It sure has been a while since I posted something new on the blog. Much has happened, and that’s part of the reason I made a new episode of Tea Sessions! You see, I’ve been struggling with anxiety for a while and at some point I decided I can’t be the only one who’s struggling with this stuff so maybe it’s best to simply open up and talk about it.
Below the fold is a transcription of the entire text of the podcast, as well as some links to resources I mention in the podcast itself (I’ve placed those at the top for easy access).
Please leave a comment with any thoughts or feedback you might have. I love to read them!
- Studies on the effect of caffeine consumption in the work place:
- Other links:
Hey guys it’s Mike from the Tea Letter and this is Tea Session Episode Two: Anxiety.
Now why am I talking about anxiety? It’s something I’ve been thinking about now for about four months. Frankly the idea of the subject scared me for a variety of reasons. The anxiety I am referring to here is mine and it’s something I’ve been struggling with since last summer. The source of it is primarily some personal stuff but I also have a very high-stress, high-pressure tech job in Silicon Valley and that, combined with a lot of other things that are going on in my private life, have piled on top of one another and created some problems for me.
I debated whether or not I wanted to talk about this subject. I haven’t produced anything on the blog for quite some time, partly because of my anxiety. I didn’t want the blog to be a source of anxiety for me so I decided to put it on hold rather than stress myself out by trying to power through it. To be honest, talking about it scared me. I was afraid to come clean about it and be honest about it, partly for my own reasons in terms of a personal stigma around the idea of myself having anxiety. You know, anxiety is a real mental health issue and it was difficult for me to be okay talking about my issues with anxiety as a mental health issue.
Because everyone wants to think they’re healthy and happy and “normal” and everything is fine. But you know what? Sometimes everything is not fine and sometimes talking about that is the best thing you can do to help yourself and hopefully others.
I was scared to talk about my anxiety but then I heard or read something from this guy James Altucher. James Altucher is well-known in entrepreneurial circles as being a very successful entrepreneur (he’s built a bunch of companies, blah, blah) but he’s also a prolific writer on the subject of the self, of course business, productivity, finance, and a variety of things. He’s knwon for being very candid and honest in his writing and wherever it was I heard this from him he was talking about how he decides what to write about. What he said was he thinks about what scares him and then he writes about it. I thought maybe I would practice a little bit of James Altucher’s style in my own content or my own position as a writer and a creator.
So here we are. It still took me a while to kind of get up the guts to put this together but nevertheless here we are so let’s dive into it.
I guess the best place to start is to give a little bit of background. I had some issues spring up late fall early winter, around November or December, last year primarily in the form of some eczema on my hand. I’ve had some minor issues with that in the past so I thought well this is just a phase but it never went away. In fact, it only got worse and it continues to get worse to this day. I recently saw a doctor and he said “I think what you have is psoriasis” and I was like, “Man, psoriasis. That’s some heavy stuff right there.”
Psoriasis is a chronic disease. It’s an auto-immune disorder. And this is feeding into my perception of myself as a happy, healthy individual. It’s like, if I’m doing so great like I think I am then how can I have a chronic disease like psoriasis?
It turns out we don’t really know what causes psoriasis. I dug into some of our family history and my grandmother on my father’s side is a nurse and a while back she did a pretty comprehensive genealogy, er, family tree, and that includes some of our medical history. It turns out on that side of the family I do have a history of auto-immune disorders. In fact, I guess my grandfather himself used to have some issues with the tips of his fingers kind of cracking and splitting so I’m thinking “all right there’s a precedent for this”. As for what triggered it, what caused it to manifest in this fashion and at this level at this point in time, you know, I can only guess.
My first thought was: “What’s changed in my lifestyle since I started having these problems?” Well, there’s basically two things. The first is that I wasn’t exercising as much or as regularly as I had been previously for most of last year and the other thing is there had been an uptick–a pretty substantial uptick–in my caffeine consumption in the form of tea.
So I thought well maybe the caffeine itself is causing the problem. I went off caffeine for a week or a couple weeks and it didn’t seem like–maybe the time period was too short, maybe I should have done a month or two months–but it didn’t seem to make a difference. When I talked to my doctor about it he said he didn’t think caffeine is causing this, so I started drinking tea again at a slower rate.
Based on some research I started to do I realized that caffeine itself might not be the source of the problem but it might exacerbate the problem insofar as caffeine consumption can make anxiety worse. Now, here’s where we start running into some of the fuzziness around making objective statement regarding the health benefits of tea and the empirical research that is coming about the benefits of tea and so on and so forth.
For those of you who have seen the relatively recent video on the Mei Leaf YouTube channel about caffeine in tea, Don over at Mei Leaf puts together a pretty good case for some of the benefits of drinking tea. He talks about things like L-Theanine and the various other substances that are contained within tea that make it unique even among caffeinated beverages in terms of how tea itself sort of mitigates the negative effects of caffeine while also promoting the positive effects of caffeine.
So I thought well all right there’s a case for tea being something that helps you relax and calm down and deal with things like stress and anxiety, but why is it then that I’m drinking a fair amount of tea but still having these problems?
I started looking at the opposite side of the coin and thinking about how caffeine itself causes problems in individuals. I thought about it and I realized a large chunk of my tea consumption takes place at work. I’m at work five days a week and I typically don’t drink tea before work, I do it when I get to work. For a while there I was drinking tea six or seven days a week and the majority of that tea consumption was taking place at work in an environment that can be fairly stressful at times. I started looking into how caffeine affects people in a work environment and, lo and behold, I found a series of studies that discuss this subject.
Before we get into this I want to preface this section with a couple of statements. The first being quoting studies seems to be a sticky subject or a bit of trap because you can find studies that have contradictory findings. This one says with its own amount of authority “this is the way it is” and that one says “that’s the way it is” so when it comes to studies like these I always try to take it with a grain of salt.
I’m also not someone who reads studies all the time so allowing for my own ignorance and incomplete understanding–and I’m also just reading the abstracts, not even digging into the meat–so if I’m misquoting or misunderstanding something and somebody out there knows this stuff better than I do please let me know! I would love to deepen my knowledge in this area and be more capable of reading the primary research on tea and caffeine for my own interest.
With that said, I found a couple of studies that linked caffeine consumption to increased levels of stress and anxiety in the workplace. The way they measure this is they administer caffeine and it seems they were taking urine tests to measure the levels of epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol. These three chemicals are hormones secreted by the brain that are linked to your nervous system and stuff like that. They have various functions around stress, fight or flight, and so on and so forth. Long story short is these studies linked caffeine consumption to elevated levels of these stress hormones in peoples’ bodies when they were consuming at work.
I’ll put some links to the studies I found in the show notes, which will be on my blog at thetealetter.com, so you can check it out for yourself and let me know if I’m completely off base in terms of my understanding, if there’s something wrong with the study, you know, whatever. Tweet me, Instagram me, comment, I would love to know.
Anyways, I found some studies that suggested this connection. Anecdotally, subjectively, in my own experience, I have noticed that I am more prone to feel stressed or have my anxiety activated at work when I’ve had caffeine. So it seems to me there is a link. Everyone’s different but in general I’m a person who is sensitive to substances, whether it be caffeine, sugar, or alcohol. Alcohol is a toss-up. I think I’m someone who can hold my alcohol (within reason) and I don’t seem to be affected as strongly.
The next question is: when does tea help me relax? If tea is supposed to be something that helps you relax, where have I found evidence of tea helping me to do that in my life? Well, tea has become relaxing as a form of meditation. When I think about that, it’s actually less about the actual drinking tea itself as much as the process of making it. I like to practice gongfu-style tea, I’m sure a lot of listeners out there are the same, and if you’ve done gongfu–even if you haven’t–I’m sure you’ve encountered the meditative effects of making your tea. From picking your tea, measuring it out, preparing the water, warming the vessels, the whole nine yards, you can really focus in on that process and get lost in the moment while you’re making tea and that is a type of meditation for me.
Also, when I’m making tea in that fashion, I’m usually in a calm setting, alone, at home. Maybe it’s the morning because I’m an early riser so I’m up and my wife’s asleep and I’m just sitting there at the table by myself making tea. When I do that, man, it really helps me chill out.
Part of the other thing I realized about my habit of drinking tea at work is I was doing it just to do it. Yeah, I wanted to drink the tea and enjoy it but I’m just brewing it. Leaves here, water in, tea comes out, drink it, it tastes good, and for me it’s not about the caffeine. I have pretty high natural levels of energy. I don’t need the caffeine as a pick me up. I like to try to get 7-8 hours of sleep a night so if I’m exercising, eating well, and sleeping decently I don’t need the caffeine. I really just love the taste of tea so I like to have some every day but it turned into this thing where I was craving the drinking of the tea and not having the enjoyment of the experience.
I’ve since cut back–I try to do a minimum of every other day. Sometimes I’ll string a couple days together if for whatever reason I really want to have some tea but I try to put a good day in between.
I’d say that’s helped. It’s helped not get addicted to caffeine. When you get addicted to caffeine you get the headaches and you gotta have some and it’s, you know, I think helping me stay balanced in terms of my consumption. I’m also curious I had a friend do this genetic sequencing, for those of you who are familiar with 23AndMe. He had his DNA sequenced by them and took it to this other place and they looked at it and they told him “yep you’re sensitive caffeine”.
I don’t know, it sounded like it was pretty expensive (within the realm of $200+) to have this done and I don’t know if I want to pay this much money to have someone tell me I’m sensitive to caffeine. I can probably just listen to my body and figure that out for myself.
In conclusion, I guess what I want to say here is: I wanted to get this off of my chest. Talk about this anxiety. I’ve felt guilty because I started creating tea content on my blog and I was really enjoying it. I kind of have a little bit of an audience I have an email list and some people on Instagram and I felt like I owed it to them to keep creating and since I couldn’t do that I felt like I then owed it to them to tell them why. I apologize it’s been four months in the making but nevertheless here we are.
I do want to keep doing more of these podcasts because I think they’re really fun. You’ll see some more of these, maybe once every month or every couple weeks depending on time. I want to encourage other people to share their own experience with this stuff. I would love to hear what other people have experienced when it comes to stress and anxiety and tea as a solution or a problem with that.
When it comes to this it’s so personal and subjective, I mean, I can go to a doctor and the doctor will say well if your’e stressed you should be less stressed and it’s like thanks doc I’ll see you next time. Don’t really get a whole lot of peace of mind. So what would help me–and this is an ask to you guys who are listening–if you’ve had similar challenges how have you dealt with it and what have you learned.
At the end of the day there is no right answer. You can read studies and research on the internet and opinions are like elbows–everyone’s got one. I have two! So how’s that? I guess you do too. I’m going to wrap up here and say thanks for listening to me talk about this. This is a subject that’s become very near and dear for obvious reasons. I wanted to get it off my chest and share it with you guys as my audience and I appreciate anyone coming forth to share and talk about this stuff and I appreciate you guys hanging out and listening. I’m looking at the timer on this recording–I’ve just been yakking at my microphone and it’s been almost twenty minutes so this is a good point to wrap up.
Thanks so much for listening and I look forward to doing some more of this. You’ll hopefully here from me again real soon. Y’all be good to yourselves, be good to each other, and drink good tea. We’ll talk to you all very soon!