Panic Attacks

Can Caffeine Cause Panic Attacks?

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10th, 2020

Can Caffeine Cause Panic Attacks?

Diet is one of the least understood contributors of anxiety and panic. Scientists have suggested that diet actually plays only a small role in anxiety - although a person’s diet can have an effect on vulnerability to anxiety triggers and could possibly make some of the symptoms of anxiety more intense.

Caffeine is often blamed for the development of anxiety and panic despite evidence showing what we consume has little to do with the development of anxiety. Is it fair to blame caffeine for anxiety? Can caffeine really cause panic attacks?

The Link Between Caffeine and Anxiety

Read any website with tips on how to control anxiety and you'll find countless people saying that removing caffeine will greatly reduce your anxiety. This may be misleading as it seems to suggest that anxiety is caused by caffeine. However, there is a link between anxiety and caffeine. Extremely large quantities of caffeine may induce bouts of anxiety but in general to create anxiety where it is not already present the volume of caffeine necessary is unlikely to be consumed.

For people who already have frequent anxiety, caffeine can certainly exacerbate the symptoms. The effects of caffeine can mimic the symptoms of anxiety which for a person with an anxiety disorder, may actually create anxiety about the thought of having anxiety symptoms.

Hypersensitivity and Caffeine

Hypersensitivity occurs when your mind immediately notices any change in your body. This is common in those with anxiety. The consumption of caffeine may cause change in physical sensations that are then feared to be the onset of an intense bout of anxiety. This fear then turns into real anxiety and in some cases, can even trigger a panic attack.

For example:

  • Increased Heart Rate Caffeine may cause small increases in your heart rate. While most people would not notice those, those with intense anxiety tend to notice it and then their mind immediately rushes with anxiety as it fears something may be wrong medically or that a panic attack is coming. This reaction then triggers the attack.
  • Stomach Discomfort Caffeine is frequently known to act as a diuretic and laxative. This may lead to aches, pains, and other forms of discomfort in the digestive system This discomfort can also trigger panic attacks for similar reasons to an increased heart rate. Further, if consuming caffeine leads to frequent urination or diarrhea, these conditions may cause anxiety to increase.
  • Changes in Mental Sharpness Caffeine increases mental sharpness, which in most cases is a good thing and a desired effect. However, when that sharpness increases, your mind may translate that change as something going on with your brain. This may also trigger the flood of anxiety that leads to panic attacks.

Much of this occurs automatically without any conscious thought. The person rarely feels their heartbeat increase and then thinks to themselves "hmm, I must be suffering from a heart condition." Usually the anxiety comes automatically, almost as if it has been trained to respond to this physiological change, once the anxiety is present, the negative thoughts start. That's automatic nature of this process is one of the reasons that it is so hard to control.

Will Cutting Out Caffeine Reduce Anxiety?

Everyone is different and likely to have differing levels of success with reducing anxiety through moderating caffeine intake. Cutting out caffeine can certainly be helpful for some people as they try to reduce anxiety and panic attacks. Keep in mind as you experiment with caffeine’s impact on anxiety that you may see a difference or you may not.

You won't "cure" your anxiety by cutting out caffeine but it is possible to notice some positive effects of moderating or eliminating your caffeine consumption.

Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

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Question:

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

– Anonymous patient

Answer:

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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