Ah, Coffee. It’s so tempting to run to the coffee maker when the stress is piling up in your life and you don’t know where you’re going to find the energy to get everything done. But you know that coffee will just make your stress worse in the long run – or will it?
It turns out that coffee may be one of the best ways of helping you deal with the stresses of life. This is true for a number of reasons.
Think of the routines we have around coffee. We use coffee breaks to recharge during the work day; we socialize with friends at cafés, and many of us start our days with a coffee. Maybe partly because we’ve never thought it was good for us, we associate coffee is with pleasure. A coffee feels like a treat or indulgence, which can certainly help when we’re feeling stressed.
But there’s more to it than that. Science is showing that our fears about coffee have been largely unfounded: recent meta-analyses of studies show that coffee is more likely to improve your health than to harm it. Coffee can lower the risk of heart disease, liver disease, and indeed death from all causes.
And now it seems like coffee can even reduce stress. The science is still at the mice-and-rats stage, but it looks promising. One study found that mice who were given caffeine in their drinking water were better at dealing with stressful situations the researchers dreamed up for them, such as damp bedding, having to share living space with new mice, and having their cages tipped frequently. No matter how hectic your job gets, at least you don’t have a team of scientists dreaming up new ways to maximize your stress, hopefully.
Almost everybody loves the smell of coffee, even if they don’t like drinking it. According to a Korean study, even rats love the aroma of fresh roasted coffee beans, and those that were allowed to smell the beans were better at coping with stress than the control group. (In this case, the scientists stressed the poor rodents by not allowing them to get enough sleep.)
Of course, we all know that drinking too much coffee is the opposite of relaxing. If you overdo it, you may get jittery, shaky and anxious, and you may suffer from insomnia. How much is too much? Individuals have very different levels of tolerance for caffeine: some can drink several cups of coffee a day with no ill effects, while others get the shakes after a single cup.
If you can’t tolerate caffeine, then coffee is not likely to do much for your stress levels except increase them. But for those of us who love the way coffee makes us feel, it seems that we can go on loving it. It’s certainly not doing us any harm, and may even be doing a lot of good.