Does Coffee Increase Stress? Plus Healthier Ways to Drink it

What’s the real coffee truth?

By: Emma Lunsford

You wake up with today’s to-dos racing through your mind, so you immediately hop out of bed and reach for the fresh pot of coffee. You’ll need the energy! You sip your favorite java-filled cup with delight, knowing you’re starting the morning off right. … Or are you? What if drinking your favorite brew is actually just revving up your stress levels? 

Let’s figure out once and for all: Does coffee increase stress? And what are some of the healthier ways to drink it? 

RELATED: 10 Energy-Boosting Caffeine Alternatives For An Energized Morning 

Should You Give Up Your Morning Cup of Joe? Here’s the Deal 

We’re all familiar with that jittery-anxious feeling after drinking one too many cups of coffee. Unfortunately, that is your stress response kicking into gear. This has little to do with coffee itself, though, but its caffeine contents. 

No surprise there, right?

Caffeine stimulates stress hormones, like epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol almost immediately. These hormones make sure your flight/fight response turns on, including increasing heart rate, raising blood pressure, and surging your body with enough energy to fight the perceived “threat.” 

This is a fantastic response when it comes to actual dangerous situations. (e.g., getting out of the way of an oncoming car) And yep! It can help you focus on completing that work deadline, too.

The real question: Is it bad for you?

Not necessarily. These effects are usually only short-term, and if you’re healthy, probably won’t do much harm. However, if you’re already extremely stressed, this response can take your stress to a whole other level of anxiety. To top it off, drinking too much coffee can make it so you never really rest because your stress response is always on. You never get a chance to come down, so to speak.

At the end of the day, caffeine can boost your stress, depending on the person, and is best used as a short-term solution. So while you don’t have to give it up completely, use in moderation! 

Don’t Worry, Coffee-Lovers. Here Are 8 Tips to Whip Up a Healthier Java

Don’t want to completely give up your morning coffee? The good news is that there are a few ways to make sure your morning java stays on top of the wellness game. 

#1 Space Out Your AM Coffee

Some studies say that since your cortisol levels spike right after you wake up, hold off on the caffeine consumption until it slowly fades back down. Makes sense, right? You don’t want to intensify your stress hormones too much in the AM, or those jitters swoop in — not a great way to start the day! 

Get in the habit of grabbing your coffee mid-to-late morning, and see how you feel! 

#2 Avoid an Afternoon Fix

Remember how too much coffee can prevent you from ever resting? This can — especially — be prevented by avoiding an afternoon caffeine fix. 

Instead, slowly start cutting back with lower-caffeinated beverages, like green tea. And eventually, stick to natural energy-boosting foods like fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds. 

#3 Cut Back On The Added Sweeteners/Flavored Creamers

Not only does caffeine affect your stress hormones, but it also plays a part in your insulin production. Science suggests that it decreases your insulin sensitivity, which can contribute to blood sugar imbalance. And when you combine this result with refined sugars and processed creamers?

It’s basically a blood sugar imbalance cocktail, resulting in more of those jittery feels, headaches, anxiety, and weight gain. Rather than dunking in packets of sugar, try to keep the sweeteners to a minimum, and if you do sweeten your cup of coffee, consider a small amount of natural sweetness, like from one of these options:

  • Stevia
  • Monk fruit sweetener 
  • Honey
  • Pure maple syrup
  • Coconut sugar

And if you’re missing those flavored creamers, try these coffee boosters instead!

  • Vanilla extract
  • Peppermint extract
  • Coconut oil
  • Ghee 

See the spices list below for more flavor ideas!

#4 Try It Dairy-Free

For some, dairy can cause digestive issues. Lactose intolerance is no joke! If you think you’re in this crowd, avoid putting creamer in your coffee. Rather, use plant-based milk! 

  • Almond creamer/milk
  • Coconut creamer/milk
  • Cashew creamer/milk
  • Hemp milk
  • Oat milk

#5 Add Some Cocoa Powder

Missing your favorite coffee flavor combo? Don’t worry! There are so many ways to achieve your go-to drink — sans the added sugars and preservatives! Thank goodness for these spices:

  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg
  • Allspice
  • Turmeric

For more, read up on these 3 stress-fighting ingredients to add to your coffee!

#6 The Higher Your Stress Levels, the Less Caffeine You Need

We usually grab our coffee fixes when we’re stressed — because that’s what we always do! However, now that you know caffeine can make your stress level worse, it’s probably a good idea to cut back on the caffeine when you’re feeling overly anxious. It might help you stay more clear-headed and productive, instead of buzzing around from task to task worrying away.  

#7 Focus On Increasing Sleep When You’re Tired

Coffee seems to be the modern cure for sleep loss. But, now you also know — too much caffeine can do a number on your sleep, which makes you even more tired. And then it’s just an endless cycle of exhaustion to coffee to more exhaustion. So when you notice yourself going down fatigue lane, focus more on increasing your sleep and less on those coffee bends!  

RELATED: 20 Life-Changing Sleep Hacks For When You’re Tired of Being Tired 

#8 Moderation Is Key

Coffee isn’t bad, per se. In fact, for those short-term moments where you need to focus and get a lot done, it can be helpful! But as always, balance is key. Up to 400 milligrams/day of caffeine is considered safe for the average adult. And remember — caffeine isn’t just in coffee! Soda, energy drinks, and tea also contain caffeine. So make sure you’re keeping track. 

Use These Coffee Hacks, So You Don’t Have to Ditch It Altogether!

When talking about coffee and stress it’s important to note that everyone’s caffeine/coffee tolerance is different. You might have one friend that can seemingly drink 4 cups a day unscathed, but you might only be able to drink one before the jitters skyrocket. That’s okay! Keep this in mind as you explore what healthy coffee looks like for you. And breathe a sigh of relief now — coffee can still belong in your day with these hacks.