I used to be a huge coffee fan. I loved my green tea, I loved my coffee and I loved my chocolate, largely for the taste, but also for the boost in stimulation.
In the short term, these treats give us a boost in our alertness, but in the long term you’ll find that these products cause fatigue. I was reading up on how to relieve stress because I was concerned about how anxious I was getting at work and found that there’s a huge link between caffeine and stress levels.
You see, caffeine actually reduces our ability to deal with stress, as opposed to improving it. Quite the contrarian effect to what you think it does. It also works as a diuretic which means that we urinate more, expelling minerals as we do, including minerals like magnesium – a tranquilizer-like mineral that helps with stress.
Caffeine works as a stimulant to the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system, the part of the body that triggers the fight or flight response which is a response aimed to deal with stressors. When this is stimulated, it causes the adrenal glands to release hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which filters into the blood and exacerbates our already worked bodies (not to mention causes weight gain around the waist).
Caffeine is one of the most popular drugs in the world, even though our body has no need for it, whatsoever. Caffeine actually has a psychoactive effect on the body, and an amount even as low as 250 mg per day will be enough to play a role in nervousness and insomnia. Caffeine on the whole lowers your ability to deal with stress and makes you more prone to difficulty when dealing with stressful situations.
Another issue with caffeine is the impact that is has on a hormone called adenosine. This is a hormone which works to keep your anxiety levels within a certain limit, but the sad fact is that caffeine actually taps into the same receptor site in the brain that adenosine does, exacerbating your stress levels and causing anxiety. Yikes.
Studies have been done on people who regularly tap into the sweet goodness of coffee by way of consuming around four or even five cups of it per day! One study in particular looked at a group of people and found that if you consume this many cups of coffee, you’re going to experience around a 32% increase in stress hormones, namely adrenaline, and a 14% increase in the stress hormone noradrenaline. In addition to this, blood pressure was seen to rise, which can lead to an increase in stroke likelihood of heart attacks. Not great stuff, when you consider how many people are using coffee as a means of getting by in their lives.
Another way in which caffeine can be linked to stress is in the causality between caffeine consumption and anxiety attacks. For some people, they can drink coffee all day every day and not suffer any adverse stress response effects. For other people, they merely need to sniff coffee and that can trigger a panic attack. Scary stuff! I know I vary, depending on a few other factors like how much sleep I’ve had, and whether I’ve eaten – but I’ve certainly had a panic attack before after having two long blacks in a row! Not nice.
The experts recommend that you shouldn’t take in more than 250 mg worth of caffeine in a day, but this doesn’t account for people who are caffeine sensitive – some people can be triggered by as little as 4-5 mg! If you reduce your overall caffeine intake, you’re putting yourself at less risk of stress-related illnesses and issues, and you might just find that you can sleep better in the evening. Sure, it might be a hard slog at first but over time (and once you get over the hump), you’ll see that your energy levels will naturally rise again!