How did I hack my anxiety? I quit coffee.
Since quitting coffee, I’m a new woman. Yes, a lot of other things have changed since then, but I don’t think I would have made the mental and physical progress I have if I kept on with the one cup, sometimes two-a-day ritual.
In the months prior to the moment I quit, there was multiple times I’d taken stock on how that delicious almond latte made me feel, and to be honest, five minutes post latte I was yawning and could have likely taken a nap. So surely coffee couldn’t be the answer for more energy, right?!
For a few different reasons this time in my life was quite a stressful period for me, my anxiety was worse than ever, particular relationships had become toxic which took me from stress, to frustration to anger and dealing with these things in very unhealthy ways; cue alcohol, bad diet, late nights and the viscous circle of pepping myself up with coffee to mask the unhealthy vices.
THE MOMENT OF TRUTH
This stressful period finally came to a head, leading to burn out and a mild nervous breakdown. Thankfully I have a great support network around me and was able to work through it, but the best piece of advice I was given, by my GP, was to stay away from coffee. This was to be an interim measure while I healed (no coffee, alcohol and as little sugar as possible), and whilst this feels inappropriate to say in not wanting to discount the severity of mental illness, thankfully at the time I wasn’t in a state where I craved coffee, so it was easy to let it go.
Months after I had healed and my mental health was back on track, I once again took stock of coffee/caffeine and how my mind and body felt whilst under the influence (yes, caffeine now feels like a drug). I decided to make a bit of a thing of it, and try not to slip back into the get up and grab a coffee ritual, and now, I’m so thankful I’ve stayed away.
As someone who has suffered from anxiety for many, many years and from its various forms – GAD (general anxiety disorder), social anxiety and mild panic disorder – quitting coffee has been the one of the best things I could have ever done for my overall health and wellbeing. I still experience it from time to time, mostly a type of performance anxiety but this comes from a place of wanting to do well at a task, mostly public speaking. However the day to day shadow that was anxiety has gone, bringing a whole new lease on life.
CAFFEINE – THE LOW DOWN
Caffeine is the only thing we humans ingest that stimulates our sympathetic nervous system – our fight or flight response, aka there’s a bear chasing you, and gurl, you better run!
Here’s a little 101 on the nervous system, mind the jargon –
The CNS – Central Nervous System – is governed by your conscious, thinking mind.
Things the CNS controls: throwing your hands in the air like you just don’t care, singing along to that banger on the radio, placing yet another order from The Iconic, or not – you can control all of these things.
The ANS – Autonomic Nervous System – is governed by your subconscious. In other words, the things our bodies just miraculously do.
Things the ANS controls: healing those blemishes on you face, growing back our hair repeatedly after waxing or shaving, allowing our manis and pedis to continue growing out and keeping those hearts of ours beating.
The ANS then branches off into two arms – the Sympathetic Nervous System and the Parasympathetic Nervous System.
The SNS (no, not the mani) – Sympathetic Nervous System – is the fight or flight zone, which signals to our bodies to produce adrenaline in a time of acute stress. Our body’s perception of adrenaline is that our body is in danger.
Things that activate the SNS: caffeine, bad drivers and near car crashes, innate fears, sleeping through your alarm, tripping down a set of stairs, seeing that ex that you really don’t want to run into.
The PNS – Parasympathetic Nervous System – is the rest, digest, repair and reproduction zone; our body’s built-in chillout mode. The PNS is only able to be influenced by our breath; short sharp breaths will activate the SNS, whereas long breaths deep into your belly will dial in the PNS like that ‘I need you now’ call from a friend when you’re on a bad date.
Things that the PNS activates: stress reduction, lowers blood pressure, strengthens the immune system, increases general wellbeing and feelings of happiness.
The link back to coffee – back in the day (humans have inhabited earth for about 150,00 years), our fight or flight response was physical; running from that bear or being chased by another tribe. Today, our stressors are mostly psychological; too many emails, road rage, toxic relationships, breakups, societal pressures. Hate to break it to you – caffeine activates the same response on our nervous system as the above said things, pumping adrenaline into our systems.
Two thousand years ago, when adrenaline spiked because the SNS was activated, we’d run from that bear and use up all of the adrenaline. Now, mostly, when stress causes adrenaline production, we’re sitting around, on our delicious peaches so the adrenaline stays in our system - unless we get it out (think getting your heart rate up with a run, meditation, moving your body and breathing).
If we don’t get the adrenaline out of our system, that’s when it can spike cortisol production. All of those continual stressors keep cortisol circulating in your system, and unless you’re taking the above mentioned measures to get it out of your system (heart rate up), it’ll stay there. Cortisol can be great short term, it wakes you up in the morning, helps you swerve around that bad driver or catch your phone before it drops and smashes. However, when cortisol is circulating in your system for a long time, that’s when it leads to some, or potentially a lot of negative health effects.
Here’s a list of them:
High blood pressure
Changes in your menstrual cycle; infrequent periods or worse, none at all
Inability to concentrate
Feeling tired and wired
Difficulty staying/falling asleep
Increased belly fat
I hate sounding like a fear monger, but after experiencing how different my mind and body feels without caffeine, this is information I wanted to share. This simple elimination or crowd-out can make such a difference; if you’re experiencing these symptoms, or just looking to make some changes, this one could really help. It’s also nice for your wallet, and the environment if you’ve not yet switched to a keep cup.
If you’re addicted, quitting cold turkey can sound horrifying, luckily there’s things you can do to make weaning to the bean a bit easier.
Start cutting the number of coffees you drink in a day; 3 to 2, 2 to 1 etc
Switch to decaf whilst you detox from the caffeine – decaf still contains about 2mg of caffeine per cup so you’ll still get a wee hit
Switch to matcha or green tea – matcha is the green tea leaf ground and consumed, which contains about half to one third the amount of coffee, and the caffeine is different to that in the coffee bean; there’s an amino acid in green tea called L-theanine, which releases the caffeine much more slowly creating a calm yet energetic boost as opposed to a spike then crash effect.
Begin your day with lots of water – as soon as you wake up, drink at least 1 litre of water, or start with 1 glass and slowly build to 1 litre when you’re in the habit. When we wake, we’ve not drunk water for 6-8 hours and the body can be dehydrated, so it’s important to replenish ASAP. This also helps to energise the body and prevent hunger cravings, so it sets you up well for the day.
Take your lady-balls out of your purse, and just, simply, quit!
If you’re a coffee drinker and are bored of anxiety having a hold of your life, I hope this hack will be a step towards liberation for you. For guidance around quitting coffee, I’d love you to reach out or book a consultation, because gurl, to quote Moloko, the time is now.