Sounds a bit ridiculous and probably rather farfetched, doesn’t it? Quit drinking coffee and we can have the life of our dreams? But I assure you that by quitting something that has a major (negative) effect, it can almost certainly contribute to our immediate happiness, as well as our propensity for creating or transforming ourselves into a newer, better us, long-term.
I’ve just spent the last month not drinking coffee. I did another self-imposed 30-day challenge, with the intention of breaking the habit and making myself feel better. No black coffee, latte, cappuccino, mocha or even coca cola. The only thing with caffeine I drank was green tea and that at max 2 cups a day.
If you have followed my other challenges, which so far have been quitting social media and quitting alcohol and smoking, which have been highly successful for me, you’ll also know that I take these challenges seriously. They are not just random challenges for me to blog about, they are part of a much bigger Lifestyle Redesign. By the end of the year I know I will be a completely different version of me, and all through doing a series of micro and macro challenges. Quitting drinking coffee was, however, a big one for me, as I knew it was related directly to my mental health.
Why I quit drinking coffee for 30 days?
The truth is that I have anxiety. I’ve had it since I was about 15, maybe even earlier and it causes all sorts of issues. If you have anxiety you’ll know how debilitating it is and if you get panic attacks like I do too, you’ll also know how horrible they can be.
It’s been several years since I’ve had a full-on panic attack, and my anxiety and fear has also reached probably the lowest levels that I’ve had in a long time, but I can still feel it there bubbling under and causing the rising fear in my chest.
I see fear and anxiety as a block to achieving the things that I want to do. Fear always puts self-doubt in my mind and is linked to limiting beliefs. I also believe that the more fear you have inside you, the less space there is in your heart to love yourself and others.
I’ve done a lot of work on my anxiety, A LOT. From therapy to medication, to yoga and meditation to journaling, EFT tapping etc. They all have helped and a lot of them still have a big place in my healthy Zoe toolkit. However, being that I am on creative sabbatical and largely really don’t have much to worry about I should not be getting anxiety, and certainly not the panic that keeps rearing up and tapping me on the shoulder.
It’s always there, saying hello, reminding me that I have not worried for a while, and so it’s time to start worrying what terrible thing might crop up. Stupid I know, but something is feeding it and deep down I know that a big part of it, at least for me is coffee.
How much coffee do I actually drink?
Interestingly enough I drank coffee from when I was probably around 14 or 15, around the time that my anxiety started (which I had not tied together until I wrote this), so that’s quite eye-opening for me.
If I look back to when my anxiety was the worst, it was probably about 4 years ago and I was having multiple panic attacks a day. I was working stupid hours each day, in a very stressful role and often working 7 days a week. To fuel that I would do high-intensity workouts, plus I would drink two BIG caffetieres of very strong coffee. And I used espresso coffee, Lavazza. All that coffee meant I did not need to eat so much, which saved time and meant I could stay thin and also I could work like a machine. In between the panic attacks of course.
I remember that period of being one of the worst of my life, and I never ever thought it was the coffee until someone pointed out that my coffee habit was excessive. I used to crave it ridiculously. By chance, I had a medical session at The Third Space as part of my membership there and that is how I met Micheal Patrick, who I can probably say changed my life and led me to where I am today, but I’ll tell that full story in another article.
He cleaned my lymphatic system out, which was brutal (the after effects, not the treatment, but worked incredibly well.), and got me drinking a serious amount of water to flush it all out. When I went to him I was in a very bad state, truth be told. The good news is that I have never gone back to those levels of coffee drinking, and I have not had a panic attack since, not even when my father died.
But the coffee use sneaks back upon us and so that’s why I decided it was time to give it the heave-ho again!
The facts on coffee and anxiety
I have never actually googled the link between coffee and anxiety and what I found was actually rather shocking. Coffee, a seemly normal everyday innocuous drink can have an extraordinarily bad effect on someone who suffers from anxiety as it triggers the flight or flight response. I certainly felt it myself, but I just thought I was getting some kind of freak reaction to it. I did not really contemplate the effect that it’s having on entire populations.
Many people overlook the fact that caffeine indirectly increases norepinephrine and causes symptoms essentially indistinguishable from anxiety, including nervousness, irritability, trembling, palpitations, flushing, and heartbeat irregularities, writes, Graham Davey in Psychology Today.
Graham also mentions the writer (and current editor of The Atlantic Magazine) Scott Stossel and his book, the Age of Anxiety. Scott investigates anxiety through the ages, and surprisingly it’s only been recognised as a condition in the last 35 years. He also writes that contemporary coffee culture may be genuinely contributing to modern feelings of pervasive “existential dread”, due to the amount of coffee we are consuming, especially easy now we are surrounded by coffee shops and many of with coffee machines at home.
Rebecca A Clay writing for Web MD reports “Caffeine is the most widely used mood-altering drug in the world,” says Roland Griffiths, PhD, a professor in the departments of psychiatry and neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “People often see coffee, tea, and soft drinks simply as beverages rather than vehicles for a psychoactive drug. But caffeine can exacerbate anxiety and panic disorders”.
If that wasn’t quite enough in terms of anxiety, there are quite a number of other disadvantageous health issues, that can pop up through excess coffee drinking according to WebMD
- Worsens or even creates heart conditions
- Worsens IBS
- Thining bones
If you go on to the Caffeine Informer website things get a whole lot worse. I won’t list out all the symptoms, it’s it’s worth having a browse at the list.
It’s all pretty shocking, and not something you really hear people talking about a lot.
The gifts that quitting drinking coffee for 30 days gave me
Gift 1 – Less anxiety
Almost certainly my anxiety and panic got reduced from stopping coffee. I had already cut it down dramatically from drinking maybe 5 or sometimes more cups of strong Balinese coffee a day (they don’t filter it), to drinking only two, but even the drop of two to zero was sizable.
Did it completely get rid of all my anxiety? No, it didn’t and quite frankly I would have been very shocked if it did, but what it did do, was to reduce it enough, so that what I was left with was a set of real issues that I had that I could begin addressing.
I would say that my fears became less irrational, and reduced as I was not pumping the fight or flight juice into me constantly.
I also did not feel like I had that constant knot in my stomach or in the chest of anxiety. That diminished significantly. Certainly, towards the latter part of the month, I’ve felt myself having more energy and not looking for a pick me up.
Did I get headaches? I got a couple, but about a week after I gave up and I am not even sure that they are linked to giving up coffee. I can’t say that I got any real detox symptoms, but like with the alcohol and smoking that I gave up, I changed my surroundings, so that probably helped.
Sometimes I wonder if the detox effects are really that real anyway? I did not tell anyone I was doing it, I did not go to coffee shops and so I got neither the temptation nor anyone asking me how my detox symptoms were. So maybe it’s like the tree falling down in the forest. If you have no one to tell or complain too and you don’t allow yourself negative thoughts, does detox really happen? Questionable, but I am only trying to explain away my lack of detox symptoms.
Gift 2 – Save Money
Coffee is not free and it’s not cheap in any country. To drink the kind of coffee I like, where I’m living now (Bali) it’s expensive. We are talking $1-4 dollars a cup, depending on where you go. If you are a coffee drinker like I am, one a day is not enough, so that’s several coffees a day and that’s pricy.
Especially if you are trying to save money or use it for something that’s a whole lot more fulfilling than feeding an addiction.
Not “needing” to go out for coffee, means that I did not go out nearly as much, and so avoided shops, food temptations and other things I would see on a daily basis. So I definitely saved money.
Gift 3 – Get Healthier
For sure there is a long list of health benefits against, but actually pro-drinking coffee, but I suspect that the advantages for me, will come on over the long term in addition to reduced anxiety.
For me the healthier part came because I did not go into coffee shops to feed my addiction, so I did not get tempted into cakes and chocolate. The coffeeshops with the good coffee in Bali have a lot of very good cakes, and I love cakes, especially chocolate ones. So I cut back on my sugar, significantly, which was a huge added benefit.
Gift 4 – Save time
I am currently on a creative sabbatical so I’m not actually working full-time, but my goal is still to do more creative things with my time than going to sit in coffee shops daily. I was not a once in a while coffee person, I was an everyday addict, so that’s once or twice a day at minimum. Each time is a good 30 mins to an hour if you sit down there, and that’s time that I could be doing something else.
Gift 5 – Sleep
I am not the world’s best sleeper, at all. I have always had an issue with sleeping, but coming off the coffee has helped with this dramatically. I no longer have to think about what time I’m drinking it or if I will be able to sleep tonight because the chances are that I will get a better night’s sleep.
They say that caffeine stays in your body 4 – 6 hours, but I feel like it’s much longer for me, but then I know that I am unusually sensitive to it.
Gift 7 – More energy
I now wake up before my alarm clock most days, and that’s 6 am for me. No caffeine means I can go to bed earlier and have a better night’s sleep and I’m not struggling to wake up, nor lying in bed hitting snooze.
Neither am I struggling or tired in the afternoon nor desperately craving coffee all the time, because I need that energy hit. This is a big difference for me and I hope that this only continues to increase.
THANK YOU & PLEASE SHARE
I hope you found this useful and I also hope I inspired you to take a look at your coffee intake, especially if you are struggling with anxiety, perhaps even taking a 30-day challenge like I did.
How to create the life of your dreams – 30 Day Challenge series
I’m currently doing a lot of different 30-day challenges to change my habits and ultimately change my life. Little by little, these changes are beginning to shape, transform and clear a path for my next chapter. I started with giving up social media, which was incredibly impactful, moved on to alcohol and smoking and now this one coffee. I have plenty more in the pipeline. 30 days is not as tough as it sounds!
Healthy Alternatives to coffee
Decaf Coffee recommendations
There is, of course, Decaf coffee and as I have not been able to give up the taste I found that this Indonesian Coffee producer Seniman makes very good coffee. It’s not cheap, but I make it at home for breakfast and so I don’t feel like I’m missing out 150,000 rupiahs about £8.00 a bag (yep expensive, but so good).
This was probably the best one that I found in the UK, that tasted anywhere half decent. Most decaf coffee tastes like dishwater, but this one is actually pretty good.
Many years ago, my mum used to drink this. It actually tastes really good. It’s been a long tie since I drank it, but it tastes really good. Apparently, it helps with sleeplessness and nervousness too, which is a bonus.
Green tea does have caffeine in it, but it’s nowhere near as much as coffee and for some reason, it does not affect me in the same way. These are two brands that I love. If you are going to give up your coffee, then treat yourself to something else just as delicious.
This is a French brand, and they have a super high quality and a wide variety of teas available. You can pick them up in the Uk in Selfridges or Harvey Nicholas in loose leaf and I am seriously missing their Vert Provance. It’s green tea, rose and lavender. It’s sensational.
I found these guys at Singapore airport, but they now have a location in London on the Brompton Road. These guys do a great Jasmine Green tea. They have a lot of beautiful teas, so it’s worth going for a visit just to smell them all.
For sure there are a million things to drink apart from coffee, but personally, I still like a warm drink, as I find that super relaxing. I even learned to like camomile tea last year.