I did something crazy this past week: I gave up caffeine.
Since I started school on October 1, my anxiety has been through the roof. I was lucky if I got four hours of sleep a night, was cranky all the time, and dripped sweat everywhere I went. So I decided to cut back on any possible triggers, one of which was caffeine.
Caffeine equals coffee to me. I don’t really drink soda and ever since I started drinking coffee every day, I stopped drinking tea. So what I’m really saying is I gave up my daily coffees.
Now, if you know me, you know how much I enjoy my morning routine: wake up, put the kettle on, have a cup (or two) of coffee while catching up on the news or writing. This has been my routine for the past I-don’t-even-know-how-many-years, so to put an end to this caused a ton of anxiety in itself. However, I wanted to see if quitting caffeine would really make any difference in my anxiety levels. Although I’d been advised to cut back on coffee, not cut it out completely, especially for the first couple of days, I still plowed forward and went cold turkey.
Here’s how that week went:
Monday October 8
Tremors. Lots of them. It felt like my nerves were electrified the entire day. I couldn’t focus in class and just didn’t feel engaged. I was feeling extremely down, had no energy, and found myself constantly regretting the decision. And this was just the first day. I didn’t know how I was going to get through the entire week.
Besides the tremors, the headaches were the worst part of the day. They started slowly, right when I woke up, but built and built over the course of the day until I wanted to call it all off. I didn’t take pain relievers though because I hadn’t gotten to that point yet.
Tuesday October 9
This was the worst day of the week. I had a killer headache the moment I woke up, like someone was screwing something into the sides of my head. I was irritable and had absolutely no energy, yet I had seven hours of classes that day. It took all my willpower to force myself into the car and into class. Throughout the day, my symptoms developed into those of a cold: I had body aches and shivers and was freezing the entire day. I honestly don’t know how I got through the day.
I had tons of homework to do that night, but I knew there was no way I could focus enough to do any of it. I also hadn’t run in a week so I was feeling antsy to get some exercise in, but that was completely out of the question too. When I got home, I ate dinner, took some ibuprofen, and went straight to bed (it was 8:30 pm).
Wednesday October 10
The third day was where my mental health started to take a turn…for the better. Even though the physical symptoms had carried over from the previous day (killer headache, body aches, and shivers), my anxiety was at an all-time low this day. I don’t know how to explain it in words but I just felt a lot calmer than I had been in a looong time and less jittery in general.
After work, I forced myself to be productive and did laundry, made dinner, and finished some homework. Although I had low energy all day, I noticed a significant change in my anxiety.
Thursday October 11
I felt good today. Really good. I jumped out of bed at 7 o’clock, did some writing, and was in a good mood for the rest of the day. There was little to no headache, just a bit behind the eyes. I barely thought about my anxiety – it was definitely a welcome change. I was highly productive and got a lot of homework done.
However, after work that night, the leg aches started. I’d heard about this before I quit caffeine. Some people had to wrap warm compresses around their calves all night because the pain was so unbearable. Luckily, mine weren’t that bad but it just came out of nowhere. Right as I was getting ready for bed, the entire lower half of my body ached deeply. It felt like I’d just run a marathon. The worst pain was around my knees, which was interesting and I wondered if my runner’s knee had anything to do with it.
Friday October 12
The headaches came back full force on the fifth day. They were enough to render me unsociable and I didn’t want to talk to anyone all day. After I came home from school, I forced myself to go for a run because I thought maybe the natural endorphins would help. The run boosted my mood for sure, but the headache lingered all night. Also interesting: after Tuesday, I’d taken ibuprofen every day for the headaches, but it never worked.
Saturday October 13
For the most part, the worst seemed to be over. I had small headaches throughout the day but they were certainly manageable. I noticed I produced less sweat throughout the day than I normally did. I had work all day and was worried I’d lose energy quickly, but that never happened either. Overall, this was a pretty good day.
Sunday October 14
I woke up on Day 7 and couldn’t believe I’d made it. Even though there were tiny headaches as the day went on, I was surprised by how my body produced natural energy now. I walked a lot today so I did feel tired at around 5:30 pm, which is when I really craved a coffee, but I drank a bottle of water instead. Today was the day I felt like I could really cut out caffeine forever going forward.
I didn’t change my diet at all this week, but I wonder if it would have been a different experience if I had. The advice I’d gotten before I started was to supplement with lots more fruits and veggies than I normally eat, but I wanted to see just the effects of no-coffee would be.
Writing this now, I feel like this was a positive experience and I definitely want to keep it up. I don’t think I can go the rest of my life without another coffee but I think I’m going to view it as a “treat yourself” item instead of a daily necessity. I used to make fun of people who drank decaf but I may well be one of them now pretty soon because I’m not gonna lie, I miss the taste. I may also drink tea if I have the option as tea has way less caffeine than coffee, but I haven’t set any firm rules yet nor do I feel like I have to. For now, I’ll do another week, then another, maybe another, and just see where it goes from there.
For anyone out there who is thinking of quitting (or cutting back on) caffeine too, let me know how your experience is!