Caffeine and Anxiety - How I Manage It.

Updated: Jan 4



Wake up, roll out of bed, crawl to the coffee maker, become a functioning human. Is this your morning routine? It definitely used to be mine. I became massively dependent on coffee in college where I would drink countless cups to get through the day. I drank so much coffee, that it wasn't just waking me up, it just was making me function properly. Without it, I probably would have failed my classes and lost all my friends. But like any college student, this is not uncommon and a rather normal routine.

Well, years have gone by and I have still been riding the coffee train. Maybe not as bad as college, but I have always been very dependent on coffee in order to start my day. If I didn't get my coffee, I would get a very, very painful headache that would linger for the next few days. So of course, my mission to get caffeinated in the morning has always been top priority. Just ask my family or close friends, you do NOT want to stand between me and my morning coffee.


Okay, so fast forward a little bit. I have become very health conscious and I have cleaned up my diet dramatically. This has given me so much more natural energy, so although I still drank coffee, it was simply to avoid the withdrawal headache. It wasn't until I started experiencing anxiety that made me realize that coffee may not be the best thing for me anymore. For the last year or so I have been experiencing anxiety that has been out of control. I've had issues focusing and committing to anything and I have experienced some scary panic attacks that have me constantly awaiting my next panic attack - which has become a vicious cycle. I've gained some weight that I can't seem to get off and I feel a little bit out of control with my emotions. I couldn't help but to start to think that my precious coffee might have something to do with it. It took me awhile to admit that that maybe cutting caffeine was worth a try, so I decided do a little research and experimentation. This is what I learned.

Fight or Flight / Rest and Digest

I have been doing some research in the bodies natural "fight of flight" state and "rest and digest" state, which is really interesting when you really sit down and think about what that really means for you and your body.

I like to look at our bodily processes from an ancestral point of view (our ancestors have kept us alive this far, they're must be some sense in the way they lived.) Our bodies are really, really smart and contain very intricate systems that work together to help you survive different situations. This is even the same for any wild animal - instincts are programed in us all to help keep us alive. Our bodies know that we need food to stay alive, so all of the intricate systems within our bodies help support us to get food for survival.

First, our body produces energy to hunt/catch/acquire food. Next, we eat, then we rest, then we do it all again. Hunt, eat and rest. Each action triggers different hormonal response and bodily functions in order to get each task done. "Fight or flight" responses are needed to acquire food - weather it is hunting or gathering. The body is surged with adrenalin and hormones to aid in energy, concentration and agility.

After food is acquired, "rest and digest" mode kicks in which allows the digestive system, metabolism, and detoxification systems do their thing.

Both "fight or flight" and "rest and digest" phases are equally important to the general health of every animal and human to help keep the rhythm of bodily functions, from hormonal response, and digestion, to our mental state it's all a hunt, eat, rest rhythm. There's a lot of things that this effects, but right now I'm staying on topic - caffeine. Caffeine can throw this rhythm off, especially if you are overly sensitive to this kind of stimulation.

Caffeine

Do a simple Google search to see what effects caffeine has on the body: Increased blood pressure, increase adrenaline, increase dopamine, stimulate brain function and concentration, improves respiratory function, raise stomach acid levels, stimulates digestion and bowl movements, flushes toxins. This, to me, all sounds like the bodies preparation to hunt and eat. It can be safe to assume that caffeine puts you into a "fight or flight" mode, to aid in survival - whether that is to be able to hunt food, or escape from danger, your body is ready to GO! Translate this to real life: It wakes you up in the morning and allows you to be productive. This is not a bad thing but we need to understand that our body already naturally does this, caffeine just gives it the extra push. The problem is, in todays society, reaching into the fridge and pressing start on the microwave, requires a whole lot less energy then hunting down a wild animal with your bare hands like our ancestors, so spiking our "fight or flight" state with a cup of coffee can be way too much for your body to handle. Instead of using that energy to survive, all that cooped up energy can get turned into anxiety.

Not only can this "fight or flight" boost increase anxiety, it also throws of the balance of the "rest and digest" phase. Like I mentioned earlier, this phase is as equally important as the fight or flight stage. Resting after eating not only aids in digestion, but it aids in mental and hormonal function. Being in a heightened state of fight or flight for extended periods of time is unnatural. Your body becomes tired for a reason, so when caffeine is consumed, especially mid-day, all of the intricate systems working together to create the hunt, eat, rest, rhythm gets really confused and can cause more anxiety. Obviously, a mid day nap is not always an option, but decreasing the fight or flight stage (aka decreasing caffeine) in the morning, can help make it a less drastic switch to the rest and digest phase. (I want to note here that diet and the types of food consumed throughout the day play a HUGE role in the rest and digest phase, but that's a topic for another day.)

Caffeine and Fat

Maybe you've heard of it, Bulletproof coffee. Maybe you've rolled your eyes at the thought of spending 10+ dollars on a cup of authentic Bulletproof coffee. Maybe the thought of adding butter to your coffee sounds way to weird for you. But there's some interesting science behind bulletproof coffee, and even better, some amazing health results from consuming a high fat caffeine drink.

I don't know about you, but consuming caffeine on an empty stomach has never been enjoyable for me. I turn into a shaky, stuttering mess with a bad tummy ache. The idea behind adding butter to Bulletproof coffee is that fat helps slow down the absorption of caffeine. Sometimes straight caffeine can be intense, but adding fat will help metabolize the caffeine at a steadier pace, making the caffeine jolt a little less jolty. This is not a new concept either, Ethiopian and Mongolian cultures were known to add butter to tea and coffee. And hey, cream (like coffee creamer) is just another form of butter, so it's not all that crazy.

So before I decided to give up coffee, I started drinking Bulletproof coffee. I went from drinking straight black coffee to Bulletproof and let me tell you, I did notice a huge difference. The energy from the caffeine was less jolty and lasted a lot longer. The fat and the caffeine, to an extent, reduces the "fight or flight" response because your body can metabolize and utilize the caffeine a little better with the fat then without the fat. I found myself reaching for a second cup much less often then before. But the anxiety was still there, going full force, so I knew that I needed to do some more experimentation.

The slow process of caffeine elimination

Now, as I mentioned earlier, I get a NASTY headache that I do NOT mess around with when I don't get caffeine. I'm not about to go cold turkey, so I turned to a more subtle and natural form of caffeine - green tea to wean me off. I did it for about a month. Only green tea, no coffee. At first it was a little rough and I did get traces of headaches here and there, but I adjusted quickly. I definitely noticed that I was less panicky in the mornings and surprisingly could get more done earlier in the day. Coffee seemed to make me nervous for the rest of the day, the tea was enough to jumpstart my morning without overdoing it. I could definitely feel a difference.

Once I grew used to only green tea, I decided to eliminate caffeine completely. I did get a few headaches, but not nearly as bad as before. I toughed through it and I actually went a full week with zero caffeine. That may not seem huge, but it is for me, judging from where I came from! The best part is, my anxiety has reduced dramatically. I haven't had a single panic attack and I feel much more grounded and in tune with my emotions.


The Reality

Now, let's be real, caffeine free just won't cut it for me because, like everyone, I'm busy. I am in school, I work early mornings, and I just like my caffeine every once in awhile. But that is the key: every once in awhile. Sometimes a green tea bag will cut it (just to avoid the headache) but sometimes I need a little bit more. I don't want to give up the amazing, anxiety free, results I had experienced, so for the foreseeable future, coffee is out. Instead of coffee, I gave matcha a go. Matcha is a more concentrated form of green tea - great for lattes and you guessed it: BULLETPROOF! I can still add all of my Bulletproof ingredients to my matcha latte and enjoy the brain boosting benefits of bulletproof, the reduced effect of anxiety from the added fat, all while getting my more manageable caffeine fix when I need it. Matcha does have a higher content of caffeine then just a green tea bag, so I have increased my caffeine intake slightly, but it is still less then the coffee.

A more natural and less dosage of caffeine is enough to wake me up and feel energized in the morning without overdoing my fight or flight. However, it is less dramatic then coffee and allows my natural rest and digest phase to keep me calm and grounded (without completely falling asleep mid-day).


#Coffee #Matcha #Bulletproof #Anxiety #MentalHealth

ABOUT KELLI

My name is Kelli and I am a NASM-certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and nutrition and functional medicine graduate student (2020).  I help individuals build a strong foundation in wellness through functional nutrition and functional fitness.  

 

Every health journey is different because every BODY is different.  I recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to nutrition and fitness.  My goal is to provide you with the knowledge to take control of your health, reach your goals and live your very best life. 

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