Psychostimulants: They Might Give You Happiness; They Might Give You a Heart Attack

Psychostimulant – a substance (an agent) with antidepressant or mood-elevating properties.1

Think I’m talking about Adderall or crack cocaine? Nope – what I’m talking about… you probably take a hit of at least once a day.2

Coffee is your crack. At least I hope so. If you’re using crack, I recommend switching to coffee. It’s a bit safer.

Coffee is a psychostimulant – a class of drugs that have been proven to improve mood. That’s why certain psychostimulants, like Adderall, are used to treat depression.3,4

But dealing with drugs is never simple. These drugs, coffee included, are widely abused – we like feeling good and we can’t help but consume more. Taking too much at the wrong time can produce negative effects; not the least of which are anxiety and heart failure. Because you’re addicted, you may not notice – or even care (I’m talking about the anxiety; I’m hoping you’d notice the heart failure). Benefiting from a psychostimulant is not as simple as something like exercise, where more = better.

That’s why we’re going to take a closer look at two in particular: Coffee, which you’re all probably familiar with, and a possible amplifier or substitute, Cold Showers.

Coffee – Oh so good!

With the right dosage and consumption schedule, coffee can improve your mood by 10%.5

It can also increase anxiety and jitteriness by as much as 30%-40%.6

4x Anxiety + Amit (that’s me) = Breakdown

I avoid caffeine like the plague. I have to – it gives me extremely unpleasant anxiety, and anxiety is a mood killer. If you’re taking caffeine even though it gives you anxiety, you’re ruining your mental and physical health. You’re harming yourself in the both the short and long-term. Unfortunately, if you’re taking coffee because you can’t function without it, there are no easy alternatives. In that case, at least take your coffee in a way that maximizes the benefits and minimizes the negatives.

If you are a habitual coffee drinker, a portion of the boost you get from caffeine is because of withdrawal alleviation. Even a mild coffee habit can create biological addiction.

Space out your consumption by 6 to 8 hours. More frequent consumption builds tolerance and can lead to withdrawal symptoms, which can worsen your mood and energy levels and create anxiety. In one study of coffee consumption, those who drank coffee in the morning and then again two more times, four hours apart, actually felt worse than the control group. Those who drank coffee just twice, once in the morning and once eight hours later, had the best results.2

Don’t drink coffee 4 to 6 hours before you sleep. You may think its not impacting your sleep. Let’s get real – it is. You may still find it easy to go to sleep, but the quality and depth of your sleep is hurting.

Sleep quality is one of the most important contributors to mood. Not only can caffeine mask sleep issues by providing artificial stimulation, caffeine can perpetuate a cycle of degrading your sleep, which in turn makes you more tired and requires you to consume even more caffeine.

It may be incredibly hard to cut back to twice a day and to avoid it at night, but it’s worth the effort.

Now let’s jump to another psychostimulant.

Cold Showers, the Caveman’s Coffee

Two Wednesdays ago, I couldn’t fall asleep. I couldn’t fall asleep the next night either. Or the night after that.

That Wednesday, I drank a Starbucks venti coffee, and I had taken two cold showers, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. HUGE mistake!

Cold showers are being explored as anti-depressants and mood enhancers. There are some complicated theories out there suggesting that the cold activates hormesis or shocks the central nervous system. The science so far is highly circumstantial,7,8,9,10 so I’ll just stick with what I know from personal experience.

Cold showers wake me the f*ck up! They get my adrenalin flowing, they spontaneously elevate my mood, and they create anxiety.

That sounds a lot like what psychostimulants do.

Cold showers are like a triple espresso, but free.

If you’re looking to bring your energy to the next level, add in cold showers. They’re also a fun way to build self-discipline. If you’re like me, in the face of pain you don’t really have much discipline. I can’t handle the cold straight up. To make it more manageable, I cycle between hot and cold, slowly increasing the length of the cold after each cycle.

Straight up or mixed, coffee and cold showers are a quick way to infuse a bit of energy and happiness into your daily routine – just don’t overdo it!


3. Modafinil, d-amphetamine and placebo during 64 hours of sustained mental work. I. Effects on mood, fatigue, cognitive performance and body temperature. R Pigeau, P Naitoh, A Buguet, C McCann, J Baranski, M Taylor, M Thompson, I MacK, I J Sleep Res. 1995 December; 4(4): 212–228.
4. Methylphenidate in treating poststroke depression. V. R. Lingam, L. W. Lazarus, L. Groves, S. H. Oh J Clin Psychiatry. 1988 April; 49(4): 151–153.
5. Heatherley, S. V., Hayward, R. C., Seers, H. E., & Rogers, P. J. (2005). Cognitive and psychomotor performance, mood, and pressor effects of caffeine after 4, 6 and 8 h caffeine abstinence. Psychopharmacology, 178(4), 461-470. doi:10.1007/s00213-005-2159-9
6. Haskell, C. F., Kennedy, D. O., Wesnes, K. A., & Scholey, A. B. (2005). Cognitive and mood improvements of caffeine in habitual consumers and habitual non-consumers of caffeine. Psychopharmacology, 179(4), 813-825. doi:10.1007/s00213-004-2104-3

The article was originally posted at, republished with the conset of the author.

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