Help! Why is my coffee giving me panic attacks?

Are you addicted to caffeine, yet feel an overwhelming sense of doom as soon as a coffee cup hits your lips? Emily Hawtin uncovers whether coffee is the catalyst to panic attacks, and if our cute little Starbucks lattes increase our anxiety?

Yes you heard me correctly, drinking coffee gives me panic attacks. Now before I get an influx of hatred from all you coffee lovers, let me make one thing clear: I am not attacking the taste of it. 

I mean who could? Could you imagine denying a refreshing iced latte in the summer whilst you’re sunbathing on the beach? Or not being enticed by the waft of roasted coffee beans that hits you when you’re walking past a coffee shop? But it is truly terrifying how many people are addicted to it.


As according to Statistics from Coffee Consumption, 98 million cups of coffee are drunk daily in the UK. It really is an addiction, I mean take my cousins ex-husband for an example. He used to inhale 15 cups of coffee a day, and speak so fast I thought he was aspiring to be the next biggest UK rapper.

Or can you remember that one secondary school teacher who had an unhealthy obsession with the stuff? In my school, we had one Maths teacher who was renown for his putrid coffee breathe, and legend had it that when he leaned over to explain a question, his breath was so potent it would burn a student’s eyes. Whilst the smell made me flinch, it served as a great excuse to explain to my mum why I was in the bottom set for maths. So when my mum used to shout at me for failing a maths test I would say: “It’s not my fault, Sir’s breath is always distracting me!”

Yet my problem with coffee is not the addiction it causes, or the students it torments; my issue is with how it affects me mentally. I don’t know why, but as soon as as a coffee cup touches my lips, it is like someone has plugged my anxiety into an amplifier. I start to feel like there are bubbles forming underneath my skin, my breathing gets heavier, and I start to feel extremely on edge. Similarly to the symptoms I feel before a panic attack.

Therefore, I have always wondered: is coffee the culprit, or am I making this up in my head? So I contacted two food psychologists to help me uncover whether coffee is the catalyst to my panic attacks.

Dr Lara Zibarras, a Food Freedom Psychologist said: “Caffeinated drinks can make you feel anxious. Essentially caffeine stimulates the central nervous system leading to a heightened state of arousal – which is why, for most people, they feel more awake and alert when they drink caffeine. However, drinking caffeine also results in certain bodily sensations that feel like the symptoms of anxiety. We may feel a little jittery, our heart rates increase, we may feel warmer, we’re breathing faster, possibly some shortness of breath, and we might also have those feelings of restlessness or nervousness.”

I knew there was something fishy in those stupid Starbucks lattes that made my heart beat ten times faster. But why do I get so anxious when I know my anxiety is only being caused by coffee?

She added: “For some people, their brain then interprets these sensations and feelings as anxiety because it’s hard to tell the difference between arousal due to caffeine versus actual anxiety. This can also result in a bit of a feedback loop whereby the physical sensations caused by caffeine are misinterpreted as anxiety. Which then makes things worse because people worry and panic even more, thinking they are about to have an anxiety attack. Indeed, if you’re prone to anxiety, drinking large amounts of coffee can induce panic attacks.”

So from one anxious girl to another, even though coffee tastes great, sometimes it’s just not worth it. 

Dr. Supatra Tovar, offered alternative options to drinking coffee, that will help decrease our anxiety during the day: “For a mild stimulating effect I suggest Yerba mate and green tea. They contain some caffeine but also other properties and phytonutrients that don’t tend to cause anxiety. You can always spruce up your water with cucumber and/or fruit and herb extracts for that spa effect. Adding bubbles also makes it fun.”

I understand that feeling anxious doesn’t just arise from downing a cup of coffee. But from my personal experience, I have ditched the devious little coffee beans, because I am putting my foot down, and placing my mental health before Costa!

Expert insights:

Dr Supatra Tovar

Dr Supatra Tovar is one of the only clinical psychologists that is also a registered dietitian in the world. Dr Tobar has helped patients overcome trauma, depression and anxiety through practical techniques which help their bodies and minds.

Dr Lara Zibarras

Dr Zibarras is a Food Freedom Psychologist, an eating disorder recovery coach, and is certified as a Nutrition & Wellness Coach.

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