, including:

  • Lack of Sleep Coffee can, for some people, make sleeping more difficult. Sleep is one of the most effective ways to fight anxiety, so drinking coffee in excess or too late at night may be preventing you from using one of your natural coping mechanisms.
  • Withdrawal Daily caffeine intake can cause dependency, which may also lead to withdrawal symptoms when you're unable to get to your coffee on time. For those with anxiety, withdrawal may be harder to deal with than it is for others.
  • Additional Drink Problems Coffee is rarely taken black. Refined sugars, chocolate, and other additives may also have their own anxiety producing qualities.

Again, coffee is not the enemy. But that doesn’t mean that how you drink coffee, when you drink coffee, etc., don't all effect how you feel and how you manage your anxiety. Every time you take another drink, you're increasing the probability that you'll suffer from some type of anxiety symptoms as a result.

Eliminating Stimulants to Eliminate Anxiety

Stimulant elimination is an important part of any anxiety reduction strategy, because all stimulants – illegal drugs, legal drugs, foods, etc. – can all create problems that increase your anxiety symptoms. Before you decide to use any stimulant, especially in excess, make sure you realize that it may hamper your ability to cure your anxiety forever.

Reducing stimulants alone won't cure your anxiety completely, but it will help with your other anxiety treatments.

Questions? Comments?

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Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient


You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

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