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.


How Can I Become More Persistent? Insights From the Chuck Ross Experiment

>> Monday

Every day publishers get a big pile of unasked-for manuscripts sent to them by writers and their agents. What happens to all these manuscripts? You hear about people who eventually became famous authors, like Danielle Steel or Stephen King, getting lots of rejection letters when they first started out. Why?

Chuck Ross thought he would experiment to see what he could find out. So he typed up a manuscript that had already been published and won a National Book Award, and had already sold 400,000 copies. The book was Jerzy Kosinski’s book, Steps.

Ross typed it up as a manuscript, word for word, and mailed it to publishers as an unsolicited manuscript to see what they would do with it. Would they recognize its merit? Would they see its sales potential?

The results are amusing and illuminating, especially if you have ever tried to submit a manuscript or sell an idea or get financial backing for proposal. If you’ve been rejected or denied, it doesn’t necessarily mean the idea or manuscript lacked merit. It may be that the rejector was the wrong person, or looked at it on the wrong day.

So what happened to this award winning manuscript? It was rejected by Random House, and they were the ones who originally published it! Three other publishing houses who had previously published Kosinski rejected it, including Doubleday and Houghton Mifflin. It was rejected by ten other major publishing companies and rejected by twenty-six literary agents. Nobody accepted it.

Oddly enough, one comment came back from Houghton Mifflin that the style of the manuscript was similar to Kosinski, but the author was not in the same league as Kosinski!

Chuck Ross’s experiment demonstrates a principle of reality’s negative bias. In a sense, in more ways than one, reality seems to be in a conspiracy to make you a negative, pessimistic, defeatist cynic.

I'm not talking about the negative bias of your own brain. That's another story. I'm talking about the natural way of things and how in certain circumstances, the cards seem to be stacked against you, no matter what you do.

But the other side of this story is that the manuscript was not rejected because the writing was bad. It had already proven its merit in the marketplace and in the reviews. That is actually a positive underpinning to the whole event. In other words, if you have a manuscript that has been rejected by publishers, it doesn't necessarily mean your manuscript is no good.

Another lesson to derive out of the Chuck Ross experiment is that the existence of the naturally-occurring negative biases is a reason to stay persistent. People give up because they believe what reality seems to be telling them — that their work is not good. But that might be a misunderstanding. The only way you'll be able to tell for sure is by persisting. And many times in history something was rejected over and over until it was finally accepted, only to then surprise the world at its merit and success.

Maybe your project will be one of those. Unless you persist in the face of the setbacks, nobody will ever know.

Learn more about how to persist: Antivirus For Your Mind.


Raise Your Happiness Set-Point

>> Wednesday

Follow the link below to find a collection of articles and videos on scientific discoveries about what makes people happy and what consequences ensue from raising your own happiness "set-point."

Happiness Formula

Researchers have discovered no "one secret" to happiness. But they have found many different actions you can take, and each one will make you happier.

Find one that appeals to you and do it. You can become a little happier, and that will make a difference. Things will look a little brighter. You'll treat people a little better, which usually provokes them to respond in kind. You're a little more energetic so you get a little more done. Life is better all around.

A little happiness goes a long way.


How to Appreciate Life

>> Sunday

My wife, Klassy, used to teach workshops for couples. She taught communication skills and put them through exercises so they could practice. One of the exercises she put them through used the principle of comparison reframes and taught them how to appreciate life.

Klassy would have each couple sit facing each other, and then she talked to them while slow, wordless, beautiful, moving music played. "Imagine," Klassy would say, "that you two have lived a long life together. You're both very old. And your partner is now on their deathbed. Your mate's life will be over soon. Imagine how that will feel to you then. The two of you have been through so much together..."

Of course, this was a very emotional experience for almost everybody. Klassy gave them plenty of time to fully imagine this scenario and to feel how sad it would (or will) be.

"What would you miss about your partner?" Klassy said, giving them long pauses of just music playing for them to think about this. "What special memories would you cherish?"

When they really couldn't take any more and the room was about two feet deep in tears, Klassy would say something like this:

"Imagine how much you would want to come back to this be here with your have your future still ahead of you..."

Long pause. "And realize what you wished for is here. The two of you are here, together, alive, your future ahead of you."

You've never seen so many people gaze at each other so happily and appreciatively.

People were impressively moved by this experience. Here they were — like most couples — to some degree taking each other for granted, comparing yesterday with today, or whatever they're doing in their minds, but not really appreciating each other. "You don't know what you've got till it's gone," so the song goes. Really? What if you vividly imagined what it would be like if it was gone? And then realized it isn't gone?

Guess what? You can know what you've got while you've got it! You can do it by the way you make comparisons. You can use comparisons deliberately.

If you want to feel contentment and happiness, compare your present circumstances to something worse. It is simple, it works, and it never wears out. This directly counters the negative bias that makes you naturally compare things in a negative way.

When people say, "count your blessings," they are essentially telling you to compare your life to something worse, and feel grateful your life is the way it is. And it works. In one study, people who wrote in a diary for only five minutes a day about what they were grateful for, were measurably happier. You can do this throughout the day, and it doesn't have to be done sitting down or writing.

This is how to appreciate life. Using comparisons in this way allows you to awake from your trance for a while and really appreciate the moment and appreciate the person you're with. Try it today.


Feeling Discouraged?

>> Friday

Things aren't going the way you'd hoped? Have you run into some setbacks? Are you feeling demoralized? Does your goal now seem impossible or futile or hopeless?

The all-important question is, "Were your hopes unfounded?" If so, your feeling of discouragement is legitimate and should lead you to give up on your goal and find something else to do.

But if your goal is actually possible — if its achievement or fulfillment is something you are capable of — then the thoughts you have that led to your feelings of discouragement need to be updated.

How can you tell which is which? How do you know if your hopes were legitimate or not? One way is to go through the process described in Undemoralize Yourself. The process allows you to look at your beliefs and discover whether or not your pessimistic thoughts are legitimate.

If you discover your pessimistic thoughts are accurate, you know you can realistically give up on your goal and do something else. If you discover your pessimistic thoughts are not accurate, their hold on you will diminish and your demoralization will lift. Your motivation and determination will return without any further effort on your part.

Find out now: Undemoralize Yourself.

If you are not discouraged, do you know someone who is?
Maybe they would like to read this.

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.


Predictors of Doom Are Notoriously Wrong

In a Newsweek article, Daniel Gross surveys America's economic recovery from the Great Recession and explains some of the elements that helped.

He doesn't try to explain why so many experts (and people who should know better) seem so hell-bent on scaring us with dire predictions of the future. But he doesn't really have to, because I've already explained it so eloquently here: Why is News so Negative?

But he does a beautiful job of highlighting the kind of pessimism that ruins so many perfectly good moods. Here's an excerpt from the article:

The current pessimism is part of a historical economic inferiority complex. To hear some critics tell it, things have been going south in this country since the cruel winter in Jamestown, Va., in 1609, when most of the settlers died.

And for most of the 19th century, America was the immature, uncouth cousin that required huge infusions of European capital to build its railroads. The U.S. emerged from World War II as the globe's industrial, financial, and technological leader by default—the rest of the developed world had destroyed much of its industrial capacity. Yet Americans were insecure about their rising status.

In the 1920s, many Progressives returned from Mussolini's Italy convinced that Il Duce had a superior economic model. During the New Deal, bankers and industrialists earnestly fretted that Franklin Roosevelt would ruin the nation's prospects for growth by establishing a new safety net. The U.S.S.R.'s launch of the sputnik satellite in 1957 inspired fears that the Soviet Union's presumed technological lead would allow it to triumph in the Cold War.

And in the 1980s, Japan threatened the U.S. with exports of electronics and cars and by buying trophy properties like Rockefeller Center and the Pebble Beach golf resort. "The Cold War is over, and Japan won," as Sen. Paul Tsongas put it in 1992.

Pessimism fixates attention better, so those are the predictions that get published. Find out why: The Normal Course of Events Will Almost Inevitably Lead to a Pessimistic View of the World.

The Newsweek article is worth reading. Check it out: The Story of America's Amazing Comeback.



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