Cup half full or cup half empty? How coffee actually helps improve optimism.

Cup half full or cup half empty? How coffee actually helps improve optimism.

Give us this day our daily coffee, or two.

Alright, maybe three. It is no secret that I consider myself a caffeine junkie.  Whenever someone tells me that they don't drink coffee I get a weird sensation and can't really understand what they are trying to communicate to me.  There's a meme that says in response to this person "what? you get enough sleep or something?" I have been imbibing the magic bean juice from the tender age of 6 yrs old.  I also consider myself a fairly optimistic person, although the past couple years of pandemic times have deepened the furrows between my eyebrows and added a hefty helping to my cynical side. In fact I can count on one hand the few times in my 4 decade love affair with coffee that I can remember going off coffee. None of them I recall being pleasant.  One time ironically was fresh out of college when I worked at one of the big chain coffee shops.  Another time was as part of some crazy diet recommendation and I can't begin to tell you what a stupid and non productive  idea that was. The other times were during a couple of really bad auto-immune flares. I've been battling these flare ups for about the last 12 years and I only have recently been able to admit to others and maybe even to myself that I am sometimes not well. There is so much shame and guilt wrapped up in it and I am not sure why that should be so. Usually the flares are very mild and I am able to get them under control quickly but sometimes the flares leave me so that I can not even drink water without pain.  It is during these debilitating flares, that sometimes last months, that I measure my wellness in cups of coffee.  My very identity is wrapped up in coffee. People call me the coffee lady and my closest friends jokingly call me the coffee boss so one might assume that I drink an exorbitant amount of daily coffee.  The truth is my go to is 2 strong cups of coffee to start my day and 1 "threesie"  when that after noon wall hits. 

My worst and weakest days are marked with awful weak and watery 1/4 cups.  When the cups are at or below this metric there are moments when I wonder if I will make it. My very being seems to become weak and watery. Chronic pain and depression set in.   Days are long and grey and miserable and I curse my body and the disease that robs me of  the strength to carry myself through a day.  Navigating too far from my bedroom becomes difficult and often even impossible. The public pressure to perform and the self imposed pressure to achieve eat away at my psyche and the extra burden put on my family when I have to drop my yolk weighs heavy on my heart. Most upsetting is the time it steals from me.  Time to share and care for my family and my children most of all.  In these darkest times, when optimism fleets, cups of coffee become tiny concrete measures of progress on the steep steps back to remission.  "Hi Laurie, how are you feeling today?"  My close confidants text to check in on me.  1/2 cup,...3/4 cup,... 7/8 cup..... 1 whole cup of weak coffee! "How are you feeling today friend?" Half a cup of strong coffee,....1 whole cup of strong coffee!

My husband, who always brings me my first cup, breathes a sigh of relief at this point and will say "it is good to see your essence coming back".  1 strong cup of coffee.  Half way back to my usual self. The cup is half full.  I can see life with optimism again.  I recently had an unusual revelation that my body was like a coffee pot that is filled with the light of the Lord. At 1 strong cup of coffee I see my vessel as half full.  My cousin once remarked that I was the strongest women on earth.  At half the strength of a mere mortal woman I am able to find optimism again.  I am able to find the strength to face the day again. This is a huge milestone on the road to recovery. Days and pain become manageable and I am able to function again. Most people would not recognize that anything was wrong with me at this point. I can move myself productively through a day and keep on my feet long enough to get and share a supper with my family. It might be time, it might be the productivity of movement and it might be medicine induced but at this stage I wonder if there isn't something more to the improved quality of life.  Something in the coffee itself. 

Over the decades that I've personally consumed coffee the health aspects related to it have swung like a pendulum.  In the 70's and 80's coffee was mainly seen as a vice and got a bad rap, blamed for everything from miscarriages and cancers to heart disease.  These were mostly unfounded and the research  just does not back these claims up. In fact, today more and more research shows that coffee, or expressly caffeine actually has many health benefits. One benefit I found really surprising is that coffee contributes to the daily intake of dietary antioxidants, even more than tea, fruit, and vegetables.  Many large scale studies are now showing coffee drinkers to be less likely to develop certain cancers such as colon, rectal, endometrial, prostate and even some cancers of the throat and mouth.  There is also evidence to show that those who drink 2 or 3 cups a day have lower risks of developing Alzheimer's and other forms of  dementia, lower risk of diabetes and also lower risk of developing Parkinson's. So if you have not yet shaken the perception of past decades that coffee should be limited please grab yourself a cup and look into the research for yourself. We aren't going to say that all coffee is created equal but we are definitely huge supporters of the health benefits of our favorite beverage and for many reasons think you should consume it guilt free. 

Most interesting though is the science that coffee drinkers actually live happier lives.  Bold claim I know but here's the facts.  First off caffeine increases dopamine in your brain which is your feel good chemical. Drinking coffee literally makes you feel happier. More importantly, as many as  (before the pandemic skyrocketed these statistics) 4.1 percent of Americans, suffered from depression. Believe it or not, coffee can help. Studies have shown that people who drink coffee are 20% less likely to become depressed, and 53% less likely to die by suicide. Next, we all know coffee is a stimulant so it is no surprise that it boost our energy levels. Caffeine goes to works in your adrenal glands to block adenosine , a neuro transmitter that makes you drowsy, and increases adrenaline, your flight or fight chemical or in other words our energy boost.  The secondary effect of increased adrenaline is that it opens your airways and allows for increased oxygen in the blood stream. The biologically archaic purpose of this was to be able to run from a saber tooth tiger.  When we are sitting at home recovering from an illness or at a desk trying to get through the work day, this transfers to a lifting of the brain fog allowing you to think more clearly and quickly and make decisions faster.   For these reasons it seems pretty clear that coffee does actually improve the quality of your life.  Although I do not know if it is made of the light of the Lord, caffeine, or perhaps adrenaline and dopamine, but, at 1 full cup my "essence" shines through and I can again find hope and begin to trust that I will pull through to a full remission.  My vessel is half full and not half empty. In other words, with one full cup of coffee, even in times of struggle, I can view the day with optimism, rather than pessimism.

I recently suffered a pretty bad flare.  I had been down to just 1/4 weak cup and thinking if I went any lower that I might just completely fade away.  7 weeks in and just as I had made myself back to 1 full cup of strong coffee, wham!, SARS-CoV-2 finally got the better of me and I came down with Covid-19.  I shortly lost my taste and smell and my hard earned cup of coffee was rendered somewhere between tasteless and odorless to odd tasting and the wonderful aroma we all love became what I can only describe as nil to off.  Not even this cruel twist of fate would stop me from having that 1 cup though my friends. 

I'm not really one to share a lot of personal details with a very wide circle of people, especially the finer details of my health.  I think for many of those that know me at all and even for some who know me well this might come as a surprise. I hope that in sharing today that some of the stigma associated with autoimmune disease and mental health can be lessened. There should be no shame in needing to ask for help in moments of weakness or feeling vulnerable. I share today with the hope that for those of you whom might be suffering with your health, be it mental health or physical health, that you might take solace in knowing that you are never alone.  If you enjoy a cup of revival, know that the upmost care has gone into bringing you a really great cup of coffee because we know first hand how important it is in our daily lives.  We know that one cup can make all the difference in the world and we want it to be a good one, especially for those days when we have to fight just to get ourselves out of bed. We know it really matters. The things we choose to fill our minds and our bodies with matter.  You matter. 

I wish you two cups strong in all your endeavors but if life has you down may you at least be able to see things in a cup half full kind of way.  If you are at or below a quarter of a weak cup and need a friend or a hand, please reach out, we are here for you.  315-225-4202,  Life is far too short and it goes by in the blink of an eye.  Grab that second cup and most importantly grab your loved ones and give them a squeeze. 


many of the studies referred to in this story can be found at the National Library of Medicine

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