Navigating Stress, Coffee in Hand



Stock Photo Courtesy of Pexels


By: Cary Chapman

If you told my ten year-old self that she would become a serious coffee drinker one day, she would have trouble believing you. We were a decaf household and although I grew up loving the taste of coffee, at least as it was presented in the ice cream format with plenty of dairy and sugar, I always thought of myself as above needing chemical stimulants. On weekends, when my mom brewed a pot of decaf, I would always have a cup, adding a splash of milk and sometimes a spoonful of cocoa powder for a DIY mocha. But there was hardly any caffeine in those mugs—just the toasty, bitter taste and the heavenly smell. Even throughout high school, when I was nearly as busy as I am now, I maintained an almost-neurotic, consistent sleep schedule, drinking decaffeinated coffee once or twice a week and basking in a mild superiority complex. I was a coffee purist, consuming it for taste alone.

Then came college. I started sleeping less regularly and drinking regular coffee to compensate. And yes, I feel more awake when I drink coffee and I’m not immune to that jittery feeling in my limbs and the slight pain in my head when I have too much too fast. But somewhere in the ritual of carrying a steaming mug over to the canisters of milk and milk imitators, stirring in a few shakes of cinnamon or a packet of Sugar-in-the-Raw, and taking that first sip, I slow down. The frantic pace of writing and striving and reaching for some version of success pauses momentarily, enough to allow me an emotional deep breath. So although my heart beats faster and my adenosine receptors are blocked, I’m thinking a little clearer, breathing a little easier, and operating a little smoother once I’ve had my cup of joe.

Since starting at Barnard College, I’ve thought a lot about self-care and what that looks like for different people. Some of the commonly heard stress reduction techniques do help me stay balanced, such as time outside and hot showers. But a lot of them seem to take time that I don’t have—reading a book for pleasure, watching a movie, doing my nails—these are all great, but part of the stress I feel relates to fitting my to-do list into the 24 hours of a day. Spending an hour or two on something that I don’t have to do is great and even necessary on occasion, but a lot of times, that activity feels to me like an additional source of stress because it takes away from a task that actually has a deadline.

Coffee is my way of building in self-care into each day manageably and realistically. I realize that this does not work for everyone—people have different taste preferences and reactions to caffeine—and I am by no means advocating coffee as a stress reducer. It is, after all, a stimulant, and has been linked to increased anxiety. All I’m saying is that it works for me: physically coffee helps me stay alert and emotionally it helps me stay calm. And if I’m advocating for anything, it’s for people to find their own version of what coffee represents for me: some sort of self-care behavior that is easily integrated into daily life and doesn’t add to the stresses it is intended to reduce.

Cary Chapman is a junior and a writer for Barnard Bite.


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