We’re all anxious and caffeine isn’t helping

Along with recommendations that can help

I have never been diagnosed with anxiety, I don’t identify as an anxious person, and yet I struggle with an underlying anxiety similar to many people in America.

The anxiety shows up as I unconsciously reach for my smart phone at a red light. It shows up when I honk my car horn at someone in frustration and anger. It shows up as I mindlessly scroll through social media feeds procrastinating from meaningful work. We have many ways of distracting ourselves when we are uncomfortable with simply being. Chronic anxiety eats away at us. And sometimes we take it out on others, be they other drivers on the road, our colleagues or our family.

In those moments when I go for a walk and leave my phone at home or simply delete harmful applications, I experience a deep level of satisfaction. It’s a satisfaction that feels like freedom. We all desire to feel this freedom. But first, we must identify the problem.

You might have anxiety if…

My girlfriend suffers from anxiety. When she tells me about it, her experiences sound so strong and disruptive that I reflexively feel gratitude that I don’t suffer from that level of anxiety. In fact, like many men, I don’t identify as someone who suffers from anxiety. But like most things in life, anxiety is a spectrum and most people suffer from anxiety in their own way. You might have anxiety if you exhibit any of these symptoms:

  • Checking your phone constantly
  • Reflexively checking social media when you have down time
  • Addiction to anything like caffeine, food, alcohol, or even pornography
  • Discomfort in group situations
  • Gossiping and talking poorly about others (called triangling in psychology parlance)
  • Feeling insecurities about finances
  • Being a workaholic
  • Difficulty falling asleep

Most Americans suffer from a low-level, constant state of anxiety. It may be called other names, it might be overlooked, especially in men, but it is a side effect of modern living. This anxiety is a natural response to the environment we have created, but we can take proactive steps to manage it.

Some of them are big remedies that we tend to put off: meditation, adjusting our work-life balance, upgrading our sleep. One relatively simple change we can make that may have an outsized impact is renegotiating our relationship with caffeine, which has hidden costs that can rob us of mental freedom.

The hidden cost of caffeine

When I think about caffeine, a romantic vision comes to mind where I sip on aromatic coffee, slowly feel the onset of stimulation, and easily drop into a state of flow. This flow state helps me find single-minded focus on my current task, the gnawing noise of the world quieting to silence. In this view of caffeine, I am able to do efficient, meaningful work, and my anxiety ceases.

But that isn’t always the experience I have with caffeine. Sometimes I consume caffeine, get ready to do creative, meaningful work, and a notice from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) captures my attention (and anxiety). Sometimes the caffeine sends me into an anxious spiral of thoughts wondering whether the famous person I met last weekend likes my work. In this caffeine experience, it’s like the radio nob for anxiety gets turned up to deafening volume.

Caffeine enacts our “fight or flight” nervous system, the same part of our brain that would be activated if we were face to face with a lion. This alertness is obviously sometimes helpful. But consuming caffeine too frequently or in too high a dose, can create anxiety and stress as in the IRS example. This is often a bad trade off.

Anxiety amplifiers can have large, negative consequences in our lives. Anxiety is a major source of distraction and procrastination. A common example is the 9 – 5 office professional who is too anxious to quit an unfulfilling job. Anxiety can hold you back from doing what you feel you were meant to do with your time and creative energy. In this extreme example, anxiety is robbing you from expressing your unique, creative gift. Anxiety can be more sinister than a few, ruminating thoughts, and because caffeine can worsen anxiety, we must find ways to use it more consciously.

Is caffeine making you anxious?

Caffeine has a hidden cost: anxiety. Find out if your relationship with caffeine is making it worse and receive personalized recommendations.

Making a conscious choice with caffeine

One way to use caffeine mindfully is to reduce the amount of caffeine that you consume. If you consume 2 cups of coffee per day, drink 1 instead. Some people do this at great cost to their productivity, but you can use caffeine synergy to consume lower doses of caffeine without losing efficacy.

Caffeine synergy means using ingredients that pair well with caffeine to amplify the positive effects while decreasing the side effects. Examples of this include healthy fats to bind caffeine and release it over an extended period. There are also ingredients like L-theanine and green tea extract that pair well with caffeine. Our coconut matcha latte leverages both of these caffeine synergy principles and some of our customers have mentioned reducing their caffeine consumption in half by doing so.

coconut matcha latte

We also recommend not consuming caffeine after 1 PM. Caffeine stays in your system 6 – 9 hours and impairs sleep quality. Even if you fall asleep easily with afternoon caffeine, this habit can reduce the quality of your sleep, which will amplify stress and anxiety. It’s best to skip afternoon servings of caffeine.

Tweaking and moderating caffeine dosage can only go so far. Sometimes the conscious choice is to skip caffeine and use a different tool entirely. Some of these tools can be used to directly address anxiety and face it head on.

Use these plant-based tools instead

Lounging calmly, quietly, and alone in a sea of strangers is not a common occurrence for me so I try to learn from those experiences when I have them. During a recent Future Frontiers festival I experienced a tranquil, relaxed mental state as if my underlying anxiety had disappeared. The sensations in my body were heightened, which helped keep me grounded and calm.

Strangers shuffled around me with discomfort on their faces as they sought someone — anyone — to speak with. Under ordinary circumstances, I would have felt the nagging voice to “do it right” and find someone to talk to. Instead, I sat down, smiled, and watched the social scene unfolding around me. It was as if my social anxiety, a particular flavor of anxiety that is especially potent, had disappeared completely.

I had this experience because I consumed a nootropic, which is a natural herb or synthetic compound that impacts some measure of cognitive performance. In this case, the nootropic I consumed was the DAY cannabidiol (CBD oil) tincture and a small, microdose of THC (the psychoactive ingredient of cannabis), which helped reduce my social anxiety.

This was the first time I experienced the real value of CBD and it performed as well for me as it did for study participants who found CBD oil could reduce anxiety during public speaking. I still remain skeptical whether CBD oil is the panacea that it’s made out to be, but some people swear by it. According to a HelloMD survey, 42% of people used cannabis to transition away from prescription medications and anxiety was one of the major use-cases.

panel speaking

I could have used some CBD speaking on a panel with Daniel Schmachtenberger and Mike Bledsoe

But CBD oil is only one of dozens of nootropics that can support the underlying anxiety many of us face. In fact, many of the most well-researched and longest-used plants and botanicals increase cognitive performance (such as memory, creativity, and concentration) by reducing anxiety.

These plant-based ingredients, such as bacopa monnieri, ashwagandha, and rhodiola rosea, can help quiet the ever-present anxiety that many of us face on a daily basis. For hundreds of years they have helped our ancestors and now we need them more than ever.

But the power of CBD oil and these herbal nootropics are a complement to lifestyle habits and behaviors, not a replacement. Supplements alone will not overcome the modern lifestyle that exacerbates our anxiety.

How I manage my anxiety

The feeling of disconnect from community and nature are my greatest sources of anxiety. I was not meant to be inside all day staring at a computer. I certainly wasn’t meant to speak infrequently to people via text message. No matter how many nootropic supplements I take, they do not address the root cause of my anxiety, which is feeling disconnected from loved ones and nature.

Until I was 26 years old, I had almost no connection to nature. This was the first time I went camping. I remember the incredibly bright stars, the howling coyotes, and the evening breeze chilling my bones. It was the start of a very important journey for me. It led me to hunting for my own food, gardening, foraging, and a much deeper connection to nature.

Take a moment to look at the clouds in the sky, feel the sun on your face, and the dirt on your feet. There are natural places and people with whom you feel less anxious. Prioritize them.