Last week was a rough week for me, if you’re wondering why I haven’t written in a bit. It wasn’t rough because of school or volunteer work or anything tangible. It was rough because I thought I was losing my mind.
Seriously. I had been worried about a few things early in the week—minor things that more or less sorted themselves out by Wednesday afternoon. The worry about them, however, didn’t go away. I felt sick to my stomach at the thought of leaving the house. The bus made me anxious. Sitting in class made me feel like I was completely going to lose it. I kept feeling this little pain in my chest, like someone grabbing my insides and squeezing.
My rational mind said, “This is silly. Why are you so worked up? Just take a deep breath. Everything’s fine.” And everything is fine, and was fine, but I could not convince my racing heart or my falling elevator stomach that this was the truth.
I have always been something of a hypochondriac, as Mom will tell you. Or at least a drama queen. My mind had decided that if I was horribly anxious without any good reason, then I must be off my rocker. The onset of agoraphobia seemed, for a moment, quite likely. Fortunately, my rational brain kept smacking my drama-queen brain upside the head, and eventually came up with a question that got through: “Are there any weird diet things that can cause this sort of anxiety?”
To this, my drama queen could only say, “Eureka!” Every fall for the past few years, I’ve gone through a bit of a nasty cycle. As the weather turns colder, I start drinking more and more tea for the pleasant warmth of the thing. Then we have a warm day, I skip my tea, and find myself with a crippling headache that tells me I have once again accidentally stumbled into the ugly place of being caffeine-dependent. Stupid to repeat it, but I do, and I did this year again.
I have also, in the past two or three years, had a week or two of uncontrollable and recognizably irrational fear for the future, sometime in the fall. I never connected the two before, but the question of my rational brain suddenly aligned them in my memory and I realized that they quite possibly did happen around the same time.
The big difference between this year and years past is that, instead of tea, I have largely been drinking coffee, which contains more than twice the caffeine in a cup of tea.
A quick Google on “diet-related anxiety” confirmed my hypothesis: if you are prone to anxiety anyway (as Mom’s nickname of "Telly Monster" for me might confirm that I am), caffeine can unnaturally heighten your body’s reaction to stress, inducing irrational anxiety.
I quit the caffeine cold-turkey, and sure enough, within twenty-four hours I had a blistering headache and no more weird panicky feelings. But twice within the space of a month, I had to laugh at myself for ever imagining that caffeine doesn’t bother me…