When it comes to life's simple pleasures, few bring as much joy for as little output as a cup of coffee.
Coffee fires up the mind, ignites the tastebuds, and infuses our bodies with a dose of healthy antioxidants.
It also lifts your mood - and that's not just because each sip is an enjoyable experience. Rather, coffee's ingredients make you feel happy on a chemical level, as its principal psychoactive component (caffeine) releases mood-enhancing neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin.
Coffee is also a powerful antioxidant. Research has shown that individuals with depression have higher levels of oxidative stress, which is the imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body. This oxidative stress can contribute to aging and the development of various health conditions, including depression. Coffee is packed full of antioxidants and is the leading source of antioxidants in the American diet. Therefore, drinking coffee may help reduce oxidative stress and contribute to improved mental health, including a decreased risk of depression and low mood.
Coffee's impact on gut health has also been linked to promoting mental health. The prebiotics found in coffee can play a role in gut health by feeding the microorganisms that promote gut health, which in turn boosts the formation of fatty acids and neurotransmitters that provide mental health benefits.
Additionally, the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of coffee are associated with a reduced risk of depression and other negative emotional states. This, combined with the potential prebiotic effects of coffee's natural compounds, may help explain how coffee's impact on gut health can contribute to an improved mood.
But Wait... I Thought Coffee Makes You Anxious?
While many would have been reading the paragraph above and nodding, you may be in the camp that finds coffee can actually have some negative impacts on your mental health.
In particular, anxiety is often linked to too much Joe, causing many to turn away from their favorite drink.
Of course, any negative side effects of coffee are not worth the flavor and cognitive benefits it brings - so always choose your morning elixir wisely. That said, given the evidence above that coffee can be great for your mood, we believe you can get the best of both worlds: delicious coffee and a relaxed, calm demeanor, provided you tailor your experience to what's right for you.
We also want to dispel a couple of myths about coffee so you don't mistakenly cut yourself off from your sweet, sweet morning Joe without getting all the facts.
What Exactly Is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a natural response to stress or perceived threats and your body’s way of saying, “Be careful! Things are threatening!”
Symptoms of anxiety include fast heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating, digestive issues, and trouble concentrating.
What are the Effects of Caffeine?
Caffeine, coffee’s primary stimulant, affects the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord.
Its primary action is inhibiting adenosine, which promotes relaxation and sleepiness. In doing so, caffeine induces the wakefulness and alertness many seek in a cup of coffee.
In some people, excessive caffeine consumption can come with some undesirable side effects, like feeling jittery, accelerated heart rate, and headaches.
These symptoms typically appear within 45 to 60 minutes after caffeine consumption, lasting three to five hours.
This Sounds Kind Of Familiar...
If the side effects of consuming too much caffeine sound familiar, it’s because they overlap with those of clinical anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder or generalized anxiety disorder.
Anxiety symptoms and the effects of caffeine both manifest via the sympathetic nervous system, which constitutes the part of the autonomic nervous system responsible for the body's fight-or-flight response. The fight-or-flight response is the body's mechanism for mobilizing and reacting to perceived threats. When engaged, this response sets in motion a cascade of physiological and psychological reactions, some of which include heightened respiration, elevated blood pressure, and increased muscle tension.
The similarity of the effects can make it challenging to distinguish between anxiety stemming from perceived threats and caffeine-induced jitters. The key thing to understand is that while the effects of caffeine and anxiety can be alike, there is currently little evidence that caffeine can cause the onset of a clinical anxiety disorder like panic disorder or generalized anxiety disorder. A clinical anxiety disorder is a mental health issue that persists over time, whereas caffeine-induced jitters are caused by caffeine, and appear and disappear with caffeine consumption.
That being said, there is some evidence that consuming too much caffeine can make anxiety symptoms worse or trigger panic attacks for those who already have an anxiety disorder.
How Much Caffeine is Safe to Consume?
So, how much caffeine is too much? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provides some general guidelines to help individuals gauge their caffeine intake safely. According to the FDA, consuming 400 mg of caffeine daily (the equivalent of about four cups of coffee) doesn’t typically result in negative or dangerous effects for healthy adults.
The FDA also notes that rapid consumption of around 1,200 mg of caffeine can result in life-threatening effects, such as seizures. However, it’s essential to note that individual tolerance to caffeine can vary significantly. Some people are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine and can only consume small amounts, while others can handle larger amounts without experiencing adverse reactions. Factors such as a person’s usual caffeine intake, the amount of caffeine consumed, body mass, metabolism, and genetic makeup can influence how your body responds to caffeine.
How Can You Reduce Caffeine-Induced Jitters?
If you’re experiencing caffeine-induced jitters, don’t give up your beloved brew just yet. There are proactive steps that may alleviate the symptoms. Here are some tips for keeping the caffeine boost without the anxiety:
#1: Reduce Your Caffeine Consumption. First things first, put on your detective cap and figure out how much caffeine you’re actually consuming daily. This might not be as easy as it sounds, as caffeine is present in many products.
Below are approximate caffeine amounts:
Decaf coffee: 2-15 mg per 8 ounces
Plain black coffee: 80-100 mg per 8 ounces
Espresso: 125 mg per 8 ounces
Black tea: 50 mg per 8 ounces
Green tea: 30 mg per 8 ounces
Yerba mate: 80 mg per 8 ounces
Dark chocolate: 23 mg of caffeine per ounce
Milk chocolate: 6 mg of caffeine per ounce
Once you’ve determined how much caffeine you typically consume in a day, try gradually decreasing the amount you consume until you reach a comfortable point.
#2: Try Decaf Coffee. To maintain the joy of coffee while keeping your caffeine intake in check, drink decaffeinated coffee. Simply swap out one of your regular cups of coffee for a cup of decaf. Decaf coffee offers the same rich, aromatic flavors you love in regular coffee but with much less caffeine. A typical cup of decaf coffee has about 2 mg of caffeine, compared to a typical cup of regular coffee, which has about 95 mg of caffeine.
#3: Ensure You’re Getting Adequate Sleep. Consuming too much caffeine, especially later in the day, can disrupt your sleep, which can further amplify feelings of anxiety. A good rule of thumb is to stop drinking caffeine eight hours before bedtime to minimize sleep problems. You can also help promote better sleep by:
Going to bed and waking up around the same time every day.
Engaging in calming activities before bed, such as taking a bath, doing a short meditation, or making a cup of caffeine-free tea.
Putting away electronics an hour or two before bed.
Keeping your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet.
- #4: Add The Good Stuff™ to Your Coffee. The Good Stuff™ is our carefully formulated coffee supplement designed to reduce the caffeine jitters. While The Good Stuff™ boasts an array of functional ingredients, including MCT and collagen, l-theanine takes center stage in taming those coffee jitters. L-theanine is a naturally occurring amino acid found in tea leaves that has been shown to promote relaxation. The Good Stuff™ also has a sibling, The Good Stuff™ Focus. This version contains a cocoa extract that helps improve mood and outlook, so if you need a little boost, that's your pick! Simply mix a scoop of either powder into your coffee to reduce any coffee-induced shakiness and boost overall well-being.
Striking a Balanced Relationship with Caffeine
We love coffee as much as the next guy (probably more!), but if you’re experiencing continued adverse effects from your brew, you should talk to a health professional and make some changes. Remember that small, mindful adjustments can yield significant results in managing those jittery post-coffee feelings, allowing you to continue drinking coffee while keeping your anxiety levels in check.
Want to learn more about l-theanine? We thought you'd never ask! Check out everything you'd ever want to know about l-theanine in this deep dive.