As lockdown continues to reign supreme over our lives in Britain, it’s unsurprising that so many of us have turned to those old favourites coffee and alcohol as a way of soothing our anxieties and getting us through these dreary times.
Alcohol sales in the UK have risen by a third since lockdown was announced and coffee sales are through the roof too, with some coffee companies reporting sales boosts of 137% since March.
And so goes our daily routine:
In the mornings, we use a sharp coffee to pump us full of life and keep us energised throughout the day, and at night we get merry and relax with a glass of wine or a bottle of our favourite beer.
We know, great isn’t it?
Well… as you might have guessed, a lot of experts don’t agree with that, in fact, they think it’s quite bad.
As cocktail hours and constant caffeine boosts become the new normal, health experts have begun to start wheeling out one of their all-time favourite phrases – ‘excess’ – and that by overindulging yourself in life’s little pleasures you will only make your physical and mental well-being worse. Which of course, is not what you want during an already insufferable lockdown.
But do we really need to cut coffee and alcohol out of our lives entirely at such a depressing time?
And is there any chance that some of their mood boosting benefits outweigh their well-known negatives?!
We investigate further to decide whether it’s coffee, cocktails or quitting both that will keep the UK happiest through quarantine!
The Case For Coffee
While the lockdown might have everyone feeling like they need to cut back on their luxury items, one thing you may not have to cut down on is your coffee intake!
It’s been well documented that the caffeine in our java isn’t great in large consumption, and that it can cause things like anxiety and trouble sleeping – two things a lot of us are struggling with in lockdown anyway!
There’s also been warnings from nutritionists in recent weeks that consuming drinks like tea and coffee too close to meal times can cause a deficiency in key vitamins and minerals due to the naturally occurring tannins in those drinks which bind to minerals and lower absorption rates.
However, despite these warnings, when drunk at appropriate times, and in moderation (no more than five cups per day), coffee is undoubtedly the best drink to help those of you who are suffering in lockdown.
A new study by scientists from Harvard University has revealed that by drinking at least two cups of coffee a day, you can help improve your mental wellbeing and stave away feelings of depression in quarantine.
The Harvard study revealed that people who drank coffee regularly were far less likely to suffer from depression compared to those who didn’t drink it at all, basing this on the data of 300,000 people and coffee’s effect on their mental health condition over the last five years.
Amazingly, the research revealed that by drinking coffee more regularly, the rate of depression across their subjects had dropped by a third.
Meanwhile, the Office for National Statistics revealed this month that ⅔ of people in the UK under 70 were mainly consumed with fears over their mental health as opposed to being physically affected by COVID-19 or anything else, listing boredom, anxiety, stress and the health of loved ones as the main issues clouding their mind.
That’s a ridiculously high majority, but if Harvard’s study were to ring true in an even bigger focus group, there’s evidence to suggest that simply sipping more java could turn these figures into the minority.
So what exactly is the theory behind coffee being a possible cure?
Well, there are currently two schools of thought as to why it may make a suitable antidepressant.
The first theory is that it’s anti-inflammatory properties help relax you and alleviate pain, thanks to antioxidants in the drink which help remove any free radicals.
There has been growing evidence to suggest a strong link between brain inflammation and depression in recent years and coffee’s dream team of chlorogenic acid, nicotinic acid, trigonelline, quinolinic acid, tannic acid and pyrogallic acid would naturally go some way to reducing such inflammation!
The other possible reason for it’s mental health boosting ways are due to its effect on certain neurotransmitters and receptors in the brain.
We all know caffeine has the ability to block receptors which make us drowsy, but it can also help block receptors which bind with chemicals to cause fatigue and failing moods.
Research has also suggested that coffee may increase the effectiveness and output of the brain chemical dopamine – a chemical which brings us motivation, clearer decision making and improves our mood.
Given that a lack of motivation is one of the most common by-products of anyone suffering from depression, an increase in dopamine is therefore naturally going to help reduce symptoms.
So if you are feeling a little low, why not give an extra cup of coffee a go?
Why Cocktails and Lockdown Binges Are No Fun In The Long Run
Virtual Happy Hour, Quarantinis, Beer Chugs…
Whatever you’re calling it, you’re more than likely doing it several times a week, it being the act of consuming copious amounts of alcohol.
In Britain, such drink fests are becoming the new normal as we adjust to lockdown life, with a poll from Bacardi this month revealing that 53% of us believe the cocktail hours of the 1920’s have made a definitive comeback in recent weeks.
A further 43% of those polled admitted to having attempted to create some kind of home cocktail since the pandemic began, and strangely another 27% of respondents said they planned to continue hosting virtual drink parties with friends and family beyond lockdown.
It’s also important to keep in mind that this survey didn’t even take into account people’s current wine and beer habits!
In conclusion, there’s no doubt that many of us are getting through lockdown by lubricating our larynxes with Lambrini, but the question is… Is that a problem?
As long as we’re not becoming dependent or overly drunk on alcohol at this time, surely it’s just a bit of fun to help us through hard times?
Well, despite your assumption a relaxing drink might be making you feel better, the science actually suggests it may actually be making things worse.
When you first drink that first sip of beer or wine at the end of a long hard day, there is unmistakably, a feeling of complete relief and relaxation.
This feeling is not your imagination either, as alcohol causes things to feel slower, lowers inhibitions and creates a mild euphoria.
It also decreases concentration levels, which although you’d assume is a bad thing, is actually quite helpful in letting you switch off from the day’s stresses.
However it’s after the initial light drunkenness phase where things start to go wrong.
Your body begins trying to break down alcohol after 30 minutes of consumption and as it’s working overtime to rid itself of toxins, it can leave you feeling agitated and uncomfortable.
Alcohol also triggers our production of dopamine to our brain receptors, and essentially becomes a reward centre, subconsciously making a drink another reward, making it difficult to stop once we’ve started.
This opens the possibilities of getting too drunk, which can open the floodgates for feelings like sadness and depression as you begin to have less control over your brain functions.
But hey, so what right? You already know this. Alcohol is bad… yada, yada, yada.
You know your limits and despite lockdown raising your intake slightly, you’re still in control and nowhere near reaching the levels we’ve just talked about. Your nightly tipple is merely that initial buzz, and you haven’t let it become anything more.
However, are you aware that your new lockdown drinking habits could actually be having a detrimental effect on you in the moments where you haven’t got a glass of wine in hand?
One of the main issues with alcohol and mood is that regular consumption of it completely changes the chemistry of our brains and it’s been found that frequent alcohol use naturally decreases the levels of serotonin in our system.
Otherwise known as the ‘happy chemical’, serotonin is the neurotransmitter responsible for our happiness, satisfaction and optimism. So much so that antidepressant drugs usually work by increasing the amount of serotonin being supplied to our brain’s receptors.
It doesn’t take a genius to realise a lack of these isn’t going to be great for your mood.
Increasing your alcohol dependency in lockdown or just simply drinking more regularly throughout is undoubtedly going to decrease serotonin levels, meaning even when you’re not drinking, less serotonin is being created, and so your general optimism may be noticeably lower.
This of course is how people end up falling into cycles of increased alcohol use.
With less serotonin in your system, you may feel less happy at work or in life, and may begin to seek that quick fix dopamine hit of alcohol slightly more than usual.
Again, this may seem out of sync with your own current experience, but there is real fear that changing attitudes towards alcohol consumption in lockdown could have damaging effects in the long run.
As daily routines have been shattered by the pandemic, so too have those unwritten rules about drinking and what is and isn’t socially acceptable.
However, everyones has always drawn up their own individual guidelines when it comes to knowing what is too much or too often, which makes it just as easy to move the goalposts when it suits us.
There’s also now something of a confirmation bias on social media, where we see people having virtual drinking sessions online, or read about the increase of drinking activity in the news.
This surge of people posting quarantini behaviour helps us justify our own increased intake. “Everyone’s doing it”, or “I’m not drinking as much as them,” are thoughts which help validate or own new habits, no matter how tame you believe them to be.
In short, it may be more difficult to control your levels of drinking at this time, whether you realise it or not.
If possible, try and go back to what you’re drinking levels were before the quarantine, because if your mood is looking for a boost, it’s coffee that’s going to be your saviour, not cocktails!