…one man's contribution to the Weeeeerly Wild World
Just this morning I was shuffling some old notebooks around, the paper kind, and I came across one which had a list of New Year’s Resolutions dating back to my college and university days. In the list of things I wanted to change or improve about myself was the following:
Don’t use coffee to avoid study.
The irony here is that I still notice myself doing pretty much the same; when I have days off work but have things to do at home I turn to the coffee machine and kettle throughout the day, trying to convince myself that once I’ve had a cup I’ll get on with stuff. And it’s not only coffee. My brother and I have a running joke about any jobs we have to get on with together, whether it be painting a room, mowing the lawn or servicing his car, we’ll get started once we’ve had a cup of tea, and have another when we reach our first hurdle (which has been known to occur within 10 minutes). We’d also mock our parents about having a cup of tea and a cigarette before setting off on a car journey, and stopping on the way for another cigarette break, and then another once arriving, always late.
I find these compulsive stop gaps frustrating, mostly, I’m sure, because I notice their persistence within myself.
Then today there was talk on the radio (BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show) about a new study that reveals that three cups of coffee a day can prolong one’s life, by 18 years, or something like that, keeping ones blood pressure down and preventing things like heart attacks and strokes, amongst other benefits. Of course, these are scientists so they’ll be telling us the opposite next week, but lets go with this train of thought for the moment.
The thing is, coffee doesn’t work for all, and it’s certainly not a one-size-fits all thing either.
Not only have I now noticed the persistence of caffeine-fuelled procrastination in my life, I recognised the sense of anxiety too much coffee would cause also, and it wouldn’t take much.
At first I toyed with the idea of avoiding coffee all together, but I do like a cup, and instead I settled on limiting my intake to a cup a day (something I don’t always adhere to, and then regret later); If I routinely have more than one cup a day of the strong stuff I can begin to feel pretty “edgy” after a few days or a week of that. The trouble with anxiety is that the actual “cause” of the sensation would be disconnected from the sense of the cause, which might be any number of supposed stresses in my life; work, friendships, the weather, you name it; cut down on the caffeine again and everything around me would settle down, it seems.
Excessive coffee therefore gives me cause for concern, because I know my own limits, but I don’t have concerns only for myself; I get concerned about others too. If someone talks to me about a sudden bout of anxiety they are experiencing I am likely to first question how many cups of coffee they’ve had (if they’re really depressed then this might not go down well since it might sound like I’m attempting to belittle some otherwise real and major event in their life).
When listening to a discussion about electric cars some months ago and their need for regular charges on a long journey my ears pricked up at the excuse given to “use the recharging time to have a cup of coffee” as it was casually thrown out there. Of course people already stop at motorway services for refreshments but the point was that the intake would increase and the image painted in my mind was unsettling.
Are we a nation or world of junkies?
It worries me, that even if there is strong evidence of benefits, what harms does the world face through this dependence? Not only the physical and physiological effects on us as individuals, and perhaps those close to us if we are liable to lash out or have obvious mood swings when feeling strong bouts of anxiety, but what is inflicted on the world at large by those in positions of power within government or in leading corporations when the vessels of those people have coffee coursing through the veins. Surely decisions of world-affecting proportions are manipulated by whatever chemical substance is providing a personal benefit.
I know how normal it is in many offices and other working environments to have a pot of coffee on the go, and it to be the norm in these situations to be refilling a cup before its had chance to go cold. I’ve also had conversations with retirees who, upon entering retirement, notice how their coffee intake drastically declines now that they have entered the quiet life.
The strange thing about this latest finding is that they have pretty much ruled out caffeine as being the cause of the found benefits, because decaffeinated coffee works just as well. This is good news since I keep such an option available to me in the evenings, when a cup of the real stuff would keep me up for hours beyond my planned bedtime.
What I didn’t hear about the findings though was what other people might be drinking instead of coffee, who aren’t getting these benefits. Having a sister who doesn’t drink tea or coffee, I’m always at a loss as to what what to offer her when we are having a get-together. Perhaps it’s not that coffee drinkers are gaining something from drinking coffee, but what the non-coffee drinkers are consuming instead, or experiencing, or not experiencing through not taking the time out for a social drink, and thus putting them on the back foot, or at greater risk from heart attack or stroke.
Perhaps we shouldn’t think of these findings as what coffee does to us to get us into this “live a long life” state, but question how perhaps we might get into this state without using and abusing a substance. Or perhaps I’m expecting too much.