Caffeine is a drug. It sounds far-fetched, but it is completely true.
I learned this from a professor teaching a science course. We had a unit on addictive drugs, and she opened it with teaching us about something many of us have – a caffeine addiction. She explained that like any drug, caffeine is difficult to stop consuming and has withdrawal effects.
As I was sitting there, most likely with the largest size of iced coffee Starbucks has to offer, I thought about what she was saying. I did have withdrawals when I didn’t have coffee. If I waited any longer than an hour or two after waking up to have coffee, I would feel a dull headache coming on. That foggy, lousy feeling would remind me that I needed to get my caffeine fix, and I needed it right that moment.
I started drinking coffee when I was a junior in high school. Previously, I was convinced coffee tasted like dirt, having only tried black coffee from my father and grandmother. In my junior year, I was on vacation with my boyfriend at the time. He poured multiple creamers in his coffee and loaded it with sugar packets. He offered me a sip, and from that moment on, I was hooked.
Up until one year ago, I’d have a large amount of coffee each day. I would have anywhere between three and six cups, and for the most part, I was unaffected. About a year ago, I began to feel my anxiety increase in general. I started experiencing physical side effects, like noticeable shaking and feeling like my heartbeat was quickening. I ignored it for a couple of months. At the time, there were no new stressors that I hadn’t already been dealing with, so once I felt like I had enough, I knew I had to look at other factors.
I did some online research and something I knew but was avoiding for a while kept popping up: caffeine intake. I wasn’t happy about the idea of cutting back on something that I enjoyed and was part of my daily routine, but I knew that something needed to change and I should at least try to cut down on how much I was consuming.
My new plan was to have one cup in the morning, and occasionally have one in the afternoon, if I really craved it or was meeting a friend for coffee. It was a big change at first, but I felt positive effects almost immediately. I wasn’t as shaky during the day, and my general anxiety went down significantly. It felt great knowing the fix was simple, and something I was able to do on my own.
It is one year later, and I still live by the same rule. Now, I rarely want another cup of coffee after my first one in the morning.
Your body may process caffeine intake differently; this is just the experience that I had being an avid caffeine consumer. And if you are someone who drinks a lot of coffee or tea and also struggle with anxiety, it is worth thinking about and evaluating. Coffee is still one of my favorite things, it is just something I am enjoying in smaller doses!
How do you feel when you consume caffeine? Are there other stimulants that you find make your anxiety worse? Feel free to share in the comments below!