Conventional wisdom suggests that caffeine-containing drinks are considered a when it comes to anxiety. There’s good reason for this and for many people with anxiety, they should avoid coffee. But, some of you reading this may benefit from coffee. Let’s review the information about coffee in terms of anxiety and mood to see what makes the most sense.
For some, the positive mood effects of coffee lie in caffeine’s ability to increase the senses of euphoria and energy, which I personally found it did for me years ago in my personal history with anxiety and panic attacks in my early 20’s . I found in certain situational anxiety I used to have, coffee actually made me less panicky. I didn’t know why, I just knew when I drank it, I felt less anxious and more happy.
Interestingly, it turns out there was a reason for that: caffeine helps the brain release dopamine into the prefrontal cortex, a brain area important for mood regulation. Caffeine may also help storage of dopamine in the amygdala, another part of the brain important for anxiety regulation.
In depression research, coffee is clearly helpful. In a ten-year cohort study of more than 50,000 older women, investigators found that compared with those who drank one cup or less of caffeinated coffee per week, those who drank two to three cups per day had a 20 percent decreased risk for depression, and those who drank four cups or more had a 30 percent decreased risk.
I know this may sound counter intuitive to many of you reading this, but for the right person, it may also help situational anxiety and panic attacks because it can raise levels of dopamine. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter of feeling in love for the first time. It is also important in feeling happy, motivated, and rewarded about something.
Dopamine is typically low in people with depression as well as social anxiety (a type of situational anxiety) . If you experience either of these, coffee every day, or before the situation of stress/panic, may make good sense for you. Of course, if you try coffee and find that it makes you feel worse and more panicky and anxious and/or you stop sleeping, then it is not the right beverage for your mood and situation.