We were already stressed
Many of us have been chronically stressed or anxious for a while. Seventy to eighty percent of people experience physical or psychological impacts from stress while almost one in five adults is living with an anxiety disorder at any given time.
This began long before coronavirus as we’ve elevated our expectations of what we should be able to accomplish in a day. We try to be so much for so many and juggle many competing demands on our time. On top of this, we are regularly overstimulated by news, social media and notifications of what we need to do next. At the same time we are confronted by screens in our hand, in every restaurant, elevator, taxi, etc. Divisive politics, climate change and financial insecurity create broader conditions of uncertainty about the future. And at the same time, we are bombarded with the highlight reels from others’ lives. It’s a world of buzz and go that doesn’t always look kindly on creating space for ourselves and our unique needs.
And most of us now live with new levels of anxiety and stress
And now with the coronavirus, our base stress levels are even higher. The world changed so quickly around us and we are still adapting. Many of us are struggling to keep up with the rapid changes to our daily lives. Humans are social beings, but now we need to stay away from many of the people we love who often help get us through difficult times. We are trying to adapt to working at home, and some of us are trying to homeschool our kids at the same time. Many of the activities we typically rely on to take care of our mental health are now off the table. Some are told to stay away from their grandkids who are one of life’s biggest sources of joy. Some are seeing their businesses crumble, while others have lost their jobs completely. All this change to our individual lives is in a greater context of crisis all around us. And this doesn’t even begin to touch on how stressful this is for healthcare or other frontline workers who are sacrificing so much to care for others.
While coffee is a comfort beverage...
During stressful times, many of us reach for a cup of comforting coffee to relieve our stress. In fact, about half of us reach for more coffee when we are stressed and many of us drink 40% more coffee in high stress weeks.
No surprise there! There is something so wonderful about holding that warm mug between your hands and taking that first sip of delicious coffee. Honestly, even the smell alone makes me feel like my day is about to get better. But it doesn’t always make all of us feel our best, especially during anxious times.
...it can also make us feel more stressed
Many people intuitively make the connection between drinking too much caffeine and feeling jittery or extra anxious. But why does this happen?
This is partially linked to cortisol and epinephrine, which we commonly call adrenaline. Dr. Kimberly Wolf, DO explained to me, both are produced by the adrenal glands. These hormones allow us to experience the tense fight-or-flight response when your body is focused on self-preservation to either defend against a threat or run away.
Adrenaline is a fast acting hormone that causes your heart rate to increase and your body to quickly prepare to fight. Cortisol lasts longer and keeps your body in an extended stress state to keep fighting or running, says Dr. Wolf. These hormones can have positive impacts on our bodies, but are not meant to be elevated all the time.
Our brains tell our bodies to produce more adrenaline and cortisol when we are stressed. Caffeine also tells your body to increase these two hormones, and for many this prompts a similar stress response. The effect of caffeine on top of our stress prompts higher levels of these hormones in our bodies than we would have with caffeine or stress alone, explained Dr. Wolf. Too much caffeine may mimic a state of chronic stress over time.
Especially if we are already experiencing stress and anxiety
For people who already have anxiety, caffeine can amplify the symptoms. In one study, 71% of people with anxiety reported that caffeine created increased feelings of anxiety-related symptoms, like nervousness, fear, nausea, palpitations and restlessness.
For those who already have anxiety, too much caffeine may bring on a panic attack. Another study found that the amount of caffeine in a couple large cups of coffee (480 mg) has been shown to induce panic attacks in about half of the people studied who had anxiety.
Even worse, caffeine reduces quality sleep, which improves our immune system and helps us cope with stress
Good sleep is one of the most important components of all around good health. Dr. Michael Twery, a sleep expert at the National Institute for Health explains “Sleep affects almost every tissue in our bodies. It affects growth and stress hormones, our immune system, appetite, breathing, blood pressure and cardiovascular health.” High quality sleep is linked to a stronger immune system, a better mood, and a healthier heart.
Even more importantly, quality sleep helps us cope with stress.
Sleep Expert Matthew Walker shares that caffeine can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Caffeine also reduces deep sleep, which is what makes us feel very rested, tells our body to repair our cells, and may prep our brain to learn new things tomorrow. Specifically a cup of caffeinated coffee in the evening can reduce your deep sleep by 20%. This leaves you with about the same level of deep sleep you would get if you were 15 or 20 years older and as we get older, we typically don’t sleep as well as our younger selves.
It’s rough. I know, I’ve been there.
A couple years ago, I experienced a perfect storm of stress. I was working on a stressful work project that required extremely long hours, when my father was diagnosed with cancer. On top of this, my long-distance boyfriend had just left his job and home to move in with me in Chicago. What I had hoped would be an exciting time of rapid learning at work and exploring whether my boyfriend and I were in it for the long haul, quickly became a period of intense stress. I didn’t have enough mental or emotional bandwidth for my job, my parents and my partner. I wanted to be my best self at work and be there emotionally and physically for the people I love. I found that not being able to fully be there on all fronts was even more stressful.
And the final blow was when I realized that the caffeine in the coffee that I loved was amplifying my feelings of stress. I literally went days without sleeping and would regularly feel my blood anxiously pulsing through my veins and my heart beating faster than normal. After a few mornings of wondering whether I had actually slept, or just dozed the night before, it was time for me to give up caffeine for a while.
Try decaf and half caf to reduce feelings of anxiety
For many people, myself included, switching to half caf or decaf helps manage stress and anxiety, especially during extra stressful times. It is a great way to enjoy the taste and ritual of coffee, but not contribute to elevated levels of anxiousness. Science has shown that lower doses of caffeine prompt lower stress responses in our bodies.
When you find yourself stressed during this period of uncertainty, try switching up your fully caffeinated coffee for a half caf in the morning or introduce a craft decaf into your afternoon coffee break.
And check out Savorista for a wide selection of delicious caffeine conscious coffee
After making it through the stressful period I mentioned, I didn’t want myself or others to choose between feeling their best and enjoying coffee that they love. I started Savorista, a caffeine conscious coffee company that specializes in delicious half caf and craft decaf coffee. We have a wide variety of delicious, freshly roasted coffees that we mail out fresh for those coffee lovers who are intentional about their caffeine.