Waking up groggy, eyes adjusting to the light, everything is a little blurry, you stumble into the kitchen and get your first cup of joe brewin’. The smell hits you first—a nice dark roast perhaps, and then finally, your first sip . . . You begin the rest of your morning routine and that beautiful, aroma-filled beverage in your cup kick-starts your day.
But have you ever wondered if your morning coffee ritual is actually contributing to anxiety or depression? If so, I got some answers for you in this article
We’ve become a coffee-crazed culture—drinking it for pleasure, to relax, as a treat, drinking it to socialize, and not least of all, for energy. Suffice to say, all that coffee craze can lead to an unhealthy dependency. How else can we keep our energy up, treating ourselves along the way, to accomplish all the things we need and want to get done in life?
So, here’s the lowdown on coffee, anxiety, and depression.
Coffee and Depression
There’s some very interesting research out there about coffee and depression. It turns out that coffee might actually be a protective factor against depression and is even correlated with a reduction in suicide. That’s a pretty amazing finding for coffee lovers and those who deal with depression or suicidality!
In fact, studies have talked about this very interesting outcome. However, before we get too excited, let’s hit the pause button and clarify a few things. I do say “might” because research is research, and although this gives us some evidence, it’s always important to remember that each of our bodies reacts differently to different environments, circumstances, or substances, and there are a lot of variables at play, so nothing is 100%—but it is a good indicator for sure!
Some of the variables to consider in these studies include the overall lifestyle of subjects and control groups as well as a super important one—whether the coffee they were drinking is caffeinated or decaffeinated as much of the research isn’t clear. So, there’s some more work to be done there, but that’s encouraging!
And that’s not all. Coffee, which is most often connected to unhealthy habits, was taken off the WHO’s list of carcinogenic foods in 2016, a somewhat rare move. The WHO even reports that coffee may protect against cancer of the uterus and liver. And they are not alone, several other, well-known and esteemed organizations, such as The World Cancer Research Fund and the US Department of Health and Human Services, have also declared that coffee consumption in moderation (three to five cups per day) can have positive effects on your health and protect you from various forms of cancer.
When it comes to depression, it was found that it may not be only the caffeine at play, as there are other impactful components in coffee. The more notable are chlorogenic acid, ferulic acid, and caffeic acid, all of which have been found to reduce inflammation of nerves which is found to be a factor in the brains of people suffering from depression. More good stuff!
Coffee and Anxiety
The research on coffee and anxiety, however, is not quite as positive for those who suffer from anxiety as it is for those who suffer from depression. And it’s not all that surprising either, but there was something that I did find interesting in all of the reading I did on this subject.
By and large, it was found that if you don’t suffer from anxiety, coffee will likely not have too much of a negative impact on you when consumed in moderation. However, when caffeine doses increase to more than 400mg per day, symptoms associated with anxiety may appear, such as restlessness, jitteriness, and trouble sleeping. In those who suffer from anxiety, it will take far less to exacerbate their already present symptoms of anxiety—not too surprising.
But anecdotally, there is a lot of documentation about people quitting coffee for a period of time and writing about the impact on their anxiety, which was found to be fairly negligent. So, overall, if you suffer from anxiety, there is a good chance that moderate coffee consumption will not have too much of an impact on your anxiety, though it certainly won’t help it.
How Does Coffee Affect Your Mood?
When it comes to your overall mood, the thing you should think about is how your body responds to caffeine as this is the primary issue for most people—depression or anxiety aside—and our bodies have different sensitivities to caffeine.
Some people can drink espresso right before bed and have no trouble sleeping but for others, it could guarantee a night of restlessness with lots of tossing and turning! And poor sleep contributes to irritability, less resistance to dealing with life stressors as well as other poor health indicators, and hence, lowered mood.
Getting a good night’s sleep is essential especially when dealing with chronic anxiety. So, if you fall into this camp, then it might be good for you to moderate your coffee consumption or even just evaluate and assess for yourself to see what the impact might be on a period of time with no caffeine.
It’s important that you get to know your body and how it reacts to different substances and environments. Running a little experiment on yourself can be a fun way to get to know and understand your body and how you metabolize caffeine.
The Bottom Line on Coffee, Anxiety, and Depression
Overall, the research says that there are potentially a few health benefits when it comes to depression and coffee drinking than on coffee and anxiety—where it is found to have a negative or neutral impact. Furthermore, there is an array of other potentially beneficial health impacts from drinking coffee.
Given all of this various research—some of it very promising (around depression) and some of it not surprising (anxiety)—coffee is not going to eradicate any mental health concerns, though it does not necessarily seem to cause them. The most important thing to consider when thinking about the impact of coffee drinking on your anxiety or depression is that it can aggravate sleep issues, which is a really important piece of your self-care when dealing with depression, anxiety, or any mental health issue for that matter.
Want to Cut Back on Your Coffee Drinking?
If you are looking to cut back a little on how much coffee you drink or even just run that little experiment on yourself that I was referring to, then you can start with a few simple tips.
1. Cut Back Gradually
Caffeine is a stimulant, and you will likely feel some physiological symptoms, such as a headache, brain fog, and general fatigue. This will last for a day or two, possibly more depending on how much caffeine you have been consuming. Before you start cutting back, it is good to know about how much caffeine you are drinking in a day. That way you can gradually cut back by a beverage each day or so.
2. Make Sure You Stay Hydrated
Coffee—or caffeine for that matter—is a diuretic, which means that it will naturally dehydrate you, so cutting down will most likely help with dehydration. However, with that said, it is still important to make sure you are drinking enough fluids as that will help minimize the effects of the withdrawal.
3. Get Plenty of Rest
You will naturally feel a little tired when cutting back on caffeine/coffee, make sure you get enough rest, giving your body a chance to adjust and recuperate from the withdrawal.
4. Increase Your Physical Activity
Try to increase your physical activity a little. Physical activity is known to increase mood, which will counter the irritability you may feel when cutting back on your coffee intake.
5. Take Notes
Keep a little log or journal to write down how you are feeling on different days and how much, if any, caffeine you are drinking at various points in your “trial.” Think about your mood, how you feel, how you are sleeping, and possibly how you feel it is impacting your relationships and your daily activities. When you go back to look at your data, you will be able to assess the impact of caffeine and coffee intake more accurately.
Keep in Mind
How much coffee we drink and its impacts vary widely depending on many, many factors. The best bet for you is to know yourself, pay attention to how coffee impacts you, talk to your doctors, and consider your personal life circumstances. Taking all of these steps will help you to make an informed decision for yourself, which will likely change over time.