Coffee and Your Mental Health
Updated: Dec 13, 2022
Does coffee come to mind when you think about your mental health and well-being? Having at least one cup of coffee a day has become the norm, but coffee can contribute to sleep problems and symptoms of anxiety. Here’s what you need to know about the relationship between coffee and mental health.
Drinking coffee is part of most people’s daily ritual. In fact, many people can’t imagine going even one day without it. While researching for this article, I came across a plethora of various stats and sources, but they generally all said something similar: basically, that most people are going through their day completely hyped up on caffeine from coffee.
A study in Food and Chemical Toxicology found that 85 percent of the U.S. population consumes at least one caffeinated beverage per day. Another source listed some more statistics:
The average American drinks 3.1 cups of coffee per day (source: E-Imports)
Americans drink about 400 million cups of coffee every day (source: E-Imports)
More than half of all coffee consumers would rather skip a shower in the morning than skip their coffee (source: Huffpost)
In Finland, an average of 12 kg of coffee is consumed per person every year. Finns are the world’s greatest coffee consumers, followed by Norway, Iceland, and Denmark (source: Telegraph)
Only 26 percent of people said they only have one cup or no coffee at all (source: statista)
While other sources I found said more or less the same.
Coffee is a socially acceptable stimulant. More than being socially acceptable, it’s lauded as the norm and feeds into what constitutes social inclusion. Even at work, the association of coffee with productivity has made coffee, and coffee breaks, staples in companies around the world. In our “we’re–only–worthy–when–we’re–producing” culture, near-constant productivity is the proverbial king. Being busy is applauded, while resting as self-care is seen as laziness. Subconsciously, we’re told sleeping and resting are bad and producing is good—which might explain why people swap sleep for caffeine.
Coffee & Anxiety
Caffeine works as a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant (the CNS is made up of the brain and spinal cord). More than just a stimulant, it’s actually considered a psychoactive drug, and the most popular one in the world at that, according to a review study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry.
If you are struggling with anxiety, coffee can trigger anxiety and cause anxiety-like symptoms in those who don’t have anxiety.
What is anxiety? It is typically defined as a feeling of fear, dread and uneasiness, which can cause you to sweat, feel restless and tense, get headaches, have a rapid heartbeat and make you feel like you want to withdraw.
Is it actually a surprise? Not really. But the next bit of information might be. Caffeine works to stimulate by blocking your body’s adenosine receptors (more on this later)—this blockage prevents you from becoming tired and can give you that sought-after feeling of being more alert and energized. However, it’s possible to get too much of a good thing when it comes to coffee.
Since caffeine is a stimulant, depending on your body type and dose amount, an overuse of it can cause problems (too much can even mean a cup for sensitive types). The article Beverage caffeine intakes in the U.S. states that excessive caffeine intakes can lead to headaches, nausea, restlessness and feelings of anxiety. Some studies have shown an increased risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, one 8-ounce cup of brewed coffee contains about 95 mg of caffeine. Again, depending on your dose amount and body type, the effects can vary. But no doubt, everyone feels an effect from coffee—that’s why people drink it!
The Caffeine Controversy
Coffee is controversial, I know. Nevertheless, it’s good to know your options. Coffee is an addictive substance and, as of late, more and more people are ditching the caffeine in favor of ohm and balance, getting better sleep, and letting go of the addiction-feelings coffee inevitably comes with.
Getting off of coffee is not a no-brainer. It took me years to kick the addiction once and for all. Occasionally I’ll still drink a cup of coffee, but it feels like a choice to enjoy a treat rather than being in the throes of addictive cravings. Personally, I’ve truly enjoyed eliminating it from my diet.
The Science Behind Caffeine
Adenosine receptors and what they are
Caffeine is a stimulant. Caffeine is also considered an adenosine blocker. It works by blocking your body’s adenosine receptors, which prevents you from becoming tired, and can make you feel more alert and energized. As an adenosine blocker, caffeine prevents the drowsiness or the "come down" effect that occurs as the levels of adenosine in the body increase. Once caffeine levels wear off, adenosine kicks back in to cause a decrease in neural activity in the brain—and that feeling of “drowsiness” starts to kick back in.
Adenosine can accumulate in the body when higher levels of caffeine are consumed during the day. When we drink beverages with high levels of caffeine—like coffee—the body can build up excessive amounts of adenosine. Quite often this excess of adenosine does not leave the body during sleep leading to a surplus of it in the body. Nearly everyone has experienced that morning grogginess.
Morning drowsiness can often be caused by too much adenosine still lingering in the body. This feeling of “needing to wake up” encourages people to load up on more caffeine, especially first thing in the morning. But rather than wake us up, it’s really contributing to grogginess over the long-term, it results in poorer quality sleep and a feeling of tiredness throughout the day. It’s a vicious cycle that can get you hooked and before you know it, coffee has become an evitable part of your day.
Auricularia, or Cloud Ear Mushroom, has the largest amount of adenosine among mushrooms. It is known to have a vasodilatory effect by relaxing the blood vessels, meaning the blood circulation is improved and blood pressure can be naturally lowered. Auricularia is found in our Adaptogen Chai.
How to create more balanced morning rituals
Are you in a love-hate relationship with coffee? I sure was. Actually, it wasn’t the effects of coffee that I liked—it was the ritual of coffee. In fact, I didn’t like the effects at all. But before I could realize how much I didn’t like coffee, I was already addicted. I got off the ‘ffeine by replacing it with other drinks which gave me that cozy feeling of having a moment to myself.
I developed the Adaptogen Gold and Adaptogen Chai for all of us craving a warm, soothing drink, for anyone craving the ritual without coffee’s highs and lows. The energy in the Wild Leaves drinks comes from adaptogen mushrooms, herbs, and spices. And if you do want a little caffeine, the Adaptogen Chai has a teeny tiny bit of it from the black tea and cacao.
You don’t have to give up coffee to integrate other energizing drinks into your daily rituals. But there’s no time like the present to get curious about new things that might serve you better.
The Adaptogen Chai
The Adaptogen Chai is a blend of Chaga, Reishi, Maitake, and Lion’s Mane mushrooms, organic masala chai herbs (ginger, cardamom, clove, anis seed, fennel seed, black pepper, and nutmeg), cacao and black tea. The boost you get from our Adaptogen Chai is more like a smooth lift into a higher dimension of your more productive, and clear-headed self.
Our Adaptogen Gold
If you’re looking for a calming factor with a slightly spicy twist (thanks to the ginger), Adaptogen Gold is our spin on classic golden mylk and loaded up with tasty mushrooms. The ingredients for the Adaptogen Gold are turmeric, cinnamon, carob, Lion’s Mane, Reishi, Cloud Ear mushroom, celery seeds, anis seeds, black pepper, nutmeg, and cardamom.
We Suggest Using Our Adaptogen Drinks Like…
Grab a cup of Adaptogen Chai or Adaptogen Gold in the morning and/or afternoon. The mushrooms, spices and small amount of caffeine from the tea and cacao (in the Chai) give you a gentle kick-start into your day without the highs and lows of coffee. The Adaptogen Gold has no caffeine so if you’re sensitive to caffeine, you’ll want this one in the evenings (or any time of the day really).
Try them for yourself and see how you feel! They taste muy bien. Scroll down for a recipe on how to make an Iced Adaptogen Chai.
Recipe for Iced Adaptogen Chai
Take 1 - 2 teaspoons of Adaptogen Chai mix and put it in a glass
Mix it with a splash or two of your favorite (plant) mylk
Add some ice cubes
Pour the rest of the mylk over the ice and stir.
Drink with a glass straw and enjoy!
Plant mylks go really well with iced drinks! Have you ever made your own plant mylk before? If you're curious about how to make your own plant-based mylks for your drinks, cereal, smoothies, everything, I am putting together video tutorials on how to do the things we do at Wild Leaves, so stay tuned.