We all have things we use to manage our moods. The thing is, some of our mood management practices are actually total mood fails. They’re fails because they end up hurting how good we feel in the long run a lot more than helping. Some mood fails are just outright bad ideas. Some of them can work when they’re used in moderation and in combination with other strategies. This post is the first in a series that roams over the territory of “stuff we do to boost our mood that actually ends up dragging us down.”
The first mood fail in our target sights is almost a sacred beverage these days in American consumer culture: coffee.
You can obtain it in myriad forms and flavors from corporate mega-chains that dominate each corner of four way intersections in some cities (ahem, Starbucks, ahem), from quirky neighborhood shops, and from the less glamorous environs of gas stations and supermarkets. You can have it fancied up as espresso with milk foam and artistic flourishes, or just take it muddy from a diner waitresses’ pour.
Anyway you take it, the main draw of coffee is its potent caffeine. Yes, I know, in finer blends you may be able to detect fragrance notes of moss and chestnuts, with a bloom of peach-blossom acidity and a gold honey finish– but it’s the caffeine you’re really excited about, otherwise you’d just go sniff some moss and lick some peaches.
The thing about caffeine is that it’s a mood-altering, mind-altering addictive drug. It can make you feel happier and improve your concentration on mundane tasks. It can make you feel talkative and social when otherwise you wouldn’t. At the same time, it’s subtle enough that it allows you to maintain all your usual cultural inhibitions and manners– something that say, methamphetamine does not.
Caffeine is not just a drug– it’s a completely socially acceptable drug. Try lighting up a cigarette or taking a swig from a bottle of malt liquor at an after-church Sunday social or a Tuesday afternoon quarterly meeting with your boss. You’ll find the consequences not entirely pleasant. Your church fellows and your boss might get the idea that you’re a lost soul in need of redemption or firing. Show up to the same occasions with a giant 20 ounce “cup” (actually it’s almost three cups) of coffee packing about 400 milligrams of caffeine and you’ll be regarded as just another decent, hard-working American.
Drinking 400 mg of caffeine or more in a day can cause insomnia, irritability, nervousness, and muscle tremors. Downing lots of coffee might help you survive, but surviving isn’t thriving.
And did I mention it’s addictive? Which means even if coffee has made you an irritable insomniac with a serious muscle twitch, you won’t be able to stop without serious commitment and the willingness to experience withdrawal symptoms including headache, lethargy and depression.
All of which is to say, drinking coffee is not the best way to improve your mood. While it may give you a temporary lift, it also can make you a nervous wreck who pees every ten minutes (coffee is a diuretic) and overeats her way to obesity (coffee consumption is associated with “toxic hunger”– craving for sugar and fat).
For more ideas about healthful and sustainable ways to keep yourself feeling great, stay tuned to moodtraining — in the meantime, you might want to browse our past offerings.