I attempt to kick my caffeine habit at least three times a year. I’ll do pretty well for a while, but then I’ll need to stay up late to finish a project, or not sleep very well… You know how it goes.
The fact is I know I’m far from alone in having an addiction to caffeine that never quite subsides. (However, I’m pretty alone when it comes to my dislike of coffee—I hate it almost as much as I love it!)
In fact, when Shape Magazine polled more than 750 of their readers, they found nearly half of them admitted to drinking more coffee than usual (up to two cups) when they needed to feel more focused, stay alert, and be productive, especially at work.
While focus and productivity are definitely qualities needed for a stress-free workday, reaching for another cup of coffee may not be the way to get there. Coffee may help initially, but it may also cause you to go too fast and increase agitation.
This is because your body naturally produces the stress hormone cortisol when you’re feeling pressured. Cortisol already boosts the ability to act quickly and power through a stressful situation. When it’s combined with caffeine, you could go from straight thinking to shaky.
Christopher N. Ochner, PhD, assistant professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, told Shape.com, “Caffeine is one of the safer stimulants out there. Unfortunately, any stimulant carries with it the side effect of anxiety, which obviously ruins your concentration.”
“Caffeine in particular can make you jittery, nervous, and worrisome, which can occupy some of your thinking capacity,” he added.
Though you reached for the extra cup of coffee to help you get through the day with less stress, it might cause you more in the long run. It inhibits your body’s ability to absorb calming amino acids and prolongs cortisol production.
More stress hormone and less calming amino acids in the body creates longer periods of stress and jitteriness, exactly the opposite of what you were looking for. Instead of reaching for more coffee, try making sure you get enough sleep, snacking on whole grains or other complex carbohydrates, or even taking a moment to meditate.
No one is ever going to convince me (or likely any of you) to stop consuming caffeinated beverages like coffee completely. However, by being smarter about how much we drink, we can save ourselves some extra stress in the long run.