Q. I'm aware of how stressed I've been feeling for a long time. Could my mugs of coffee be making it worse?
A. Short answer yes! And here's why...
The caffeine in coffee is a stimulant, a powerful chemical that triggers the stress response in your body.
It doesn't matter whether the source of the stress is your boss, your kids, the traffic jam, someone's hurtful words or ingesting a stimulant like coffee, the body only has one coping mechanism, and that system WILL get triggered by any of the above.
In a blink of an eye, stress hormones are released that effect powerful changes in your body preparing you to fight or run from the 'danger'.
If you've felt stressed for some time then that stress reaction is never switching off to allow you to return to a relaxed state. The stress hormones are continually being pumped out, keeping you on high alert by raising blood sugar levels and shutting down down systems like digestion and reproduction.
Cortisol is the main stress hormone that drives long-term stress.
The caffeine in regular cups of coffee can send cortisol levels sky rocketing and keep them up for hours. The European Food Information Council says that it takes between two and 10 hours to metabolise caffeine, with four hours being the average. That's four hours to make your stress levels worse!
Cortisol levels should be highest first thing in the morning in order to get you out of bed so starting the day with a coffee will raise cortisol even more. Continue to drink coffee throughout the day and the caffeine will continue to stimulate cortisol to be released at higher levels than it should.
Long term this is very bad news because eventually these high levels can't continue to be pumped out at this rate and the system begins to break down and become exhausted.
It is so important to cut down all the areas of stress that you can in order to allow the stress reaction to switch off.
There may be nothing you can currently do about the main stress source i.e. if you're caring for an elderly relative but there may be plenty you can do to reduce your cortisol levels within that difficult situation, such as being willing to ask others for help, including periods of fun or relaxation into your day, REDUCING STIMULANTS LIKE COFFEE and drinking calming drinks such as chamomile or fennel.
My top tips for you would be...
Cut out caffeine and other stimulants like alcohol and cigarettes and choose calming teas such herbal or fruit teas.
Make a list with two columns - the stresses you can get back in charge of and the stresses you can't change.
Be strong the stresses you can take charge of will take some confidence. You may have to speak up for yourself, say what you want, say no, set some boundaries. All things you may never have done before.
Be a broken record if people ignore/argue/refuse your requests, stay calm and keep repeating your request like a broken record. Don't get drawn into red herrings and side issues. You know what will bring your stress levels down and you need to stick to your guns.
Look for the small wins find lots of ways during your day to relax and allow to cortisol to reduce. Deep breathing brings instant and effective results. Having a good laugh is equally as effective. Anything else that relaxes your muscles and allows your mind to calm will be so helpful and examples include massages, walking in nature, fresh air, hobbies and gentle exercise.
Put yourself at the top of your priority list did you look at numbers 2 to 5 and think that you would never have time to do any of those because you're too busy helping everyone else? There's your problem! Remember, your oxygen mask first and then others.