Saturday, November 2, 2019

On giving up caffeine

As of 2019 I'd been drinking coffee for 15 years. A long time. And for most of that time I couldn't see much reason to give it up. But as I had been working on other habits - diet, exercise, alcohol, tobacco - I wondered: 'what would happen if I was able to stop drinking coffee?'.

So I spent 2019 cutting back, eventually cutting it out of my life completely. This is the story of how I did it, the transition, and after effects.

How I Gave up Caffeine

For years I'd been on a spin-cycle. At first I'd drink more and more coffee as my tolerance grew. Then when I found myself drinking too much I'd cut back, experience some headaches, and start the cycle over again.

Occasionally I'd try to go cold turkey but couldn't handle the withdrawal. Then in late 2018 I realized there was an easier way.

That way was simple - I started mixing the regular coffee beans I bought with caffeine-free ones. There were some hiccups along the way, but for the most part I'd cut the caffeine content in my coffee 2-4% each time I purchased more, and I did this until the mix was completely caffeine-free.

Because I stepped down slowly I had an easier time adjusting to each new level. And by the time I managed to eliminate the caffeine content I wasn't missing it anymore.

Why I Gave up Caffeine

I've always been someone who moves fast. I walk fast, I eat fast, I work fast, I think fast. But it had never dawned on me that the reason I do these things quickly is because my mind moves fast.

Eventually I realized that caffeine was making my mind move even quicker, so quick that it was giving me anxiety. And because caffeine had been a regular part of my life for so long, I missed the connection. I just thought anxiety was a part of who I was.

But after eliminating it from my diet that anxiety dissipated almost completely. My heart rate entered a new even keel, and I felt much more balanced than I had in years.

What Happened as I Quit

When I reached a mix of about 30% regular, 70% caffeine-free coffee it had a profound effect on my day-to-day life. I found myself more grounded, calmer. My observational skills improved markedly, and I was experiencing less anxiety.

I started noticing the little things around me more often, subtleties I had missed while spending so many years overthinking. I started making better decisions, as it was easier to quietly deliberate without reacting spontaneously. With a clear mind I also found it easier to carry on conversation.

I even started enjoying my life more. I found it easier to sit down and focus - whether on TV, books, music, or company - and actually appreciate those things now that my mind wasn't racing.

Later as I tread closer to completely caffeine-free I started sleeping more soundly and regularly, and it became easier, not harder to wake up.

Even stranger I found that I had more energy, not less. Except it was a balanced, calm energy, rather than a frantic over-caffeinated one. I wondered if this could actually be possible?

The Science

Up until I went to university I'd never been a coffee drinker, and some how I'd gotten on fine without it. So how could it be that as adults we're convinced that caffeine is a necessity?

In my experience breaking different addictions I'd tend to believe that I truly needed and enjoyed what I was dependent on.

But addiction is a chicken/egg problem. We consume caffeine because we're reliant on it, and we're reliant on it because we consume it. The consumption perpetuates more consumption, and the kicker - desire.

Where in reality the body is naturally adapted to deal with day-to-day life if you let it do it's thing. It has hormones to wake itself up, hormones to put it to sleep, and for everything else it needs. So in truth caffeine only interferes with what the body does naturally.

And in my past experiences once I broke the addiction I broke the desire too. When I was no longer dependent on a substance, my body started doing that thing naturally, and I stopped craving whatever it was.

After Quitting

After giving up caffeine coffee culture looks strange to me. People spending money on something they don't need, and feeling worse because of it; harder to wake up, harder to get to sleep, stress, and at a greater expense.

And since I've eliminated it from my diet I haven't felt better in a long time, I won't be going back.

Ultimately, caffeine and similar are personal choices, but I share these thoughts because I can now see how unnecessary a caffeinated lifestyle is. I can also see how many have the mistaken assumption that we need it to manage our lives.