Feeling stressed, anxious, or a touch overwhelmed? That cup of freshly brewed coffee may be just what you need. While coffee consumption often gets a bad rap, sipped smartly, coffee can actually help you reduce stress and anxiety. The keys to unlocking this duo’s magic are quality and timing.
What coffee does to your brain
To understand how coffee can help reduce anxiety, it is necessary to understand how coffee interacts with other chemicals in your body, mainly adenosine, a nervous system depressant, and dopamine. When you drink coffee, dopamine and other feel-good chemicals are released to the prefrontal cortex of the brain, an area responsible for mood regulation. The release of dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline collectively create a natural mild antidepressant. This increase of these natural feel-good chemicals boosts your mood and improves cognition. While these feel-good chemicals are kicking in, the adenosine receptors are being blocked, preventing your body from developing a stress response, such as a bad mood, anxiety, depression, or cognitive confusion.
Why coffee quality matters
Now you may be thinking “coffee boosts your mood and fights fatigue — give me the strongest cup out there!” and that… may not be the best idea, especially if you are already feeling stressed or anxious. As with most great things, enough caffeine is the perfect amount, and too much reaps trouble. Here’s where coffee quality really comes into play. Consuming too much caffeine in too short a period of time can spark a host of negative reactions in the body and brain, including hallucinations (the least thing anyone feeling anxious needs!) and increased heart rate. To ensure you are optimizing your coffee, go for a cup of arabica over robusta (arabica has significantly less caffeine than robusta) and time your coffee for when it will work best for your body and brain.
How to drink purposefully
According to a Dartmouth University study, coffee works best for you when it is helping you prevent an energy crash (or adenosine gathering!). For most of us, assuming a 6 am wake-up, optimal times to consume coffee are between 8-9 am, between 12-1 pm, and between 5:30-6:30 pm. (If you wake up significantly earlier or later than 6 am simply adjust the suggested times up or down.) While these are the most common “crash” times according to test participant’s circadian rhythms, everyone is different and the real trick to optimizing this study’s findings is to start drinking your coffee 20-30 minutes before your daily lull(s) sets in. If you are feeling exceptionally sleepy, try a coffee power nap — quickly drink a cup or shot of coffee and immediately tuck in for a maximum 15-20 minute nap. Caffeine’s magic will be kicking right about the time you wake up, helping you to feel more alert, perky, and less stressed / anxious than you would after a normal nap.
To sum this up, coffee can be a great stress management, anxiety-reducing, mood-enhancing, antidepressant if consumed, in moderation, when your body most benefits from a caffeine boost. If you enjoyed this blog, you may also like our Wellness Series.