Ever since graduate school, drinking coffee has been the only task I manage to accomplish every single day without fail. It's what gets me going every morning, and it's responsible for some of my most fondest memories with my friends. So when I used to meet people who didn't drink coffee, I couldn't help but feel sorry for them, like they were missing out on life in technicolor. Even though they seemed fine without it, I was convinced that without coffee I would be a tired, boring wreck who wasn't able to accomplish anything of value.
Within the last few months, though, I've been forced to confront my one-cup-a-day coffee addiction. Like any big epiphany, it all started with some innocent Googling. Then I started reading a book called Meditate Your Weight , written by Tiffany Cruikshank, an internationally renowned health and wellness expert I trust. One of the first things she recommends giving up when you're trying to live a healthy, balanced life is caffeine — particularly coffee. She writes, "Caffeine is the great pretender — it masks our true energy levels ... Caffeine also excites the adrenals, the glands that regulate stress, which are already overused and overstimulated due to our hectic lifestyles."
I felt compelled for the first time to take a look at how coffee truly affects me. Here's what I knew for sure: I can't properly wake up in the morning until I'm caffeinated. Although I get a rush of energy from coffee, I also feel like I'm on edge for a few hours after, and it leaves me feeling dehydrated. I also get the late afternoon crash from my coffee, which leaves me feeling so exhausted I can barely get anything useful done after 3 p.m. Finally, I'm a person who has struggled with anxiety for years, and I have to admit I get quite anxious after a cup of joe.
Clearly, none of these side effects are good, but maybe life without coffee was even worse. I was suddenly desperate to find out what would happen if I kicked my coffee habit.
The original plan was to give up coffee for just one week. I wanted to see how my anxiety would be affected, how tired I would be during the day, and whether my ability to concentrate would improve. However, for reasons you'll see below, I decided on the sixth day to extend my experiment for another week.
I was thrilled that my boyfriend, who doesn't get an afternoon crash from coffee but does struggle with anxiety like I do, agreed to embark on the challenge with me. I honestly don't think I would have been able to do it if he hadn't been just as enthusiastic. Not because I needed his support, but because we have a coffee together every single day. I wasn't about to watch him enjoy a soy latte every a.m. while I sipped on a lifeless glass of water. So not fair.
Days 1 And 2
As you can see from this photo, I was trying to go about my morning like everything was OK in the world, but I was clearly suffering on the inside. My eyes were puffy and baggy, and the lethargy became really noticeable around 8:30 a.m., which is about the time I dig into breakfast and a coffee. I still ate a full breakfast, though, and got myself ready for the day, all the while fighting the urge to weep.
Late afternoon, all hell broke loose. At 3 p.m. I felt a dull pounding right behind my eyes. I got really tired and longed badly for a nap. I felt cranky and irritable. When my boyfriend asked if I had finished writing for the day so we could go somewhere for dinner, I screamed something unintelligible in his face. I eventually had to give up on my work for the day because I felt so sluggish.
The next day, the same exact thing happened, and this time, I sank into the couch at 5 p.m., completely exhausted. I bit my nails from all the anxiety that was building up. I watched TV for a few hours with the same dull pounding in the back of my head, then fell asleep and dreamed about coffee beans. So far, it sucked.
Days 3 And 4
Headaches. That's all I can really remember from Days 3 and 4. Miserable headaches. The worst part was how the headaches would tease me. For the first half of the day, I felt absolutely nothing and became momentarily convinced that the worst was behind me. But every day, the headaches would appear a little bit later in the afternoon. On the third day, the pounding sensations crept in at 5:30 p.m., and on the fourth day, at 6:15 p.m. What's worse, I was more tired than before, especially in the morning hours when my system was used to getting that boost of caffeine. It was getting increasingly harder to get all my work done. I even found myself in frustrated tears at one point.
Before lunchtime on Day 4, my SO and I went to see his dad. Anyone who knows my boyfriend's dad knows that he goes to the same cafe every single day (which makes the best double ristretto coffee I've ever had in my life), does crossword puzzles, and drinks about four lattes over the course of a couple hours. We used to love meeting him there, so we knew this visit would be painful. After we listened to his house hunting stories and lusted after his lattes, we spilled the beans that we had recently given up coffee.
"Oh, that's bullshit," he joked. "I'm sorry for you both." We all laughed — but I was starting to wonder if he was right.
Days 5 And 6
My SO and I woke up on a mission. We weren't going to lose this battle! We were better than this! We hauled our tired asses to the nearest park, which featured a staircase of death that had over 130 steps. After sprinting up and down eight times, we felt pretty cheery. With a pep in our step, we went home and made ourselves a couple creamy smoothies. I sat down in front of my computer with the clearest head I had all week. I thought I was in the clear this time, for sure. Much to my dismay, the same crippling headache kicked in right before I sat down for dinner. Enter the anger phase. I was so mad that these headaches were still plaguing me that I wanted to punch a hole in the wall. What was the point of the dumb experiment, anyway?! I fell asleep in a bit of a rage.
The next night, we had dinner plans with my SO's niece, who had recently gotten married, but whose husband we'd yet to meet because they'd eloped to Vegas. When they asked us how we were doing across the table, we blurted out our life-without-coffee aches and pains. Ian, the new hubby, leaned in and said, "I never drink caffeine anymore. I gave it up about a year ago." I felt like hugging him. I started to complain about the long string of unbearable headaches, and how they were messing with my ability to live a normal life.
"Yeah, you just have to stick with it," he said. He then went on to explain that once he held out long enough to get out of the withdrawal phase, his energy levels were through the roof. It made me think this seven-day experiment wasn't long enough. What would happen if I committed to another week? I decided then and there to tack on an extra seven days and find out, because there's no way I just lived through a week of headaches with nothing to show for it.
Days 7 And 8
The next day was my first full day without any withdrawal symptoms. No headaches, no fatigue, and no weird mood swings. I was feeling more like myself. The late afternoon showcased the first big change: I didn't experience any crash during the 3-5 p.m. window. I cruised right along through the evening with hardly any anxiety. It was such a huge relief, but more importantly, it was a hint at the avalanche of positives that were about to come.
At this point, though, I was starting to miss out on the comforting ritual of drinking coffee. I yearned for a reason to walk down to the corner cafe and sip on a warm beverage while chatting with my neighbors. That's when it occurred to me. There was tea. There were even naturally uncaffeinated rooibos chai lattes. I practically ripped open the curtains on Sunday morning and dragged my boyfriend out of bed, screaming, "We can go get a faux coffee! I figured it out! Let's go! OUT OF BED!" He was shocked at first, but once he came to, he yielded. We hopped into the car, drove to our favorite spot, and ordered two soy rooibos chai lattes with a touch of honey. After a few sips, we both looked at each other and determined that this tasted just as good as a coffee, if not better. We brought our lattes in the car and happily drove off to run our errands for the day.
Days 9 And 10
Buying a $4 chai latte every single day of my life probably isn't the smartest fiscal decision, so I decided to be responsible and figure out a way to duplicate the beverage at home. I bought all the necessary ingredients — rooibos chai tea, almond milk, and organic raw honey — and made a copycat drink that wasn't half bad.
This was about the time when I started seeing significant changes in my energy levels. When I got out of bed, I felt wide awake and ready for action. I was also in a good mood for once, skipping around like a morning person would. The liveliness stayed with me all day, and I was more active and able to get more things accomplished.
Days 11 And 12
The next morning, I figured out how to steam my own almond milk at home to get myself one step closer to the chai lattes the corner cafe made so well. I was slowly but surely translating my love for coffee into tea. It seems insignificant, but that small shift made it that much easier to let coffee go.
More importantly, I noticed a significant difference in my anxiety levels. I hadn't been biting my nails as often over the past few days, I could sit still without much fidgeting, and the relentless reel of worrying thoughts in my head was quieter. It feels weird to admit, but mornings turned into a peaceful, calming part of my day where I was able to plan out everything I needed to get done.
"I feel pretty good, babe," my SO said to me as we drove to yoga. "I think I actually feel a little less anxious." I agreed wholeheartedly.
"Right?" I replied. "I swear, I feel like I just started taking the world' best anti-anxiety medication, only with no side effects."
He asked aloud if maybe it was the placebo effect. I knew he was wrong, because when we got home, I wrote for several hours, rearranged my closet, and cooked a yummy dinner. That night, I slept like a baby, free from all the anxiety that usually runs through my head when I climb into bed. I was on fire.
Days 13 And 14
This picture was taken very early on a weekday morning, when I decided to take a long walk before work started. There are no bags under my eyes, and I look pretty alert. I felt fantastic, better than I had in a very long time. I especially liked how this new bundle of energy I had didn't exert itself in one short burst, like coffee did. Instead, it was a slow and steady release of vitality that was completely void of the jittery, on-edge sensations.
At the yoga studio in the evening, I ran into a friend who I used to work with. We exchanged greetings and hugs, and I couldn't help but tell her that I had given up coffee and felt like a superhero. Surprisingly, she nodded and said, "Yeah, man. Coffee is poison. It's like heroin!" I jumped up and down and squealed, "I know, right?!" It was nice to know I wasn't the only nutcase out there who had unearthed the magic of living without coffee.
I usually don't employ the word "never," but I feel pretty confident saying that I'll never go back to drinking coffee regularly. This is coming from a person who used to pass serious judgment on people who branded themselves as non-coffee drinkers. I'm now at a point where I can sit down at a table covered in piping hot mugs of coffee and genuinely not want to take a sip. My partner likes to joke, "Just looking at a coffee makes me anxious now." You laugh, but it's true.
Now that the two weeks are over, I've continued to glow without my daily coffee. I'm most excited about the tangible drop in anxiety; I even find myself more relaxed in most social situations. The nervous thoughts that used to be my constant companions have backed off a bit. I'm not saying my anxiety is cured, but it certainly is suppressed in a way I never imagined possible. The fact that I can concentrate much better on my work is a huge plus, too, as is my ability to make it through the whole day without wanting to take a three hour nap. The headaches are gone.
At first, I was embarrassed to tell people that I wasn't drinking coffee. I mean, what kind of sociopath doesn't drink coffee?! These days, though, I'm so happy living without it that I'm telling everyone I can to try giving it up, especially if they suffer from an anxiety disorder. Say whatever you'd like, but I'll be in the corner sipping on my uncaffienated chai, cool as a cucumber.
Images: Gina Florio; gmflorio (2)/Instagram