The Christmas season is notorious for being one of the most stressful times of year. From financial pressures, to family visits, to that end of year work rush, there are about a billion things out there that contribute to increased stress and anxiety this time of year.
If you are experiencing high levels of stress it’s not uncommon for you to have trouble sleeping at night, with one of the most common symptoms of stress being insomnia. If you’re having terrible sleeps and waking up tired has become a part of your life, it’s likely that your coffee intake may not exactly be well… low.
Despite our tendency to rely on coffee during times of stress and exhaustion, Auckland-based health expert, naturopath and medical herbalist, Lisa Fitzgibbon, says that coffee is one of the worst things you can have when you are experiencing high levels of stress.
“Caffeine activates your ‘fight or flight’ mode. Therefore, when you drink a cup of coffee, you’re literally evoking a sustained state of fear,” Fitzgibbon explains. So while you may feel that coffee is a necessity for you, it could actually be making you feel even worse.
While many medical experts will advise clients to stop drinking coffee if they are under immense pressure and stress, Fitzgibbon admits that those in this frame of mind are often difficult to advise. “Unfortunately, in this state, you’re not very receptive to listening to health advice,” she says.
However, she also says that after a period of time coffee is often able to be reintroduced into your diet. “If you come to see me for stress and anxiety I will always recommend that you remove all forms of caffeine from your diet. This is at least until you are feeling calmer. At this point, we may be able to reintroduce it back into your diet — but only in moderation. It is important to remember that one cup of coffee will have a stimulating effect on you for anywhere between 8—14 hours,” she says.
If you are feeling very stressed, Fitzgibbon also recommends looking at your supplements and making sure that you are getting enough B vitamins and magnesium. “It is very important for them to take a good quality B-group vitamin (1-2 x daily) and a good quality magnesium supplement,” she says. “If they need extra support I will prescribe them medicinal herbs. Some of my favourite ‘anti-stress’ herbs are Rhodiola, Siberian Ginseng, Kava and Passionflower.”
Lisa Fitzgibbon is a naturopath and medical herbalist based in Grey Lynn in Auckland. For more information visit her website.