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3 Beverages a Nutritional Psychiatrist Says Can Immediately Exacerbate Stress and Anxiety Levels

drinks that cause anxiety

Photo: Stocksy/ Marc Tran

Heading into the holiday season can mean stress and anxiety levels are running high. From hosting unruly family members to managing travel-related gut health woes, your normal day-to-day routines will likely be out the door (at least for some time). And although some things may fall out of your control—like who shows up at your holiday gathering unannounced—Uma Naidoo, MD, a Harvard-trained nutritional psychiatrist and the author of the upcoming book, Calm Your Mind With Food, says there are a few things that you can do to help relieve tensions during these high-stress times.

Experts In This Article
  • Uma Naidoo, MD, Harvard-trained nutritional psychiatrist, professional chef, and nutritional biologist

Let it be known: It’s a season for celebration and leaning into having fun and feeling festive. But with that often comes a (pun intended) cocktail of sugary coffee drinks, late-night, booze-fueled celebrations, and mega caffeine to survive the chaos. In a word, it’s fabulous right until you’re stressed, sick, and sleepless through the month of December.

While Dr. Naidoo says these three drinks can exacerbate stress and anxiety, she doesn’t think you need to go cold turkey on them entirely if that’s not your vibe. Ahead the expert delves on why these three drinks can potentially provoke anxiety, plus ways on how you can safely consume them (in moderation) to best keep your symptoms at bay.

3 drinks that can cause stress and anxiety

‘Tis the season of spiked cider, pumpkin spice lattes, and the dire need for energy drinks to get through holiday gift wrapping. Yet, as previously mentioned, these three drinks can potentially exacerbate stress and anxiety, Dr. Naidoo says. Here are the science-backed reasons how:

1. Alcohol

According to Dr. Naidoo, drinking alcohol impacts the brain neurologically on a number of levels. “When we consume alcohol, it changes the effects of a many neurotransmitters in the brain: dopamine pathways fire more, which may explain a sensation of elevated mood, while the activity of GABA—an inhibitory neurotransmitter—is also heightened, and our brain’s stimulatory system is suppressed,” Dr. Naidoo says.

Dr. Naidoo notes that this is what primes to body to experience feelings of relaxation while drinking. However, she cautions that alcohol’s impact on stress and anxiety is far from soothing. “Alcohol can upset the balance of other neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, which govern our mood. Because of these effects, we may experience feelings of depression, anxiety, or even full-blown panic after the episode of drinking has ended,” she says.

“Alcohol can upset the balance of other neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, which govern our mood. Because of these effects, we may experience feelings of depression, anxiety, or even full-blown panic after the episode of drinking has ended.”

What’s more, Dr. Naidoo says it’s important to keep in mind that alcohol is a depressant that can have lasting effects. “Many people may not realize that this can impact their mood, especially over time,” she says. An example of an alcohol-related short-term effect is hangxiety experienced after an episode of drinking. “When people overindulge the night before and are not well hydrated, they can also experience something called hangxiety the next day,” she says. Dr. Naidoo also points out that the buildup of inflammation and toxins in the body can have detrimental effects on mental health and longevity in the long run.

2. Sugary Coffee Beverages

Would it really be the holiday season without a sugar cookie almond milk latte? While Dr. Naidoo agrees that milky, sweet, spiced lattes are fall and winter staples, they can also sneakily trigger inflammation. “These types of drinks are high in refined sugar, dairy, and artificial flavors, that are shown in literature to almost immediately increase inflammation in the body, which can worsen our stress levels,” she says. Dr. Naidoo also cautions that consuming too much caffeine and sugar can lead to a midday crash once it starts to wear off.

3. Energy Drinks

According to Dr. Naidoo, too much caffeine can equal too much anxiety. “In addition to also often being high in sugars and flavors, energy drinks can contain excessive amounts of caffeine, which can greatly increase stress and anxiety,” she says. Plus, much like sugary coffee drinks, or what she refers to as “coffee-desserts,” can also lead to an energy crash.

How limiting intake of these beverages can help alleviate symptoms

Although Dr. Naidoo tends to avoid these big three stress-and anxiety-exacerbating drinks, she also understands that cutting them out cold turkey isn’t practical for most folks either. “In general, if a food is deleterious to your mental health, I will encourage my clients to choose healthier options whenever possible,” she says. Yet, she understands that “life happens.”

Ultimately, the mental health expert explains that she “wants the changes we make to be sustainable—and rigid rules with a shaming narrative are not sustainable over time.” Like most things in life, it’s all about balance and moderation, fam.

Learn how to make a de-stressing raspberry mocktail to sip on when tensions are running high:

Citations
Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Ma X, Nan F, Liang H, Shu P, Fan X, Song X, Hou Y, Zhang D. Excessive intake of sugar: An accomplice of inflammation. Front Immunol. 2022 Aug 31;13:988481. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2022.988481. PMID: 36119103; PMCID: PMC9471313.
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