Anxiety Triggers: Diet and Caffeine


Let’s talk about anxiety for a moment. Six years ago I was going through a depression spell and decided to get back on my tried and true medication, Wellbutrin. As often happens with anti-depressants, after a couple cycles of using it and stopping it stopped working for me the way it used to. What it did instead was give me horrible anxiety that mostly presented itself as constant butterflies in my stomach.

That first week of anxiety is still so clear in my mind. I had never experienced anything like it and it was terrifying. I stopped taking the Wellbutrin but unfortunately the physical manifestation of anxiety that started then has been with me ever since, although it now varies in intensity and comes and goes, although unpredictably.

It took me many years to feel comfortable calling this feeling anxiety. Honestly, it’s only been the last year that I have become comfortable considering that I have anxiety, and that was only at the urging of my therapist. I guess I just didn’t want another THING to add to my list of problems and unfortunately I feel some shame and embarrassment about it, despite knowing how common it is.

I have done some detective work to try to discover what lifestyle choices might increase or decrease symptoms of anxiety for me. And the last 10 days have brought some of these ideas into clear focus, so I want to share them today.

#1: Very low carb diet. I decided to get back to eating a ketogenic diet about two weeks ago because I was feeling a little chubby (I don’t weigh myself so this is totally subjective). Within a couple of days I could feel that I was in ketosis (my head feels a little buzzy) and with it came a huge increase in my nervous stomach. After a few days of eating more carbs, it subsided.

#2: Caffeine. I have a couple of cups of coffee every morning. For the past few months I have been reading about other folks giving up caffeine to help with anxiety so when my anxiety went through the roof last week, I decided it was a good time to quit the caffeine and see what happened. It’s been about 4 days now and I’m recovering from the exhaustion of the first few days and feeling fine. Is it helping? I think so. I was noticing an increase in anxiety right after my morning coffee was done and I think the lack of caffeine has evened me out. The physical sensation of anxiety is never really gone but it’s not as strong and acute as it was. As much as I love coffee, I think this might be a permanent break-up if I feel it’s helping at all with the dreaded nervous stomach.

Maybe some day I will be free of the physical symptoms of anxiety but for now that’s not the case. To the extent possible I want to minimize the strength of these symptoms and learn everything I can about other lifestyle modifications that might help. For now that means no caffeine and no extremes in diet.