Recently a friend of mine asked me whether caffeine can be the reason behind a panic attack, so I thought I’d share my response here, too.
So on this page, I’m going to explain how caffeine may affect you, and whether it’s likely to be the cause of a panic or anxiety. So let’s begin.
In general, there’s no strict evidence to suggest that caffeine can directly cause anxiety unless you’re taking huge quantities (this means somewhere over 300mg, which is usually only possible if you’re taking caffeine pills or drinking high caffeine ‘energy’ drinks).
But while there’s no strict evidence to show it increases anxiety, one study by The Johns Hopkins Baview Medical Center found that “self rated” anxiety can increase once you’ve consumed over 200mg of caffeine. This could mean that there’s no harm in cutting out the caffeine if you think it’s making your symptoms worse, especially if you often consume energy drinks like Red Bull, Monster, Rockstar, or even strong coffee.
One of the main pieces of the caffeine/panic attack puzzle is the role of ‘hypersensitivity’. This occurs when you begin to notice the effects that the caffeine is having on you, and this can cause you to think anxious thoughts due to the physical sensations you’re experiencing.
These thoughts and feelings can then escalate into a full-blown panic attack fr some people. So while the caffeine itself isn’t directly responsible, it may be triggering your anxiety response based on your interpretation of what’s happening.
For example, caffeine can increase your heart rate and give you a slight ‘jittery’ sensation. But this can also be interpreted as a heart attack by an anxiety sufferer, and these thoughts can bring about the anxiety attack.
One of the problems that caffeine has for anxiety sufferers is that it increases your mental focus and acuity. While this is often desirable, it can also be counter-productive when you need to relax and diffuse anxious thoughts. The caffeine may actually be ‘helping’ you to focus on those jittery symptoms to a greater degree, which makes it more likely for a panic attack to occur.
Based on this information, it’s unlikely for a panic attack to be caused solely by caffeine in small doses.
But while there isn’t a direct link between caffeine and panic attacks, it still may be worth reducing your caffeine intake if you often drink high-caffeine energy drinks or lots of strong coffee.
This won’t be a cure for your anxiety, but it could reduce some of the symptoms if it’s triggering for you.
Additionally, if you’re having issues with anxiety or panic attacks (of any kind) I can wholeheartedly recommend the Panic Away method created by Barry Joe Mcdonagh. It’s one of the most successful programs around for treating anxiety, and it gives you some very effective techniques for helping you to overcome panic attacks when they happen – as well as giving you all the tools you need to feel calmer and more relaxed. I highly recommend it.
It’s 7:00am, your alarm is shrieking, you’re feeling worried, weak, and out of control. There’s an impending sense of doom lurking over you, and you’ve got no idea how you’re going to get through the day.
Does any of this sound familiar? If so, then you could be dealing with something known as ‘morning anxiety’.
In this guide, I’m going to explain some of the main symptoms, what some of the possible causes are – and finally – I’ll show you some useful solutions that should improve your mornings considerably.
By the time you’ve finished reading, you should have a good understanding of what could be causing these anxious feelings, and you’ll know how to overcome them as well.
First off, morning anxiety is actually very common – so you’re certainly not alone.
One of the worst things about this is that it often sets up your day in a ‘negative’ way, where you’re just waiting for something ‘bad’ to happen.
This is because it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of ’emotional reasoning’, where you convince yourself something bad will happen simply because you ‘feel’ like it might.
This can quickly turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy, where you become vulnerable to interpreting events in a negative light – not to mention the anticipatory anxiety this can create each morning.
So what are some of the other symptoms?
The symptoms can vary from person to person, but some of the common themes are: feeling weak, dizzy, worried, and out of control. You may feel short of breath, have a rapid heartbeat, and even have a sense of terror or doom. It can also fuel panicky thoughts that leave you feeling terrible and unprepared for the day ahead.
Fortunately, we know several factors that can cause morning anxiety, so let’s take a look at some of the most common ones.
Having poor sleep habits can have a huge influence on the severity of morning anxiety. If you wake up feeling groggy and tired, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and out of control.
This is because you’re not all ‘there’ yet, and you haven’t fully recovered and rested from the day before. This is especially true if you’re been woken by an alarm that’s interrupted a REM cycle.
These cycles usually last 90 – 120 minutes, and you will usually have 4 to 5 cycles a night. If you don’t have enough cycles, or you’re awoken before one is complete, then it can cause a variety of psychological disturbances such as anxiety, difficulty concentrating, irritation, and even hallucinations.
Natural sleep is best – but if you have trouble sleeping, then using a mild, natural sleeping pill can be useful. I’m a fan of Melatrol, which helps to increase Melatonin for a natural night’s sleep, but unlike some sleeping pills, they don’t leave you feeling groggy when you wake (which is a real plus).
Many people have learned to have negative associations to waking in the morning, and this can play a part in how you subconsciously ‘feel’ when you wake up.
Having anxious feelings about school or college can plant the seed, and this can continue when you’re going to work, too.
Fears about how the day will go and what might happen can easily triggers feelings of anxiety. Once you’ve subconsciously ‘trained’ yourself to respond in this way, it can be hard to stop yourself from doing it.
It’s possible for dreams and nightmares to linger when you wake, and this can have an effect on your overall mood.
This is even more likely if you’re interrupted REM sleep cycles (as explained earlier), as one of these interruptions can make you more likely to ‘remember’ those dreams and nightmares when you’re awake.
Now that we’ve covered some of the common reasons why morning anxiety occurs, it’s only right that we take a look at some of the solutions. Luckily, there’s many things you can do to overcome this – or at the very least, reduce the severity of the anxiety and the impact it has on your life.
It’s worth taking the time to sit down and observe what your typical morning routine is like. Leave no stone unturned.
Are you getting enough sleep each night? Are you waking up to a screeching, anxiety-provoking alarm? Is there something specific that’s causing your anxiety in the morning?
Try to find the things that could be triggering the anxiety.
Once you’re aware of the triggers, it may be as simple as getting an extra hour of quality sleep, or even changing your alarm to something gentler and calming. Even these small and seemingly innocuous things add up, so don’t rule anything out just yet.
Once you’re aware of what your typical morning routine looks like, you can start to make some changes. Try to find ways to create a calmer, gentler start to the day – and find things that create positive feelings for you.
It can be as simple as meditation to clear your thoughts, engaging in some positive thinking, or listening to some of your favorite music. Try to break the negative, anxiety-provoking triggers and replace them with positive ones.
Your doctor may be able to help you – especially if you have a medical issue that’s causing morning anxiety. Some people may have chronically low serotonin levels, and certain medications such as SSRI’s may be able to help with this.
There’s a lot to be said for waking up ‘naturally’ instead of ‘artificially’ via an alarm clock.
This will ensure you’ve completed your sleep cycle fully instead of through a ‘disturbance’ which can instantly put you into an anxious state of mind.
You may like to try opening your curtains so you can wake to natural sunlight, too.
Start Your Day With Exercise
If you schedule enough time to exercise each morning before you continue your day, you will experience several powerful benefits.
It may be a struggle if you’re not used to regular exercise (especially when you’ve just woken up, it can be a tough routine to get into) but it really is one of the best things you can do once you get into the habit.
Exercise releases endorphins and ‘feel good’ hormones that can set you up to have a better day. It also reduces stress and cortisol, and leaves you feeling relaxed and energized afterwards.
This does’t mean you need to have an hour-long cardio session every morning to experience these benefits, either!
Something as simple as 15 minutes of activity (for example: strength training, or high intensity intervals) can help to reduce stress, put you in a positive, empowered state of mind – and alleviate some of the anxiety which usually greets you each morning.
Unless you have a specific health issue that’s causing the anxiety, then there’s a good chance that a significant part of your anxiety is being generated by your thought patterns. It can be hard to ‘see’ these thoughts, especially if you’re used to having them, or they’ve become so ingrained into your world view that you don’t even question them.
Therefore, one of the best things you can do is write down all of the thoughts you’re having each morning, so you can look at them on paper from a more ‘objective’ viewpoint.
Often, people with morning anxiety are thinking negative thoughts or making negative assumptions about the day which feel like the ‘truth’, but are actually highly subjective and skewed with a negative bias.
Thoughts like: “I feel so awful”, “I’ll never get through the day.” What if X happens?” “Why do I feel so anxious, what’s wrong with me?”, “I can’t cope with this” .
We all have our own worries, but these can become particularly ‘active’ first thing in the morning as your brain ‘boots up’ for the day and reminds you of all the things you need to ‘worry’ about.
Challenging these thoughts can make a huge difference. It’s worth keeping a thought journal when you have these thoughts, so you can see them from a more objective vantage point – without getting too ‘absorbed’ by them.
Just by seeing them written down can actually give you a different perspective and help you to think more rationally.
Look for common thinking errors such as: Black or white thinking, exaggerating the negative, discounting the positive, jumping to conclusions, over-generalizing, or emotional reasoning.
That last one – emotional reasoning – can really play a huge role in morning anxiety. Remember that just because you feel like something bad is going to happen, it doesn’t mean it really will – your feelings can be ‘tricking’ you based on the thoughts and images you’re continually focusing on (you may not even realize you’re doing it).
Keeping a journal of your thoughts and feelings can help to ‘train’ you to notice this.
What’s more, you’ll eventually have real, written evidence to show you that you’re stronger and more capable than you give yourself credit for – and the things you’re worrying about either don’t happen, or aren’t as bad as you feared. This can be useful to look back at (especially if you revisit the journal in the evening), so you can see that you’re still alive and kicking – no matter how dreadful the day seemed at first! 🙂
I hope you’ve found this guide useful. If you have, feel free to ‘like’ this page using the buttons below. I really appreciate your support and feedback!