Coffee and Mental Health

Written by Rachel Ealy, M.Ed, LPC-Intern


I would like to share something more personal for this week’s blog. Recently, I have been battling with my own anxiety and panic attacks. As difficult as it is to go though, I believe this experience has given me tremendous empathy for my clients and those suffering from anxiety disorders. One morning I woke up with an extremely elevated heart-rate. I couldn’t figure out where this was coming from or why my heart-rate wouldn’t lower, even at rest. The first thing I cut out of my life was one of the things I look forward to the most, coffee. I thought that the caffeine might be impacting how I was feeling. Yesterday, I decided to turn on the TV while I had breakfast and yes, some decaf coffee. Side note; decaffeinated coffee still contains caffeine but typically it contains about 7mg of caffeine versus an average of 95mg of caffeine in caffeinated coffee. Back to breakfast yesterday: Live with Kelly and Ryan happened to be on and they were playing a fun game show about coffee! How perfect! I decided to listen in and here is what I gleaned from the show:


·      Coffee does not cause blood pressure conditions but it can worsen a preexisting blood pressure condition or heart disease.


·      The American Cancer Institute published a list of foods that are protective against cancer. This list includes coffee because of the antioxidants found in coffee.


·      The harmful effects of coffee are not due to the caffeine, they are due to the additives such as syrups and creamers that we put into our coffee.


·      When grown, coffee is one of the most toxic crops because it is sprayed with many pesticides. Dr. Taz Bhatia recommended going organic to eliminate this harmful effect.


·      **Coffee can increase your stress levels because it increases cortisol and epinephrine, which are stress hormones found in the body. When we increase these levels it can mimic symptoms of acute stress. This one stood out the most to me because some of us increase our coffee intake when we are stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed just to make it through the day. Often times, when I am anxious, I feel tired throughout the day either because I am not getting good sleep or because my mind is working overtime. Perhaps knowing that coffee can increase cortisol and epinephrine can help the next time you are feeling anxious or stressed. Instead of reaching for the coffee, try a tea or increasing your water intake.


·      Studies have shown that coffee drinkers have 65% less risk of Alzheimer’s Disease due to the antioxidants found in coffee.


·      Unfiltered coffee has been shown to increase cholesterol levels due to oils called terpenes. Unfiltered coffees are espresso, cappuccino, and French press coffee. Dr. Taz Bhatia recommends to drink filtered coffee in order to protect your cholesterol levels.


After learning all of this, I was inspired to do some more research. My research question: is decaffeinated coffee good for me? Here is what I found based on an article by Hiyaguha Cohen (2017):

·      The American Heart Association found that decaf can increase LDL “bad” Cholesterol and decreases “good” HDL cholesterol. If you choose to drink decaf, make sure you are getting regular physicals and keeping an eye on your cholesterol levels.


·      Decaffeinated coffee has lower antioxidant content than caffeinated coffee.


·      Decaf coffee if typically brewed with a more acidic bean. “High levels of acidity are associated with gastrointestinal disease, osteoporosis, mineral loss, [and] high cortisol levels” (Cohen, 2017).


Ø  It looks like caffeine isn’t the problem after all. My original thought was that the caffeine in coffee was causing my body to feel more anxious. However, it seems that decaffeinated coffee increases cortisol as well.


·      Harmful chemicals are used in the decaffeination process which can have harmful effects on the human body. The most common method of decaffeination uses methyl chloride. The Centers for Disease Control reported that exposure to methyl chloride can lead to unwanted symptoms such as dizziness, vomiting, liver and kidney damage, and more. Cohen (2017) recommend that if you want to drink decaf coffee it is best to drink decaf that is produced using the natural Swiss Water Process.



Cohen, H. (2017, March 30). What is healthier: Decaf or regular coffee?. Retrieved from


Gelman, M. (Producer). (2019, February 4). Live with Kelly and Ryan [Television broadcast]. New York, NY: Disney ABC Domestic Television.