It’s no secret that I love tea. I have a regular tea review feature on my instagram page, and occasionally tea reviews make their way onto this blog as well. I probably drink too many cups of tea a day, and that only escalated while I was on maternity leave – probably partly due to a need for caffeine thanks to being up all night with Little Man, and partly as a reaction to being forced onto the decaff stuff while I was pregnant. I’ve always found tea drinking to be soothing, and I have a range of different teas at home. But can drinking tea actually be good for your mental health?
Tea For Mental Health
In the UK, at least, we tend to brew up a cuppa as an automatic response to any stressful situation. It’s a stereotype that’s also kind of true – we drink 50 billion cups of tea a year, and one in ten of us drinks six or more cups per day. That’s a lot of tea. So is all that tea working to help us deal with stress – or are we just drinking for the flavour?
What does the science say?
Before we look at the science around tea and mental health, we need to first consider: what is tea? Technically, “tea” is a beverage prepared using the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant – this includes teas such as black tea, green tea, and matcha. If your tea isn’t made from camellia sinensis leaves, then it’s really a herbal tea a.k.a. a tisane or infusion. Different types of tea will have different chemical properties, making that their effect on mental health will not be directly comparable. So in looking at research on tea and mental health, we first have to understand what “tea” the researchers were actually using for their work…
Studies on the effects of drinking tea on mental health
Researchers have found that drinking camellia sinensis tea lowers the stress hormone cortisol. And that’s not all: drinking half a cup of green tea a day also seems to lower the risk of depression and dementia – one study in Korea found that people who habitually drank green tea were 21% less likely to develop depression over their lifetime, compared to non-drinkers. That is a protective effect equivalent to undertaking 2.5 hours of exercise a week – not bad for a cuppa you can enjoy while sat on your sofa.
Similarly, studies in Japan and China also found green tea drinking to be associated with a lower risk of depression. And it’s not just green tea – other studies have shown that camomile tea (a herbal tea or tisane) may also have an antidepressent effect.
The small print
However, it should be noted that, while there is evidence that regularly drinking some teas can help improve mood in healthy populations, there’s not yet any evidence that it can help people who are already suffering from mental illness. And, of course, the studies discussed above only look at two types of tea – green tea and camomile – out of the huge variety of different teas and tisanes that you can buy. So it’s a little premature to reach a conclusion about the benefits of tea drinking…
Additionally, the studies that have been done don’t necessarily tell us where this protective effect is coming from. Is there a chemical (or chemicals) in tea which reduces our risk of depression – or could it actually be more complicated than that?
Tea Drinking and Mindfulness
Some researchers have suggested that some of the physical and mental health benefits from tea could actually be related to the act of preparing tea, rather than the ingredients within the drink itself.
Tea preparation as a form of mindfulness
The rituals of making and drinking tea can act as a form of mindfulness. Mindfulness is about paying attention to the present moment, to your body, your sensations and what’s happening around you. It is recommended by the NHS and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence as a recognised way to treat depression. You can read more about mindfulness here. Preparing and drinking tea can act as a form of mindfulness, because it involves taking time out of your day, stopping whatever you’re doing to focus on preparing your tea, engaging your body in making the tea and enjoying the smells and flavours that go with it.
Tea preparation rituals around the world
In fact, all around the globe, many cultures have developed formal practices around the making and drinking of tea, which reflect this meditative and ritualistic aspect to tea preparation.
In parts of East Asia, the ritual of making tea has been elevated into the tea ceremony, a ceremonial way of preparing and presenting tea – perhaps the most famous form of tea preparation ritual. In Morocco, mint tea is traditionally prepared for visitors to the home and three glasses are served, each representing a different aspect of life (check out my recipe for fresh mint tea here). Russia has its zavarka tradition; Argentina its mate culture; and of course here in the UK we have the traditional afternoon tea, where the cakes and sandwiches are arguably as important (or even more important?) than the tea itself. It’s interesting that so many different cultures across the world have all developed these distinct rituals around preparing and serving tea.
How to create your own tea ritual for mindfulness
The simple process of taking time out of your day to prepare and enjoy a cup of tea is really a ritual in itself. But if you’re specifically looking to practice mindfulness for your mental health, you can consider creating your own tea ritual for mindfulness and wellbeing. It can be easier to bring elements of mindfulness to an every day activity like making tea, compared to finding the time to meditate or undertake other more formal mindfulness rituals.
The key element of any mindfulness practice is to really pay attention to what you’re doing and the physical experience you’re undergoing. So as you’re preparing your tea, consider:
- What sounds are you hearing? For instance – a boiling kettle, the clink of a teaspoon, the gurgling as you pour hot water into a cup.
- What do you see? How does the liquid change colour as the hot water and/or milk is added to the cup?
- What else can you sense? The warmth of the cup in your hands, the smell of the tea as it’s brewing, the taste of the tea when you start to drink.
- How do you feel? As you sip your tea, can you take a few moments to consciously relax your body, take some deep breaths, and enjoy this time?
Top tips on creating your own tea drinking mindfulness ritual
If you’re looking for some more detailed guidance on how to create a mindfulness practice based around tea drinking, there are lots of great resources out there. I like this guide about how to be mindful with a cup of tea, and this guide to creating a slightly longer tea ritual, for when you have more time to spare.
Tea for Mental Health: A Summary
So, in summary – yes, tea drinking can indeed be good for your mental health. And frankly, that’s enough of an excuse to justify my next cuppa! But it’s not a magic cure that will leave you feeling better overnight… Things are rarely that simple. By incorporating mindfulness practice into the simple enjoyment of making a cup of tea, you may be able to take best advantage of the mental health benefits of drinking tea.
Your thoughts on tea and mental health
Do you practice mindfulness when drinking your morning cuppa? Do you feel that tea drinking has had mental health benefits for you? Or have you enjoyed experiencing tea culture around the globe? Please share your experiences in the comments, below!