Everyone feels anxious at different points in their lives. If you find yourself feeling anxious, stressed, nervous, or on-edge most days then you are probably looking to make a change. If you find that your anxious feelings are impacting your life in a huge way then you may want to seek professional help from a counselor. If you find yourself feeling anxious some days but it is mostly manageable then you can make a few changes on your own. As a psychotherapist, I always ask my clients the amount of caffeine they consume daily. It is common that a lot of adults consume a lot of coffee, tea, and sugar throughout their day. Caffeine is the first thing I tell my anxious clients to try decreasing, or cutting out of their diet, to see if that helps decrease their anxious symptoms.
Anchor Therapy is a counseling center in Hoboken, NJ with psychotherapists specialized to help teens and adults with anxiety, depression, and life transitions.
Why cutting out caffeine is so important…
It is weird to think about, but caffeine is a drug. And with any drug there are side effects. Caffeine can cause different symptoms in people who drink caffeine. The more caffeine you have, the more symptoms you may experience. Some common symptoms of consuming caffeine include:
Rapid heart rate
If you have an excessive amount of anything it is not great for you. You can actually technically overdose on caffeine which could lead to some of these above symptoms as well as vomiting and cardiac arrest.
Treat it like an experiment
Take your baseline data by not changing anything in your diet for the first 1 or 2 weeks. I want you to track any caffeine consumption that you have each day. Track the day, the time of day, how much caffeine you are drinking/eating, and what physical and emotional anxious symptoms you experienced that day (if any).
After you collect your baseline data, you then want to start decreasing your caffeine consumption. You are welcome to go “cold turkey” and try to completely eliminate caffeine from your diet. Or you can start slow if that is more realistic for you. Let’s say you have 3 cups of coffee throughout the day and you consume a lot of sweets at night. You may want to make your goal for one week to have max 2 cups of coffee in a day and then to only have one food with added sugar in it per day. You will continue to monitor how much you are consuming and any anxious symptoms you are experiencing on the same chart you previously used while collecting your baseline data. The following week you can then decide to decrease your caffeine consumption even more and so on… until you are not consuming any caffeine.
After you have eliminated caffeine from your diet for 3 full weeks, I then want you to compare your anxious symptoms from your baseline data weeks ago to now. You may be surprised by what you see. If you find that your anxious symptoms have decreased substantially then you may want to continue a lower caffeine intake in your life going forward. If there has been no major changes then that means the caffeine has not been causing you to feel anxious. I still suggest not consuming an excessive amount of caffeine, but you can easily introduce it back into your diet. Then you may want to contact a professional counselor to discuss some other ways to decrease your anxious symptoms.
decreasing caffeine consumption can cause side effects
Like any drug that you use on the regular and then stop consuming, you will most likely experience some side effects. A very common side effect from decreasing caffeine consumption is getting a headache. Be prepared for experiencing some side effects such as a headache or anxiety for the first few days of decreasing your caffeine intake. As you continue to decrease your caffeine consumption over time, these side effects should go away.
I personally become anxious or stressed at different points in my life. I don’t enjoy the taste of coffee so I am a big tea drinker for the taste and caffeine to keep me going throughout the day. I will notice at some points (mostly weekends) when I am not drinking caffeinated tea, I get a headache and become jittery. I then realize, “Oh, I probably feel this way because I didn’t have caffeine today. I must be addicted.” At these times I try to re-evaluate how I’ve been feeling the past few weeks since I’m obviously drinking too much caffeinated tea. If I look back and see that I was feeling strangely on edge and anxious then I will make a plan to decrease my caffeine consumption. I usually start by switching from black tea to green tea since it has less caffeine in it. If I see that I am still feeling on edge then I will stop drinking tea completely for a few weeks. This usually does make a big positive impact during stressful times in my life. After the stressful time, I then will slowly re-introduce caffeinated tea back into my routine and this is the cycle I usually go through with it.
how to replace the energy that caffeine gave you
When we cut caffeine out of our diets, we can feel more fatigued and less energized. This too should get better over time. Here are some other ways you can energize yourself throughout the day:
Get moving! Exercise by going for a walk (even if it’s for a minute to get up from your desk job) or take a workout class
Eat throughout the day. Calories are actually what gives our bodies energy so eating balanced meals throughout the day, including breakfast, will give you the energy you need to make it through the full day.
Sleep. Getting enough sleep is a great way to re-energize yourself for the next day. I recommend 7-9 hours of sleep per night for adults and even more for teens and kids.
What to do next..
First you want to create that baseline data to find out any patterns in your caffeine intake. Next, you will slowly decrease your caffeine intake and see how this impacts your anxious symptoms. Even if you do find positive results in cutting out caffeine, you don’t need to cut out caffeine 100% forever. You can reintroduce some caffeine back into your life, but stay mindful of how the caffeine you consume is impacting your anxiety levels. This way you can decrease it again as needed when you are going through a more stressful time in your life.
Courtney Glashow, LCSW
is a licensed psychotherapist practicing in Hoboken, New Jersey. She specializes in helping teens and adults with anxiety, depression, and life transitions through counseling. Courtney can help NY or NJ residents through telehealth (video/phone) therapy sessions as well.