Why I Quit Caffeine And How I Overcame The Addiction

If you suffer from anxiety after drinking coffee, you should read this

Credit — Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels

Let me guess if you are reading this; there is a good chance you have suffered through anxiety after drinking a steaming hot cup of your favourite coffee.

From being my survival juice to quitting it altogether; I have come a long way on this journey and want to share my learnings with you. If I can summarise my experience in one word, it is — anxiety! Chances are you have experienced it at some point in your life too. However, if you have never felt any terrible side-effects, well, thank your genes. Yes, your genetic build determines your caffeine metabolism — more on that a little later. But it in general if you love coffee as much as I do, it is good to be aware of what caffeine can do to your body.

A big aspect of ‘how’ to quit caffeine or any addiction as such is understanding the ‘why?’ behind it.

Why I left caffeine?

For the first few years, I was alright with two coffee shots in the morning. It was perfect, just like a million others, it would completely wake me up. I would be super active and focused — I would get all my work done. If you love working out, you can relate to the adrenaline rush from a heavy workout. You are pumped and ready to ace anything in life.

Felt like coffee set me up for success; ready to conquer the world. What I didn’t realise though was that I am slowly getting addicted to it.

Days when I’d miss the precious cup of coffee in the morning, I’d be sluggish and grumpy throughout the day.

However, I never consumed more than two shots of espresso a day, a pretty average quantity of caffeine (~125 mg per day) as compared to the (~400 mg per day) safety limit for consumption as per the FDA in the US.

Fast forward to a couple of years later, I started experiencing anxiety after drinking coffee. My blood pressure would go up, and my hands would tremble. My speech would be terrible, and my head a little heavy. I didn’t like the feeling at all.

Imagine you are in a meeting and you are a bit jittery while presenting. It seems like you are not confident about your content, but, in reality, it merely is the caffeine that’s causing the jitters.

Correlation between coffee and anxiety

As per a 2008 study, there is a strong correlation between caffeine and anxiety disorders. Caffeine boosts alertness by hindering a brain chemical — adenosine that makes you feel exhausted and increases serotonin that elevates your mood.

Interestingly, caffeine doesn’t affect everyone the same way — it all depends on your genetic composition. There are two genes specifically (CYP1A2 & AHR) that regulate how caffeine is absorbed in your bloodstream and how long it will stay there — basically what determines your caffeine metabolism. This is the reason why you can gulp four shots of expresso while your friend fears a small amount of caffeine can keep them awake all night.

“For someone who has a genetic variant that leads to decreased caffeine metabolism, they’re more likely to consume less coffee compared to someone who has a genetic variant that leads to increased caffeine metabolism” — Marilyn Cornelis, a caffeine researcher at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois.

Does Filter coffee help?

I also tried experimenting with Filter coffee for a few days and thought it to be the alternative to my usual black coffee. Honestly, ignorance is bliss. I thought as it is filtered, it won’t hit you as hard as black coffee. If you feel the same way, let me bust that myth right away — a filtered cup contains 95 mg of caffeine on an average as compared to single-shot expresso that contains 63 mg of caffeine.

Also, when I experimented with intermittent fasting for a month, I used to drink coffee without any breakfast. Drinking caffeine on an empty stomach proved disastrous for me. I have explained my experience in the below article if you are interested in knowing more about it.

Anyway, in a nutshell, the quantities consumed, genetic composition and lifestyle choices in general (whether you drink coffee on an empty stomach; smoke heavily or have slow metabolic rate) will play a big role in how it impacts your body.

After the research and experiencing anxiety issues myself, I had decided — I want to quit coffee. I can deal with the withdrawal effects but not with the anxiety issues.

How I coped without caffeine?

It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. When I first quit coffee altogether, I wasn’t prepared for it. Let’s call it straight — I didn’t have the self-control to resist the temptation. So went right back to drinking it in a few days — suffered the same consequences and so I stopped again. The cycle went on for a few days.

It seems like I am talking about quitting smoking or marijuana. But if you love coffee as much as I do, you’d know the struggle is real.

And it’s not just the physical urge but also the societal pressure. Giving up coffee could mean no more coffee catch-ups — I don’t wish to stare at the wall while the other person(s) enjoyed their fresh cuppa brew. And God forbid, if someone suggested lemon tea or chamomile to me, I’d kill that person straight away.

I was in a dilemma for days on end. Finally, I thought let’s try decaf — what’s the harm. I’d still be able to get my coffee (smells alright), won’t have to stare at anyone while they enjoy, and it won’t have any side-effects of caffeine either. Perfect! I ordered my first cup of decaf — it wasn’t too bad. It caused no side-effects either except the coffee-shop guy (who used to serve me daily) got a minor heart attack. I can still recall his reaction when he read my order; he exclaimed a huge, “WHAT?” He was as shocked as I was when I switched to decaf. Apart from that, no other side effects.

Also, I was healthy — no rising heartbeats and no anxiety. I was happy.

It was only two weeks before the lockdown. So, two weeks of drinking decaf and I was doing fine except, remember, I want to quit coffee altogether.

As we went into lockdown, I thought maybe it’s a perfect time for me to practice living without caffeine. To my dismay, most superstores ran out of the decaf coffee beans so had to make do with the instant decaf coffee powder.

Worse only got worse for the better. I thought maybe this would help me to quit coffee altogether.

Goodbye to caffeine, not to coffee

Unfortunately no, I can’t give up on coffee (the coffee snob in me didn’t die completely). Also, how can I forget the most important part — my husband? He was on the same journey as I, but he wasn’t ready to give up coffee, no not yet. He had a different plan altogether. He had done his research on coffee machines, and he wanted to buy one.

Yes, the time when I tried to leave coffee, he wanted to buy an expensive coffee machine. Honestly, I wanted it too, but what happens to the whole’ quitting coffee’ plan. Well, long story short, after much research, I couldn’t find any harmful effects of decaf and quitting altogether isn’t possible — at least not right now.

So, we decided to buy a coffee machine that brews the perfect expresso (still decaf, not switching to caf so soon.) And we bought it too — a conventional manual coffee machine.

Now, we are practising how to make the perfect brew. Trust me; there are many factors at play — the filter, the grind, the tamping method, the pressure at which the expresso gets filtered.

Credit — Author’s image of the Coffee machine

Wow, guess the lockdown definitely taught me a thing or two about coffee.

Summary

You can leave caffeine too.

To summarise from my experience the top 3 things you can do to quit coffee.

Understand your body — we all have quite different genetic composition, lifestyle habits, and completely different ways to deal with it. Chances are if you have a pre-existing anxiety issue, coffee might just trigger that.

Deal with anxiety — you shouldn’t ignore anxiety issues. With time it would only get worse. Sleep well, meditate, indulge in Yoga and get enough sun — practice these few things to alleviate anxiety disorders.

Phase it — Don’t leave it at once, it will be way more challenging, and you might experience some withdrawal symptoms too — sluggishness, lack of focus, etc.

Switch to Decaf coffee — If quitting caffeine sounds scary, you can also alternate between decaf and caf before switching to decaf completely. For me, I love the sound of fresh coffee beans crushing in the mortar, trying different types of coffee beans and of course, the smell of coffee. So it’s coffee that matters more than the caffeine in it. It’s similar to getting into another relationship to overcome a bad break-up.

Last but the most important of it all,

Remember how it makes you feel — If you wish to give up caffeine but struggle somehow to quit it altogether, here’s another tip — always remember the after-effects of drinking it. The palpitating heartbeat I experience is enough for me to refrain from touching that cup of caffeine again.

Thinker, self-experimenter, and a newbie writer. I write about personal growth, socio-political issues, and career advice.

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