There's a reason 150 million Americans regularly drink coffee or similar caffeinated beverages--it gives us an energy boost and increases our focus. In the middle of a tough workday, it can be exactly what we need to feel better, think more efficiently, and hammer out our work in ample time. Unfortunately, overreliance on coffee can actually be a downside, as I once wrote in "7 Reasons Too Much Coffee Is Killing Your Career." It can raise your blood pressure, influence the development of bad habits, and cost you a ton of money--not to mention thanks to caffeine tolerance, it loses its effectiveness over time.
Instead, why not try one of these seven coffee alternatives? They're cheap, easily available, and they'll give you just as much of an energy boost as any cup of coffee:
It's first on this list because it's very similar to coffee, so it's ideal for someone having trouble breaking the habit. It's a hot beverage that's relatively inexpensive and comes along with its own share of caffeine, but a handful of unique factors make it a better overall choice. First, it has less caffeine, so you won't feel as big of an impact and you'll have a lower likelihood of hypertension. Second, many teas--like green tea--are rich in antioxidants, which can boost your immune system and prevent certain chronic diseases. Plus, the wide variety of teas available means you'll never be bored with your beverage again.
2. A healthy snack.
Food can give you a quick rush of extra energy, but be careful where you get that energy. A candy bar might give you a burst of energy from quick-digesting sugar, but it will leave you crashing once the energy is used up. Instead, go for something with protein, healthy fats, or complex carbohydrates. Good choices include hard-boiled eggs, nuts and legumes, or almost any fruit or vegetable you can find. These snacks will provide more energy to your body and more focus to your mind, and will help you close out the day strong.
3. Chewing gum.
Chewing gum may not seem like anything special, but some studies show it can actually improve your concentration. The process of chewing gum actually increases the circulation of oxygen to the brain, which allows you to pay attention for longer periods of time--it also happens to improve your reflexes. Plus, the act of chewing tricks your brain into thinking it's eating, which relieves stress. The end result is that you'll feel less stressed, more focused, and you'll have the perception of a greater amount of energy. As for the flavor of the gum you chew--that's up to you.
4. Quick exercise.
Physical exercise has no downside. When you get your body moving, you stimulate your muscles, increase blood flow and oxygen throughout your body, and produce an endorphin rush that can last up to a few hours after your exercise is over. It doesn't have to be particularly intense or long--a brisk 10-minute walk is enough to start seeing these effects. Head outside and get your body moving however you can, or stay inside and do exercises by your desk (though you may turn some heads in doing so).
5. Stretching and yoga.
Though stretching could be considered a form of exercise, in this context, it's closer to a process of meditation. The goal here is to step away from your screen, put an end to that endless sitting posture, and stimulate blood flow to the muscles of your body. Deep breathing while doing so, as is commonly practiced in yoga, can facilitate a meditative state, which will cleanse your mind of clutter and better prepare you for the rest of the day. By the time you're done, you'll feel refreshed, revitalized, and ready to conquer your work with new energy.
6. Your favorite song.
Don't lie. You sing your favorite song at the top of your lungs when you're by yourself in the car, and you feel a rush when you do it. That extra energy isn't an illusion--singing your favorite song with enthusiasm not only improves your mood, it also stimulates blood flow much in the same way that exercise does. When you need a quick pick-me-up, try heading out to your car for a private karaoke session. Or, if you're stuck inside, try listening to it through headphones and mouth the words or hum along.
7. A real break.
Most of us have grown accustomed to a work culture that favors working through breaks. You might sip some coffee and read a news article, or you might grab a quick bite to eat at your desk for lunch while catching up on emails, but those aren't real breaks. A real break is a complete cessation of work, preferably far away from your work station, doing something you personally enjoy or just doing nothing at all. Take a real break, for a full half hour if you can, without worrying about any of your tasks and responsibilities, and I guarantee you you'll come back with as much energy as you would have by drinking a cup of coffee.
There's nothing wrong with coffee in moderation. But the next time you're desperate for a quick energy fix to get you through the day, experiment with one or more of these alternatives. You may find at least one of them gives you a boost even better than your typical helping of java. You never know until you try.