How is your relationship with coffee?
“Don’t talk to me until I’ve had my coffee”
Wake up coffee to function. 10am coffee and biscuit to get you through until lunch. 3 pm comes around and you’re looking down the barrel of a long evening ahead of driving home in terrible traffic or wrangling kids through homework, showers dinner prep and the like better have another coffee. When we find ourselves reaching for the coffee hit, what are we actually looking for?
When we are looking for coffee for a pick me up we are really chasing are a group of chemicals called catecholamines. These chemicals include our adrenaline hormones produced by the adrenals and dopamine a neurotransmitter which plays a major role in the motivational component of reward motivated behaviour. So really we are chasing an adrenaline hit combined with the happy feelings we get from achieving a task. Sound familiar? That morning coffee is actually saying congratulations you got yourself out of bed!
The problem with coffee is when we become accustomed to working at this heightened state and get to a point where we can’t function without it. Around about that 3rd coffee for the day. For the adrenals to function optimally there needs to be a reserve of vitamins, minerals and amino acids. These nutrients get “burned through” during periods of heightened stress and stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system as happens when drinking excess coffee.
Coffee isn’t all bad for most people 1 – 2 shots of coffee a day has its own health benefits in the form of antioxidants (and for the people around us). If you are needing 3 + coffees a day however you are on the way to burnout or adrenal dysregulation or possibly already there.
Long term daily coffee use is a stressor. It is stimulating our flight or fight response the same way a predator in the wild that is chasing us would. But its not our only stress. Stress can come from many sources, the foods we eat, work, exercise, environmental toxins, gut hyperpermeability, viral or bacterial load. It also includes our stress management strategies and our sleep hygiene. All of these create a stress load that we are carrying around on a daily basis. Our body has certain mechanisms in place to cope and show resilience to this stress load. Our stress load resilience is completely individual, based on how well we coped with previous experiences, genetic predisposition and how much exposure we have had to and held on to from stressors in life. Coffee is a useful tool to help us cope with and tackle an increase in work load but over time that heightened stress exposure takes a toll on our body and our resilience and coping mechanisms become depleted.
When you have a healthy stress response and healthy adrenals, simple strategies will give you sustainable energy throughout the day:
Fresh leafy greens
Stabilised blood glucose
Adaptogenic herbs like licorice and withania
Gentle teas like tulsi, green tea, passionflower and ginger
Good quality deep sleep
Gentle movement like yoga and doing things you enjoy
If you are looking at that list thinking there is no way I’m getting through my day just on green tea and a prayer, I hear you, I’ve been there before and I was on my way to severe burnout and so may you be too.
There are 2 aspects to your healthy relationship with coffee:
Where is your motivation coming from?
Its time to nurture your adrenals
Nurturing your adrenals
Boosting your nutrient intake
The purpose of you adrenals is to recruit high intensity energy for a short period of time no matter what the consequences are to your body. In the wild this would be how you would save yourself from a potential threat, and you would either get eaten or you would live to see another day. All of your resources go into your escape because the alternative is being eaten. The threat in modern day living comes in the form of bills, bosses and traffic. We also don’t have the same opportunity to metabolise the remove these hormones after the threat in the form of running. There are nutrients required for your adrenals to do their work. A good well formulated multi is a great starting place but there are also specifically formulated and balanced nutraceuticals to support the adrenal function. The well formulated therapeutic support is practitioner only. Book in for a mini consult if you would like some tips on which ones to go with.
Part of managing your adrenals, stress management and not needing coffee to survive is getting enough sleep and relaxation to repair damage, soothe and nourish the nervous system, allow the digestive system to work so you can actually absorb your nutrients and recovering and storing vital nutrients needed for heightened periods of stress. You don’t want to be working at your 100% every day because that doesn’t give room for when this go wrong. Next week we will be talk about what you need to know for a healthy sleep routine and how to improve it if you are struggling with sleep onset or sleep maintenance. I’ll give you a hint, you have to turn the tv off!!
Stabilising your blood glucose
If you are using coffee just to get by and your adrenals are a bit tapped out there’s a good that you’re blood glucose and glucose metabolism may also be starting to struggle. Stable blood glucose are vital to stable energy levels. Peaks of high blood glucose leave us reaching for the bikkies, chocolates and treats to give us energy which starts the roller coaster of sugar highs and crashes. Those sugar crashes make us feel flat and tired normally around 10/11am and 3/4pm between meals. If you feel like you need a pick me up then or feel like you can’t get through the day without snacking, get tired and cranky between meals or get the hangries there’s a good chance your blood glucose isn’t stable. If you continue down this path it can potentially lead to insulin resistance, diabetes type 2 and metabolic syndrome.
adaptogens and anxiolytics
There are some beautiful herbs for supporting the adrenals and nervous system so that we can get through the day with stable energy levels. Adaptogens increase our resilience to stress. Not all adaptogens are made the same. Withania is a beautiful herb for recovering from being really run down and sick and also indicated in autoimmune whereas siberian ginseng is indicated for improving your physical athletic performance and tulsi for improving cognition. There are more than just these but this is an indication of how they can differ and getting a skilled practitioner can help you get the appropriate blend for you. Anxiolytics and nervine tonics support your nervous system when its a bit “fried” and you’re feeling irritable and triggered by everything. Again we use these herbs synergistically. Meaning that while there are a plethora to choose from they all have additional actions and so we pick the ones most indicated to the individual that cover multiple systems. For example if you had irritability and also had digestive upset as a result chamomile is a great choice because it is a relaxant and a digestive. Whereas if you were also experiencing insomnia zizyphus would be indicated for its sleep onset and mild sedative qualities.
If you are still struggling it may be time to check in with your goals. Do you have any? Are you in alignment with them? Are you satisfied with your work? Do you find it fulfilling? Finding a motivation that pulls you to it rather than creating stress that drives you away from it gives you a sense of purpose and determination that is its own dopamine hit. Setting small achievable tasks and rewarding yourself is a way of getting a dopamine hit. Finding a place of peace to work from. Having things in your life that you enjoy doing. Practicing feeling love, happiness and gratitude daily and then recreating this in your life. Sometimes our biggest stressor in our life is not living a life of joy and fulfillment. You can take all the herbs and supplements in the world but until you choose the life you want to live and diligently work towards it you may find that they are just covering up the issue not fixing it.