Is Your Coffee Causing Your Anxiety? Q&A with a Holistic Health Coach

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Hi peops. I’d like you to meet one of my good friends and favourite human beings on earth… the beautiful Eva Liao!

Eva and I met almost a decade ago in Tokyo and I can remember our very first conversation so very clearly. She asked me if I had heard of the ‘Quarter Life Crisis’.

I was like, “the what?!”

For those of you who are unfamiliar, the QLC is kind of like a midlife crisis, but it happens way earlier (mid-late 20s), and is an epidemic amongst Generation Y & Millennials.

She was going through some stuff at the time and was feeling as if she was in the thick of her own QLC.

Fast forward several years and here she is, a certified life and holistic health coach! This fact does not surprise me one bit. Since Tokyo we have lived in LA at the same time, I’ve visited her in New York and spent time with her in Taipei (where she now lives).

Throughout it all she’s held a passion and interest in learning more about how to better herself and those around her through healthy eating, meditation, exercise and lifestyle changes. Coaching Quarter Lifers to figure out their shit is what she now does for a living – how insanely cool is that?

Eva Liao health coach

I’ve been talking a lot about Anxiety on the blog recently as I recognise my own struggles with it. When I learnt recently that there’s a possible link between coffee consumption and anxiety, Eva was the first person I wanted to ask about it. Her answers are fascinating and full of advice and I, for one, am persuaded to reassess my love affair with the caffeinated stuff.

Let’s jump right in – here’s my Q&A with Eva. Hope you love it (and her) as much as I do.

Pep ❤

What’s your own history with coffee? Didn’t you once work in a coffee shop in Brooklyn?!

There was a point in my life where I drank some combination of six Americanos (my favorite), espressos or other form of coffee a day. One of my first jobs was at a hipster, independently owned shop where I knew everyone by name, everyone’s order, and my co-workers were also my real-life friends. I loved working in coffee shops and was fully embedded in coffee culture throughout my 20’s.

tim-wright-127008One of my favorite jobs of all time was managing a small coffee shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (NYC) where the foot traffic was so heavy, people sometimes waited outside the door to get their coffees on the way to work.

I woke up at 6:00am to serve people coffee, which of course meant I started off my day with a double espresso to wake up, followed by two Americanos to maintain my high energy throughout the day, then a late afternoon shot or two, to sustain myself through the evening before I passed out for bed.

When did you realise that coffee was having an effect on your mood?

One day I asked myself, why do I feel so drained all the time, even though I’m drinking all this coffee? And if I’m so tired, why do I also simultaneously feel wired and angsty?

It often felt like my head and body were operating on different systems. Either my head was spinning faster than my body could keep up with, which would make me feel anxious and overwhelmed, or my body would feel restless and jittery, even though all I wanted to do was sleep.

health wellness Cambridgeshire

One day my friend suggested to me that maybe I had burned out my adrenal glands. I was always complaining of lower back pain, which is one of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue, along with anxiety and fatigue.

I didn’t know a lot about adrenal fatigue at the time, but I knew that cutting out coffee was supposed to help, so I decided to cut back and try a few alternatives.

I started to notice that I didn’t feel as anxious all the time, my body wasn’t as tense and jumpy, and I actually felt mentally clearer, rather than foggier, which is what I originally feared might happen if I stopped drinking coffee.

What is anxiety, anyway?

I’ll give you my personal account of what anxiety looks and feels like for me:

  • Being in a cyclical state of fear or worry that often makes me feel helpless and exasperated
  • Worrying about the future
  • Worrying about things I can’t control
  • Something I hold in my body that often zaps me of all my energy

What’s the science behind the caffeine and anxiety link here?

Caffeine increases neural activity in the brain which is why we get an extra boost of brain power and alertness when we drink coffee. The problem is, caffeine stimulates the same chemicals and hormones that are activated when we’re stressed out, which is why we get that burst of energy.

Simultaneously, caffeine also decreases calming neurotransmitters (GABA), which is what helps us feel even-keeled.’

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So, the reasons we love coffee are the same reasons coffee they can be harmful.

If you’re feeling rested and relaxed, then you probably only notice the feel-good effects of coffee. But if you’re already feeling anxious or tense, caffeine can put your nervous system into overdrive, and you’ll feel the stressors in your body and brain a lot more.

Not to mention, caffeine can stay in the system far longer than most people think; up to 12 hours. This means that even well after you’ve gone to bed, it can still affect your deeper sleep levels, which may cause you to feel unrested when you wake up in the morning, which we all know, only adds to more fatigue, irritability, and anxiety.

Of course, caffeine affects everyone differently. Some people can drink a pot of coffee and still sleep like babies. But if you’re naturally nervous or feeling particularly tense, this probably isn’t you, and you may be more sensitive to caffeine than you think.

Isn’t it super hard to quit coffee? How did you do it? 

I believe that part of the reason people are so reluctant to quit coffee isn’t just because they’re afraid they’ll miss coffee. They also don’t want to give up the lifestyle that’s associated with coffee. That was definitely true in my case. I had basically grown up in coffee shops, and enjoying a hot cup of coffee was something I looked forward to everyday.

does coffee cause anxiety?There is definitely a romanticism that’s associated with drinking coffee; the smell of fresh coffee brewing on cold winter mornings, people-watching from the window of your favorite coffee shop with your hand around a warm mug. Or catching up with good friends over late night coffees in old school diners.

For me, I actually thought I’d be giving up all these things if I stopped drinking coffee. Now, I know that’s simply not true. I still get to enjoy all these things, I’ve simply replaced coffee with other delicious beverages and it doesn’t feel any less satisfying or authentic.

I still drink caffeine when I need it, because sometimes life gets busy and you need a burst of energy. But I’ve just found that getting my caffeine from tea rather than coffee is a lot less jarring on my body. And the best part? No jittery-ness or angst. No mystery stomach discomfort. No stinky coffee breath. Those are things I do not miss one bit.

What would be your advice to any coffee lovers who experience anxiety?

Take a break from coffee for 3-4 weeks and see how you feel. Let your nervous system and adrenals take a rest so you can find out for yourself what kind of effect coffee is having on you.

You don’t have to do it cold turkey, but rather wean yourself off slowly (which is what I did). Begin by drinking your normal amount of coffee. Then move on to half calf (half coffee, half decaf). Try that for a few days.

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From there, try ⅔ decaf, and the rest regular. When you’re ready, start by substituting coffee with one of your many other options. For highly caffeinated beverages, try yerba mate tea or matcha, both of which still pack a good punch. I particularly love matcha, because you can make an amazing latte with it, and it has a strong, earthy taste.

From there, continue to experiment with other options. Green tea, chai and English breakfast tea with your choice of milk are all divine in my opinion. And for hot days, kombucha is thirst quenching and satisfying, with a ton of added health benefits.

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I personally like to strive to get to a point where I’m not totally dependent on any one thing. I think a good goal to aim for is to get to the point where you don’t need to drink coffee, but can if you want to.

It’s been 3+ years since I’ve had coffee and I don’t miss it one bit. I am still obsessed with delicious beverages, but cutting out coffee has helped me discover an array of delicious non-caffeinated drinks — such as turmeric milk with coconut oil and cinnamon, or this yummy Dandy Tea, which made from roasted barley, rye, chicory root, dandelion root and sugar beet.

There is no shortage of drinks to enjoy out there, and if you’re experiencing anxiety, I feel confident that reducing your caffeine intake will do wonders in healing your nervous system; and the liberating feeling you get from not “needing” coffee feels pretty damn good too.

Eva Liao health coachEva Liao is a life and certified holistic life coach. She helps millennial women and men annihilate anxiety and develop more clarity, self-discipline and a greater sense of fulfillment in their everyday lives. She has lived in various cities across the world including her hometown of Los Angeles, Rome, Philadelphia, Tokyo, New York, and she currently lives in Taipei, Taiwan.

She works one-on-one with clients via video conference calls to develop individualized plans to meet their personal life and health goals. For more information, visit EvaLiao.com, Find her on Instagram @BadBitchLiving and on Facebook at EvaLiaoCoaching.

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Coffee & Anxiety: Is there a link?

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