This winter’s been something else, hasn’t it? Hopefully yours was filled with health and happiness. For a while over here my son and I were constantly sick, which we eventually learned were pretty intense sinus infections. After a couple of rounds of antibiotics apiece, we thankfully began to feel better. Winter has always been a bit of a drag (that can’t be just me?), but the Christmas season keeps me quite busy so I can usually push through that bit with ease. January I find is often my low point.
One morning a few days after my final course of antibiotics for my sinus infection, I started to have some shortness of breath. At first I attributed this to either my sinus infection coming back and causing complications or maybe, I thought, because the weather had been snapping between freezing and mild. Over the years I’ve noticed that is usually when it’s harder for me to catch a full breath.
This time though, instead of intermittent, it was constant. I was aware of every breath because it felt as if a full inhale was impossible.
Trying to get to sleep was scary. I was terrified I’d forget to breathe in my sleep, but I always woke up thankfully. And I would even feel relaxed in that brief moment. Then I’d stand up, and the shortness of breath was back. Four days into this, it became so overwhelming that I had a panic attack. (For anyone who’s never had one — 10/10 would not recommend.)
Ah, it’s anxiety.
Through trial and error with my doctor and nurse practitioner, it was determined that nothing was physically wrong but rather that my shortness of breath was caused by anxiety. We tried a few things, some of which just made me more anxious about possible interactions — it didn’t seem worth diminishing old worries with new ones. Meditation and breathing exercises only helped temporarily.
After a while I noticed I would become short of breath for about a week or so. Then it stopped. Then again, a couple of weeks later.
At this point I had quit caffeine (despite LOVING coffee) for about 3 weeks. I had been going to bed earlier. I had changed my diet so it was much more balanced. No junk food at night. Drinking lots of water. Getting at least 45 minute walks in every day, sometimes twice. Nothing. Helped.
Based on timing, I began to think maybe my anxiety was more cyclical/hormonal than I had realized. Why was it happening every couple of weeks for almost a set duration? I noticed a pattern using my period tracker and my mood app. The worst breathing would always occur around the same times in my cycle. Which probably makes sense if you’re a lady, because you know that certain times of the month can be harder than others.
I started drinking coffee again because I figured if absolutely nothing was helping me anyway, I might as well be happy (or as happy as I could be while not breathing well).
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Weeks before this, I had been researching natural remedies on Amazon when I stumbled upon L-theanine. I actually ordered it then, but by the time it arrived (which was literally 2 days later, haha) I had decided to temporarily quit caffeine to see if it would help. If I was going to try L-theanine, I really wanted to give it a go with a coffee — stacking it with coffee improves focus and cognitive function. So I had decided to wait to try it for that reason, or in case it would make me sleepy or something. (Turns out it improves sleep quality but is not a sedative, which is nice.)
What exactly is L-theanine?
L-theanine is a non-essential amino acid that occurs naturally in black and green tea. In a cup of green tea you’d get about 20 mg of L-theanine. The capsules I ordered (see the bottle below) are 250 mg each. Please note: Due to other ingredients occurring in tea, drinking 12 cups of green or black tea in a row is not recommended. Consuming pure L-theanine concentrated into a supplement capsule is reportedly much safer.
Typically the first effects of L-theanine can be felt about 20-30 minutes after taking the supplement, and they peak about 5 hours after.
The more I read about this amino acid, the more health benefits it seemed to have. It also seemed to interact with very few things and from what I read had tested to be quite safe in most studies.
I’m not a medical professional or a naturopath, so I won’t give you all the info about it in this post. Here are a couple of comprehensive links I can recommend reading if you’d like to try L-theanine:
Given that I read about very few side effects, I Google-searched “L-theanine reddit” to source as many opinions on the stuff as I could. To my surprise, most were positive. The weakest link seemed to be that if you have low blood pressure or take SSRIs, you may not want to try it without consulting with your doctor first. You should also not take it if you are in chemotherapy as it may alter the effects of chemo. (Source)
Otherwise, it appears to be quite a safe supplement to take, with a variety of benefits.
My own experience with L-Theanine:
I decided to first take L-theanine with my Saturday morning coffee. About an hour later I noticed I was laughing more, the kid was whining as preschoolers do but it wasn’t bothering me nearly as much as usual, and overall I was in a great mood. To my surprise there was no “high” or anything. My head didn’t feel fuzzy, in fact it felt quite clear and none of my usual worries were bouncing around in my head. And — perhaps most basic but best of all — I was breathing just fine. !!! This alone would have encouraged me to keep taking it.
My sewing machine and I got along famously all weekend long. I made a few shirts for myself, which surprised me since my motivation was constantly lacking in the previous months. I stayed so motivated with just about everything, where before I was too tired to want to think of getting basic stuff done around the house (though I do have a knack for pushing through that stuff in order to avoid larger messes to deal with later).
Not only was I motivated, but also enthusiastic. Which was weird, to say the least, and not familiar to me at all in recent times. It was refreshing, as if I had woken up with a clear head.
One possible interaction? No bad side effects, just reduced efficacy.
I made the (possible?) mistake of taking it with a multivitamin the second day and it didn’t seem to have the same effect on focus. I later read that you probably shouldn’t take those vitamins around the same time as other supplements, medications, etc. Maybe I’m just imagining I was less focused because I kept messing up neckhole binding on a shirt I was sewing, but I know I did yawn a lot more which seems to happen in combination with my shortness of breath.
Will I keep taking it?
For now, yes! Long term? Maybe!
I’ve been taking one capsule every morning with coffee. Honest to goodness, I have not felt this motivated and even cheerful for a long, long time. I find myself recommending L-theanine to everyone who has issues with anxiety, depression or lack of motivation. I’m far less tired on it and my sleep quality has improved, which is confirmed by my Fitbit. I wake up ready to face the day, which I’m not sure I’ve ever done in my life, really.
Please note: I have not personally tried it yet without coffee because I like how this ‘stack’ gets my butt in gear, but I’m sure that will change. A friend of ours has been dealing with a lot of stress lately and took L-theanine without coffee. He said it made him feel mellow.
Feel free to check back for updates on this post with my experiences with or without stacking L-theanine with caffeine.
Given the list of health benefits (see the first bullet point in the links I posted above), I truly feel that many if not most people could benefit from this supplement, anxiety or not. With our busy lives, sleep quality suffers even in the best of us. And the improved focus is something I’m just floored by. It is common for people take L-theanine before exams or before public speaking for better cognitive function and focus.
I’m wondering if it really will aid in preventing allergies, colds and flu as I’ve read in a few different articles. That’s a post for a couple months down the road when tree pollen is in full force again, I suppose.
If you try L-theanine or are considering it, this is the one I recommend as it’s the only one I’ve tried and have had zero ill-effects from it.
I would love to read your insights or answer any questions you might have. Please leave your thoughts and/or experiences in the comments!