The Effect of Coffee on Your Mood

>> Saturday

What you consume can have an effect on your stress hormone level, for better or worse. Obvious examples are caffeine and nicotine. Even in moderate doses, either of these can double the amount of adrenaline in your bloodstream.

The stress of something like an exam produces increased cortisol levels (cortisol is a primary stress hormone). Combined with coffee, however, the cortisol levels rise even more.

Coffee all by itself raises your cortisol level, increases your feelings of stress and anxiety, raises your blood pressure — and all this even if you are otherwise relaxed, and even for people who drink it regularly. It also makes hypertension medications less effective.

In a study, a fairly big dose of caffeine was found to mimic the symptoms of anxiety disorders. Withdrawal from caffeine does too.

Some people react more strongly to caffeine than other people. Studies have found that people with panic disorder (one of the five anxiety disorders) have a more robust reaction than "normal" people to equal amounts of caffeine. They experienced more fear, heart palpitations, nervousness, restlessness, etc. Caffeine can increase these kinds of symptoms in anybody. But for some people, it is more dramatic.

You may not have panic attacks, but it is possible and worth considering the possibility that your system might be more sensitive and react more strongly to caffeine than the average person. In one experiment, five out of six people were cured of their panic attacks by doing nothing more than giving up coffee. Caffeine blocks the action of a brain chemical called adenosine, a naturally-occurring sedative.

In one study, people with panic disorder could reliably produce panic attacks with four or five cups of coffee. Coffee can produce panic attacks in even normal people, but it usually takes more coffee than that.

In another study, people were tested for anxiety, depression, and caffeine consumption. There was a direct correlation between the level of anxiety and caffeine consumption — but only in those with panic disorder.

This doesn't mean if you don't have panic disorder, coffee is fine for you. Caffeine has a significant effect on everyone. It is merely more pronounced in some people.

In yet another study, panic disorder patients and normal people were given equal doses of caffeine (ten milligrams per kilogram of body weight). Then they were all tested for anxiety symptoms: fear, nausea, nervousness, pounding heart, tremors, and restlessness. The caffeine had caused a significantly greater intensity of these symptoms in the people with panic disorder than in the normal people — but even normal people suffered many of these symptoms.

Given all this, if you'd like to reduce your stress, I suggest an experiment. Quit ingesting caffeine for two weeks. It takes about three days for withdrawal symptoms to completely subside (headaches, feelings of lethargy, etc.). After that, pay close attention to the general feeling-tone of your day-to-day experience — your sense of relative ease, comfort, annoyance, distress, alarm, contentment, etc.

Then start drinking coffee again. The first day it'll feel great (as long as nothing too stressful happens). The next day and the next, pay attention to the general feeling-tone of your experience. If you're like me, you'll notice a general but subtle feeling of alarm. And you'll notice circumstances feel more distressing.

Then ask yourself what coffee does for you. You get a great feeling of relief in the morning with your first cup. After going all night without caffeine, your body is in the beginning of withdrawal, so it feels good to get a dose again. That's always the moment coffee advertisers display — that first cup in the morning.

Also the general feeling of sharpness and alertness is a plus.

But there are plenty of downsides too. I'll admit, coffee is a hard thing to give up, even if you know you'd be better off. But the worst is over in a few days and then you'll notice some positive effects on your mood and general feeling of well-being.

Weigh the pluses against the minuses and I think you'll find coffee comes out on the short end of the stir stick almost every time.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of Viewfinder: How to Change the Way You Look at Things.


Adam Khan 2:04 PM  

By raising your adrenaline level, caffeine goes in the opposite direction as oxytocin, making it more difficult to relax and connect with people. (See article: Peace, Love, and Oxytocin.)

Adam Khan 1:24 AM  

I can't tell you how many times someone has written to me because they suffer from too much stress, or they are nervous under certain circumstances, or they have a problem with anger. And I often ask them if they get enough sleep. Usually the answer is no. And I always ask them how much caffeine they take in per day.

A man just wrote to me last month who wanted to do something about his anger problem. When I asked him how much caffeine he took in, he said he usually drank five cups of coffee a day plus three cokes.

That's a lot of caffeine! I told him if he simply stopped the caffeine, his problem would probably improve dramatically and immediately.

It's these kinds of emails that prompted me to write the article above in the first place. Often people have never even thought of the coffee they drink as having anything to do with the amount of stress in their lives. It may never have occurred to them coffee might impact their mood in a negative way, or cause problems that cause them unnecessary negative emotions.

If you are one of these, I hope the article helped to open your eyes, and has given you a good avenue to explore. It may go a long way toward raising your mood in the long run.

Adam Khan 4:26 PM  

How much caffeine is in a cup of coffee?

A short (8 ounce) cup of drip Starbuck's coffee has 180 milligrams of caffeine.

Compare this with the caffeine content of several other beverages:

A short (8 ounce) Starbuck's cafe latte has 75 milligrams.

A cup of black tea has 40 milligrams.

A cup of green tea has 15 milligrams.

A 12-ounce bottle of Pepsi has slightly more than 37 milligrams.

The more caffeine you take in, the more it will influence your mood.

Anonymous 9:00 AM  

i read it and i agree. but i also use coffee as a stress relief the smell makes me feel comforted, and i get lattes which includes warm milk, so its nurturing for me. artist used to use coffee for inspiration, becuase it is a stimulant, and it gives you feelings of euphoria too. yummy coffee! then there were studies done that say its anti carcinogenic, and helps prevent against Alzheimer's disease.

Adam Khan 12:20 PM  

Those may all be true, Anonymous. Each person has to make a decision about it, weighing the pros and cons personally and deciding what is most important.

Is it more important for you to feel relaxed and in a good mood or euphoric with a chance of anxiety or a boosted frustration response to minor setbacks?

And you don't have to decide "for all time." You can decide that right now because you're going through a stressful time, you will cut the caffeine for awhile, or whatever.

Anonymous 2:53 PM  

Hi Adam,

It was a bit of a relief to read your synopsis on coffee-intake, it’s effects on mood, associated with anxiety disorders (a relief to find people who think the same about it).

I could add some one-off/first-hand experience (for what it is worth).

My working day is pretty similar from day to day, so I end up self-analyzing moods, feelings etc (and I reckon I notice peaks/changes quite clearly as a result).

I have noticed, aside from the 3 days or so when the caffeine is ‘in the blood’ and doing its thing directly, that there are spin-off/subsequent psychological effects, which might take a full 10 days to be FULLY gone…. Like a stone dropped into water, there is an indirect ripple-effect on me, where the speed of my thinking, alterness, ‘hyperness’, gets on a converobelt (however subtle as that may be), and the knock-on effect, even when the substance is gone from the blood, does not fully slow down to normality until after that period: A definite moment, about 10 days later when I feel “truly” calm again.

You might think ‘how can you spot that after 10 days’, but on average I end up having a coffee about once every 4 weeks, and it happens like clockwork every single time (I am very self-analytical to start with, which is either a good or a cursed thing…).

Looking even deeper into/at it, it has the wider implication of effecting decisions made, ie. If it raises ‘fearfulness’, this can inevitably mean avoiding facing something/someone, and so this literally alters the course of someone’s life!

Or saying/doing something in a hyper-reactive way, so affecting other people as a result…, the effects even have a broader reach! I would even wonder how many arguments, car crashes, even violence might have been propelled by caffeine (particularly If 5 out of 6 people notice panic-disorder subsiding from stopping drinking it

Is it me, or is the compacent consumption of this substance practically an epidemic (of sorts…)?

Bottom line for me, it is 'unatural', so surely it takes the human being away from being truly themselves, which can only mean trouble!

Thanks again Adam, kind regards,

Anonymous 5:41 PM  

coffee should be illegal!!, how do you feel about marijuana? I think that it should be legalized, especially with things like alcohol and caffeine legal and easily accessible.
Marijuana has no harmful affects especially if using a vaporizer.

in my opinion coffee helps you become a better worker and weed helps you become a better thinker so it depends who you want to be.

but I enjoyed this article and I stopped drinking coffee and all caffeine a few weeks ago and feel so much better because of it

Fab 3:54 PM  

If the earthy aroma and taste of coffee gets you everytime, try having a decaf. Some say it's not 'real' coffee but at least you get the comfort and taste of the hot beverage you enjoy.

I'll sometimes mix in a small amount of regular coffee, say 1 part in 10, if I feel I need a small boost that won't have me running up walls for the next few hours.

Mal 10:07 AM  

Honestly, i sleep like a lamb and have plenty of coffee during the day, but none after 3:30pm. Depending on the job it might help. Building software in particular would be possible in today's scale without coffee, and given that there are few people to interact with it is hard to connect anyways.

Jonathon Durno 4:01 AM  

This is ridiculous. Caffeine in coffee has been found to directly stimulate Oxytocin receptors.

"We also show that caffeine excites oxytocin expressing neurons, and blockade of the action of oxytocin significantly attenuates the effect of caffeine on energy balance."

Adam Khan 12:06 PM  


Everything you said contributes to this conversation, except your first sentence. Thank you for the contribution.

Cian 12:15 PM  

I chose 1 cup cold brew coffee with organic milk in the mornings over my doctor's prescription for Effexor. It gives me a positive start to my day and I also noticed I feel more sociable as a result. I'm very wellness focused - exercise, nutrient dense diet, love of learning, etc. So for me, right now, this is a workable solution.


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