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Quitting caffeine to manage my anxiety changed my life.
But as a total coffee addict and fanatic it was no easy task.
I was someone who lived for my coffee rituals. The taste and smell, the buzz, the sudden burst of energy and inspiration, and the sheer enjoyment of going for coffee with friends were my only snippets of light in what was otherwise a very gloomy, highly pressured and chronically anxious life.
But as my anxiety became unbearable to the point of not being able to go to work, I had to seek professional help. This led me to an alternative health specialist who was the first person to warn me about the effects of caffeine on anxiety.
As I was desperate to relieve my constant irritability, nervousness, and excessive worry, get some proper sleep, and continue with my career in investment banking in London, I took the advice of this specialist and went cold turkey for 90 days.
The first week was a nightmare and I had terrible migraines.
But it got easier after that, and with every new day things became more bearable.
Also it didn’t take long for me to start noticing benefits on my anxiety levels, and this helped me to keep going for the entire 3 months.
After being caffeine free for some time and combining this new habit with other healthy lifestyle changes, I wondered if maybe I could start consuming caffeine again.
But despite eating healthily, regularly exercising, and meditating, each time I went back to drinking coffee, my anxiety symptoms went drastically up again. These relapses were helpful because they showed me that caffeine is simply not good for my mental health, which helped me to finally quit for good.
I’m not going to lie and say that I don’t miss my coffee. Of course I do, and that’s normal. But the benefits of being caffeine-free far outweigh any enjoyment I used to have from sipping on my coffee, which has helped me to resist temptation.
Quitting caffeine made massive improvements in my chronic anxiety levels and sleep quality, which for me was life changing, and this is something I truly want you to experience as well.
So, if you are suffering from anxiety and you drink coffee, this article is totally for you.
I will elaborate more on why I quit caffeine for anxiety, the steps I took, and what top tips I have for you.
1. Out of Control Anxiety
Before I gave up caffeine, I was struggling with chronic anxiety and many other physical and mental problems, including
On a friend’s recommendation, I went to see a phytotherapist (alternative health specialist) and she was the first person to give me clarity since my anxiety started at nine years of age.
The phythotherapist explained that, although, the cause of my anxiety was out of my control (war trauma in early childhood), I made my anxiety worse over the years with poor lifestyle choices. She highlighted 1) unhealthy eating, 2) lack of exercise, and 3) high levels of stress, but also 4) caffeine consumption.
She went on to say that, I would need to tackle all four issues if I wanted to reduce my anxiety symptoms.
I felt that she knew what she was talking about, and it made a lot of sense. As I was determined to feel better, I decided I would give these four changes a shot.
2. The Science Was Strong
The thing that further helped me with my decision to quit caffeine was the scientific evidence I found. Reading through academic articles I realized that there is a well-established link between caffeine and anxiety.
Dr. Uma Naidoo, MD, nutritional psychiatrist, Director of Nutritional and Lifestyle Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, on the faculty at Harvard Medical School, and author of This Is Your Brain on Food: An Indispensable Guide to the Surprising Foods that Fight Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, OCD, ADHD, and More, states that.
Caffeine…can precipitate or mimic symptoms of anxiety
– Dr. Uma Naidoo, MD
One 2011 study elaborates,
Although moderate intake has sometimes been considered to be safe or even beneficial, caffeine use has been implicated in several medical concerns including hypertension, cardiac problems, pregnancy risk, anxiety disorders, and insomnia
Another 2013 study showed that,
Caffeine consumption has been associated with a number of negative health consequences, including anxiety, insomnia, hypertension, myocardial infarction, bladder instability, gastroesophageal reflux, spontaneous abortion, and reduced fetal growth
Further, the results of one 2016 study indicated,
A group with a higher caffeine intake tends to have a higher alcohol consumption, lower academic achievement and a higher score of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and stress.
Additionally, while reading through scientific research on anxiety, I learned that the science is also strong when it comes to the other recommendations given to me by the alternative health specialist.
Dr. Naidoo said,
healthy guidelines such as eating a balanced diet, drinking enough water to stay hydrated, and limiting or avoiding alcohol and caffeine…are …dietary considerations that can help relieve anxiety.
How I Quit Caffeine for Anxiety?
Step 1: I Went All In
I decided to go all in for 90 days.
I appreciate that this is a hardcore approach, which might not be for you.
But in my case, I was fed up of allowing chronic anxiety to control my life, and was ready to start making some serious changes to finally feel better.
I began with these 4 major changes on a Saturday morning.
For the first two days, I stayed in bed with terrible migraines, and didn't eat, sleep, or leave the house.
The next 7 days were also challenging. I felt weak, anxious, angry and tired. I was really missing coffee, chocolate and snacks, and I felt very depressed. During that week, although I was managing to eat healthily and do a bit of meditation, I didn't do any exercise.
But after those 9 days, things became easier and I started introducing exercise. With every new day I got stronger, helping me to cope better.
And then something amazing happened during week three. I started to notice positive changes in my anxiety and sleep quality.
This was huge and helped me to keep going.
The more time passed, the better I felt overall, both physically and mentally.
I successfully managed to get through the entire 90 days which was a huge achievement.
By the end of those 3 months I had integrated into my daily routine: healthy eating, walking, meditations, and no caffeine. The result was that I felt while happier and incredibly less anxious.
And, so I decided to continue with the same lifestyle going forward.
Step 2: Learned from the Process
During the next year, I experienced more great benefits
I felt so good that I started to think I’m sure I can have a coffee now and again.
So, I had a few relapses on caffeine.
But each time I went back to consuming coffee I started to feel more anxious, angry, and down, and had trouble sleeping.
Although this was very annoying, it was also helpful in the sense that it showed me two clear outcomes:
Healthy Lifestyle WITH Caffeine = Some Physical Improvements, No Depression, BUT Anxiety and Sleep Problems Persist
Healthy Lifestyle WITHOUT Caffeine = More Physical Improvements + Significant Fall in Anxiety + Better Sleep Quality
In other words, even if I ate well, exercised and mediated, caffeine would still trigger my anxiety.
So, thorough these relapses I finally understood and accepted that caffeine and I are not a good combination. This was crucial in helping me to quit caffeine for good.
3. Practiced Resisting Temptation
After making my final decision about going caffeine-free, I still had to practice resisting temptation going forward.
The way I did that was to affirm 4 statements each time I felt tempted:
- Caffeine increases my irritability and nervousness
- Caffeine stops me from sleeping
- Giving up caffeine gives me terrible migraines
- Quitting caffeine transformed my anxiety levels
I printed out these affirmations and stuck them on my kitchen fridge door, in my journal, and on my bedroom door, helping me to have a constant reminder of what caffeine can actually do to me.
Would I Go Back to Drinking Coffee Again?
I have seen time and time again that caffeine is not good for my anxiety and sleep, and so, I have no plans to consume it again.
As someone who struggled with chronic anxiety for two decades, and finally found a way out of that black hole, I am not prepared to risk going back to that state ever again.
Being free of chronic anxiety has allowed me to enjoy my life again which is in itself life changing.
Should You Quit Caffeine for Anxiety?
Each person is different, and it would be hard for me to say whether quitting caffeine would relieve your anxiety in the same way.
But all I can say is that,
- In my experience, the most effective method for relieving anxiety is a combination of healthy lifestyle and no-caffeine.
- There is scientific evidence to support that caffeine can affect anxiety and cause anxiety-like symptoms, which is important.
So, in my opinion, if you are struggling with anxiety, giving up or reducing caffeine could be worth a try.
I would give it a shot for 3 months, and then if you don’t see any changes in your anxiety, you can always go back to consuming caffeine.
But if you see changes, this could be transformational, and truly worth your while.
If you are not ready to take my approach, you can take gentler steps instead. For example,
- Week 1 - Eliminate your afternoon coffee
- Week 2 – Make your morning coffee half the size
- Week 3 - Switch to decaf coffee
- Week 4 - Quit caffeine
Some anxiety sufferers have reported to me that this gentler approach helped them to experience fewer headaches and side effects.
11 Top Tips for Quitting Caffeine
- Start on a Saturday morning
2. Extend your weekend by taking a few days off work
3. Do a water fast for the first 1-2 days
4. Journal your progress – noting down daily any negative side effects and benefits
5. Remove all temptation from your home
6. Avoid meeting friends in the first two weeks
7. Continue for 90 days
8. Eat healthily
- Consume anti-anxiety drinks such as chamomile, oat straw or valerian root tea
9. Stay physically active
10. Meditate or do yoga
11. Stay Strong
You can do this!
Related Articles on Caffeine
Final Points on Quitting Caffeine
If someone had told me years ago that 1) I'd stop drinking coffee and 2) I'd overcome chronic anxiety, I would have told them that they are mad.
But back then I had no clue that caffeine was making my anxiety worst ten-fold, or that a healthy lifestyle is essential for both physical and mental health.
Once I was given proper guidance about the cause of my constantly increasing anxiety and other health issues, I decided to quit caffeine, and adopt a healthy lifestyle which was transformational.
Although this might give the impression that quitting caffeine alone didn't change my life, I have to point out the following.
Healthy eating, regular exercise and meditation helped me get rid of many physical and mental issues, but these habits alone were not enough to relieve my anxiety and sleep problems.
The perfect solution was healthy living and no caffeine.
Since anxiety was my biggest issue for many years, quitting caffeine relieved my anxiety which changed my life.
If you are suffering from anxiety I would highly recommend that you try eliminating caffeine for three months.
Whether you go hardcore and quit caffeine, adopt health eating, regular exercise and meditation all at once, or in stages, is entirely up to you.
But if you adopt all four, with time you are likely to notice incredible benefits both mentally and physically which is life changing.
Give it a try. Do what you can.
I wish you all the success from the bottom of my heart
Latest posts by Sandra Glavan, Anxiety Coach (see all)
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