Just THINKING about coffee is enough to give you a boost, says study
08/08/2019 // Zoey Sky // Views

Coffee is an energizing drink that improves your mental focus, but some individuals consider the beverage a double-edged sword because it can be addictive. An interesting study published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition suggests that smelling the caffeine-rich drink is enough to give your brain a boost.

There's no denying that your first cup of coffee every morning gives you an energy boost and mental clarity. At the same time, long-time coffee drinkers are aware of their dependence on a cup of joe.

Drinking too much coffee may trigger anxiety because it promotes the release of cortisol, the stress hormone. Coffee contains caffeine that increases cortisol, the hormone responsible for triggering a stress response in the body.

In some individuals, a stress response is associated with anxiety and panic. It can even cause other unpleasant states like mood swings and ruminations.

Coffee and mental alertness

During the study, researchers discovered that putting volunteers in scenarios that force them to think about coffee, such as being instructed to brainstorm names for a new coffee brand, stimulated physiological arousal in the body. This also changed the way the volunteers think and feel.

Thinking about coffee allowed the participants to enjoy the focus-enhancing effects of coffee without having to drink the beverage. The scientists explained that this heightened arousal allowed participants to see the world with more specificity and detail.

But how exactly can thinking about coffee or smelling it make you mentally sharper?


The researchers posited that the effect was possible because most Americans “associate coffee with productivity and alertness.” This connection could have a priming effect; wherein one idea triggers others because of associations that you're familiar with.

Sam Maglio, a study co-author and associate professor at the University of Toronto, said that triggering this initial idea about coffee results in other changes. For example, thinking about coffee boosts mental acuity.

The researchers also discovered that it increased the volunteers' heart rates. Maglio added that these changes in the body could be responsible for the changes they observed in the participants' behaviors, such as “expecting that things would happen sooner and seeing the world through a more detailed, specific lens.”

This isn't the first study to suggest that you can enhance your mental alertness without drinking coffee. In a 2018 study, researchers discovered that the smell of coffee alone could boost a person's analytical reasoning skills.

For this study, undergraduate students were exposed to an ambient coffee aroma. They then scored higher on a set of 10 algebra problems, unlike the other students who weren't exposed to the scent. (Related: The scent of health and happiness: Why you should start smelling your coffee.)

In a different study from 2008, scientists reported that sleep-deprived rats who smelled coffee “had genes activated in their brains that eased fatigue-related stress.”

Natural alternatives to coffee

While researchers are still trying to determine how smelling or thinking about coffee can boost your mental focus, here are some alternatives that won't aggravate your anxiety.

  • Chamomile tea Chamomile tea is caffeine-free, and it helps you relax. It also improves sleep. Drink some chamomile tea around bedtime to relieve anxiety and stress.
  • Green tea – Green tea, one of the most popular coffee alternatives, is full of bioactive compounds. It contains polyphenols like catechins and flavonoids, two main antioxidants that help stop cell degradation. Green tea also has a beneficial compound called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which is considered as one of the main reasons for green tea's many health benefits. Green tea contains a small amount of caffeine, but the beverage also has L-theanine, a beneficial amino acid that helps you focus.
  • Peppermint tea Peppermint tea is also caffeine-free, and it has a strong, pleasant flavor. Some people may start sweating after consuming the tea, but this side effect is nothing to worry about. The sweating is caused by the menthol content of peppermint tea, which will cool your body down internally and make you feel relaxed.
  • Turmeric tea Turmeric contains an active ingredient called curcumin. This compound is linked to a lower risk of developing memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease. Drink turmeric tea if you want to boost your brainpower without relying on coffee.

If you're looking for a caffeine-free alternative to coffee, consider drinking other calming beverages such as chamomile or green tea.

Sources include:

MindBodyGreen.com 1

MindBodyGreen.com 2


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