Skip the Caffeine and Get Moving to Avoid Anxiety

Espresso machineLast month, I began talking about things that can fuel anxiety, with sleep (a lack of it) being but one such issue. I want to start here by noting other things to be aware of. Food and drink can also play a role, especially chemicals such as caffeine. My fear here is that most people do not take the role of diet seriously, choosing to believe that food is more of a potential weight-related issue. Many people may say “Well, I’m eating well enough (or even okay), so I don’t really need to think about it.” I disagree.

Caffeine can wreak havoc on an already overactive mind. We already know caffeine can negatively affect sleep, so that’s a problem. Studies have shown that higher doses of caffeine can cause anxiety, among the other possible effects (Smith, 2002).

Now, we may all know that coffee and teas (unless decaffeinated) will contain some of the highest levels of caffeine, but don’t forget the energy drinks, sodas, chocolate, cocoa, many desserts, some cereals and so forth. We may think “a little won’t hurt me,” but watch how it can add up. If you have anxiety, you do not need these things to artificially raise your levels.

Getting Your Energy Out Physically
A sedentary lifestyle is also important to address. Exercise offers us so many different benefits when we think about our overall body and health, so let’s not forget the benefits with anxiety. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain and increases endorphins that can have a positive effect on our mood. Exercise may also trigger a neurophysiologic high—a shot of adrenaline—that produces an antidepressant effect in some, an anti-anxiety effect in others, and have a general sense of “feeling better” in most (Sacks, 2007).

View all the worry and stressful experiences as energy that can get trapped in the body. We need as many ways as possible to get the energy out and not fuel levels of anxiety. Now, I am not talking about having to run marathons or anything; I am simply recommending that you examine your lifestyle and current exercise and see if there are more ways to get the energy out. Even consistent walking can be a wonderful way to help.

Avoiding Negative Thinking
Other things that can fuel anxiety include our own mind, with negative thoughts, catastrophizing, and, for some, trying to be perfect. Our minds are powerful. Let’s say you wake up and it is a hot day. If you say things to yourself like “It’s going to be too hot; I’m going to sweat and be tired,” imagine how you will feel. Many people would be discouraged or not excited. Now imagine you like the warm weather and might think, “Great! I can’t wait to get outside and soak in the sun.” In this view, you might feel excited and upbeat. The fact is, the situation outside did not change—only your mind and views changed. If we point our focus in a negative direction, with doubt and uncertainty, we are more likely to see the negative possibilities and miss all the positive ones.

Catastrophizing is not going to help either. This is where something happens (such as the boss asks to meet with you), and even though it may be only step 1, you may have already played out all the negative possibilities, even though they have not happened. For example, let’s say that in asking you, your boss did not share more about the upcoming meeting. When we catastrophize, we might think things like, “Oh my gosh! I’m in trouble. He must be upset about ____ (fill in the blank with whatever you think you may not have done so well or as good or “should” have done).” Another example might be if you have a disagreement with someone and then just expect or fear that every time you see that person in the future it will go poorly and that you may argue again, that person will not like you, and so forth. These are negative automatic thoughts that can come up in seconds, only growing that potential angst inside.

Next month, I will offer ways to address our anxiety and internal struggles.


  1. Smith, A. (2002). Effects of caffeine on human behavior. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 40, 1243–1255.
  2. Sacks, M. (2007). Exercise for stress control. Retrieved from

Related articles:
The Birth of Anxiety
Exploring the Effects of Anxiety
Taking in the World, One Moment at a Time

© Copyright 2012 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Stuart A. Kaplowitz, MFT, Anxiety Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Jackson

    May 31st, 2012 at 11:33 AM

    I have to have my morning coffee. . . but I have to have my afternoon workout too.
    Can’t we have the perfect balance with both?

  • Stuart Kaplowitz

    May 31st, 2012 at 2:13 PM

    Hi Jackson. I don’t doubt the research on how coffee can have it’s benefits. I am just wanting to note how, when it comes to those of us who experience anxiety, caffeine can be problematic. One cup may be manageable for some. Again, keep in mind that caffeine does not only come from that morning cup and it may be adding up.

  • helena

    May 31st, 2012 at 5:06 PM

    Aarrgghh!! One minute we read articles that caffeine is actually good for us and then we turn around and are told that it is not so good for us. What gives? How are we ever to know what is good and what we should avoid when there is never any consistency in the things that we need to do to be healthy. I would just like to for once see something that was encouraging on that front, that confirms that what we read and thought was a good idea two seconds ago actually is still a good idea and that there are consistent things that we can do in life to improve the overall quality and our own longevity. Whew! I just had to get that off my chest.

  • katydid

    June 1st, 2012 at 11:18 AM

    When you have to rely on something from the outside to get you revved up and moving on the inside, then there is an issue. I like my coffe drinks not for the caffeine, but because they taste good! For me it is all about being in touch with my needs for the day and making a connection with those needs. There are some days that I need a little more up and at it, and there are others where I feel like I need to pay attention to relaxing and focusing. With that being said, being in tune with the mind and body is the best way to get over those little energy dips and keep moving right along.

  • Stuart Kaplowitz

    June 1st, 2012 at 12:22 PM

    Thank you Katydid. Wonderful sharing.
    Sorry Helena! You are right. It can be frustrating to hear both positive and negatives about things. I am here to help with the anxiety piece and want to share my clinical experience here. I tell clients everything we put in our bodies can indeed have an effect and possible side effects — even food. For example, certain foods may test wonderful and fill me up. These same foods can then leave me feeling lethargic, constipated, gassy, etc. (SMILE).

  • katydid

    June 2nd, 2012 at 12:04 PM

    Thanks Stuart! I will share with readers that while a good run is good, sometimes a little bit of yoga helps me get in touch with body AND mind. Just a thought for those who like to consolidate a little :)

  • Cassie F

    June 4th, 2012 at 4:06 AM

    I have never been much of an exerciser until a few months ago, and I have never felt better! I have so much more energy than I ever have before, almost to the point that sometimes I have a hard time going to sleep at night if I exercise too late in the day. Had I known really what a difference this would have made in how I look and how I feel, I swear I would have started this a long time ago!

  • Stuart Kaplowitz

    June 4th, 2012 at 9:55 AM

    Well said Katydid and Cassie. Clearing out as much as we can from the body and mind in these ways can be so valuable

  • James

    October 7th, 2016 at 2:36 PM

    Any1 no wat foods u can eat if u have anxiety depression mental health physicological problems and wat to avoid

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