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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.