Initially, I had quit because of environmental concerns, trying my best to keep my consumption habits as local as possible. Another motivating factor was coming to realize how dependent I had become on this substance. One time, I had forgotten to bring coffee on a camping trip, and found myself in complete misery the next morning with a raging headache from caffeine withdrawal. It seemed unwise and unfortunate to be to physically and psychologically dependent on a substance that’s not really necessary.
Fast forward all those years, and I found myself with the same complaints as before, with an additional motivating factor: over the course of three months, my anxiety had gone through the roof become completely unmanageable. This wasn’t the baseline anxiety we get from having bills to pay or worrying about impending climate catastrophe (you know, the usual), it was anxiety about nothing, and I could feel it grinding away at me, both physically and mentally. Needless to say, this was seriously affecting my quality of life.
Of everything that I know that I need to do to ease my lifelong generalized and social anxiety, one of the most obvious, and yet, the most difficult things to do, is to quit caffeine– coffee in particular.
A Complicated Relationship
We live in a culture that loves its uppers and downers, legal or illegal. I don’t mean to demonize coffee or alcohol, but I can say with certainty that I myself, and many others, have an unhealthy relationship with these and other substances. All of which take us out of the moment, impede mindfulness, and contribute to a cycle of hyper-stimulation and exhaustion.
Now, I don’t mean to imply that this is true for all individuals and that everyone should quit drinking coffee. After all, it does have certain health benefits, such as being potentially protective against dementia, and our bodies metabolize substances differently depending on our genes. But I’m willing to bet that many of you folks are in a similar position as I am, where you’re struggling to keep up with a world that demands too much, too fast. We struggle to meet these expectations on our own energy stores, and have come to depend on this artificial boost to get us through the day. If this sounds like you, do consider quitting– at least for a time. For everyone else… mindful consumption can only be a good thing.
My Reasons For Quitting
1. Living off borrowed energy
Stimulants like caffeine trick your body into working overtime when you don’t actually have the energy to. The expression, “writing checks your body can’t cash” comes to mind. In order to be physiologically and psychologically healthy, humans should be allowed to follow our natural cycles and rhythms. It’s perfectly normal to want to slow down and conserve energy in the wintertime, or be more active during spring and summer with the increased hours of daylight. Instead, we’re like factory farm hens kept under bright florescent lights 24/7, duped into constant egg laying. Productive yes, but without crucial rest, there is a heavy cost– depression, susceptibility to disease, and a drastically shortened lifespan.
2. Prolonged Mediocre Sleep
Our body repairs itself when we sleep. I think a lot of stimulant-users have forgotten what it’s like to sleep soundly through the night or what it’s like to truly feel well rested in the morning. I know that coffee affects my ability to sleep well at night, even if I avoid drinking it after noon (that probably makes me a slow metabolizing type). The harder it is to get to sleep, or the worse the quality of sleep, the more tired we feel in the morning– which means more coffee just to get through the day, and in turn poor quality sleep. That’s the cycle of caffeine dependence for you.
3. Poor Circulation, Chronic Stress & Anxiety
Coffee is a vasoconstrictor, which is why it can be helpful for relieving headaches. Unfortunately, I have poor circulation and coffee exacerbates this problem. In the cold and damp Pacific Northwest, this is a game I can’t afford to play. I can’t tell you how distressing it is to have your fingers or toes go numb, even when you’re wearing wool and plenty of layers. And what’s worse is, I tend to drink the most coffee during the cold months. As I mentioned earlier, this is to jolt myself out of my natural inclination to increase rest and move more slowly to conserve energy. If you can avoid it, don’t wait until winter to quit coffee… I’ve found this to be near impossible!
For some folks, myself included, caffeine may negatively affect the nervous system. It causes the release of adrenaline into the body, launching us into a state of heightened awareness. This is our fight or flight mode, a stress response, during which our blood pressure goes up, muscles tense, breathing becomes rapid, heart rate increases, and digestion slows down. Short-term stress is not only fine, but necessary for health– and it can help protect us from real threats to our safety. Prolonged stress, however, is very damaging and can lead to cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and other diseases. And although caffeine can sometimes be used therapeutically for some psychiatric conditions, it can also exacerbate a number of mental health issues. This is especially true for people with anxiety and panic disorders.
4. Mindfulness & Connection to Spirit
Mindfulness practice is a central part of my life these days, and I can tell you that trying to be fully present and embodied in the moment is very difficult when your body and mind are “jacked” on caffeine. I find that caffeine exacerbates both sensory processing issues and patterns of overthinking. If you’re already a very mentally-oriented person with a lot of inner dialogue going on in your head, perhaps constantly planning and preparing or getting lost down rabbit holes of the mind, coffee will probably exacerbate these tendencies. That restlessness makes it near impossible to be still, grounded, and fully engaged with the present moment.
For me, the deepest and most meaningful connections with Spirit have been through that quiet, relaxed, and grounded stillness. These cherished moments deepen and become more frequent without caffeine pulling my focus into the mental sphere.
6. Environmental Impact
Coffee production, even fair trade organic coffee, takes a large toll on the environment. Because it’s a monocrop, it contributes to deforestation, habitat loss, soil erosion, and increased susceptibility to pests and diseases. Because of the soil depletion and lack of vitality of the plants, chemical pesticides and fertilizers are needed. And of course, like all imports, it relies on the fossil fuel industry to transport the product over long distances for sale. To reduce our negative environmental impact, we should be more discerning in our consumption of both imported and local goods.
The Process & My Progress
Having been down this road before, I know how to quit effectively. What I had been missing was the motivation to stick with it long-term. At the time of writing this, I’m about three weeks in with no coffee and have instead been drinking two cups of green or black tea throughout the morning, and now that the weather is cooling down I’ve been enjoying a lot of herbal tea later in the day. I have a collection of caffeine-free herbal teas over at Chickadee Apothecary if you’d like to check those out!
Listed below are the steps that I use to wean myself off coffee and caffeine in general. The key is to very gradually reduce the amount of caffeine to avoid withdrawal headaches. Here is a chart you might find useful, which shows the different levels of caffeine in various common beverages.
Step 1: Drink Coffee Black, Limit to One Cup
No cream, no sugar, no added flavors. Just omitting milk in my coffee is usually enough to get me down to one cup a day because it doesn’t taste as delicious without milk, and eventually I lose interest in it entirely.
Step 2: Switch to Yerba Mate or Black Tea
Chai, Earl Gray, English Breakfast, etc. as well as earthy Yerba Mate, have less caffeine than coffee but will still give you a substantial kick. If you don’t care for any of these, skip to the next step.
Step 3: Switch to Green Tea
Green tea has a level of caffeine I can tolerate without getting jittery or it noticeably affecting my sleep. I still avoid drinking it very late in the day, though. My favorites are jasmine and sencha. Jasmine is more robust with a gorgeous floral flavor, and sencha is nice and mild, good for sipping throughout the morning and afternoon.
Step 4; Go Decaf, Coffee Substitute, Or Caffeine-free Herbal
I personally have no interest in decaffeinated coffee or tea, but I imagine this would be the point to switch over to that if you really love those flavors, but are trying to drastically reduce caffeine intake.
There are so many delicious, naturally caffeine-free herbal teas that can be consumed any time of day or night. In herbalist communities, roasted dandelion or chicory root is a well known coffee substitute. I’ve been drinking a product called teeccino, which doesn’t exactly taste like coffee, but it has a deep, earthy, full body like it. Some of the varieties do have barley, which contains gluten– so if you’re sensitive, be aware of that.
We Can Do It!
Whatever your reasons for wanting to reduce or eliminate coffee or caffeine, know that there are a lot of other folks out there going through a similar situation. It can be really helpful to talk to someone who’s struggling similarly so you can encourage and support each other through the process.
I can happily report that in only this short period of time, my anxiety and physical tension have all but disappeared and I’ve seen a vast improvement in my quality of sleep and general mood. I can’t guarantee that I’ve had my last cup of coffee during this lifetime, but for now, it’s been well worth the effort and I’m looking forward to seeing further benefits of this gradual weaning-off process.
Do this resonate with you? I’d love to hear about your experience with coffee or caffeine dependence, reactions, struggles as well as tips and tricks to quit. Share below!