I Tried and Tested Giving Up Coffee To Help My Anxiety

Welcome to the twelfth day of Blogmas with Sara Laughed, where I’m blogging every day ’til Christmas Day. Head over to my Blogmas calendar to see the full collection, or click on the gift tag below!

I started drinking coffee in middle school (and before you ask, I’m 5’10, so it didn’t stunt my growth). In the years since I started drinking coffee, it’s become such a big part of my life that specific kinds of coffee bring back memories. For example, every time I drink cheap, burnt coffee, it brings me back to the college dining halls where I’d camp out for hours studying. Dunkin’ Donuts coffee brings me back to volunteering at Camp Sunshine. “Grootmoeder’s koffie,” made the way my grandmother used to, reminds me of mornings chatting with my mom.

But despite all those happy memories, I have my doubts about the stuff. Coffee might keep me awake, but it can also makes me jittery, which isn’t great for my anxiety or my stress levels in general. Over the last few weeks, I noticed myself drinking more and more coffee every day to feel more awake, and being jumpier and more anxious at night as a result.

So, what did I do? I quit cold-turkey, of course.

I Tried and Tested Giving Up Coffee To Help My Anxiety

I once joked to a friend-of-a-friend that I like finding the things that make me happy and testing whether I’m strong enough to live without them. That might sound a little intense, but I think it’s good to question the invisible things that make up so much of our lives, like screen time and coffee. At best, I’ll learn something about myself. At worst, it makes for a fun blog post.

Day 1:  Breaking the Habit

The first day of quitting coffee wasn’t too difficult. I had heard a lot of horror stories about caffeine headaches and withdrawal symptoms, but for the most part In just felt groggy on Day 1. We had a guest over for dinner and watching a movie with her perked me up a bit, though by the end I definitely noticed myself drifting a little. I managed to stay awake until my normal bedtime — around 12:30 — but fell asleep the second my bed hit the pillow.

Day 2: The Headaches Set In

The second day of my no-coffee journey was rough. I had intermittent headaches throughout the day, and sometimes felt a little dizzy or nauseous, though most of those symptoms went away with water. At night, I could barely keep myself from falling asleep during dinner, and took a nap after dinner. That night I went to bed around 11 and slept until 9AM the next morning!

Day 3 to 5: Pros and Cons

By the third day, I was experiencing fewer headaches, so I had a better chance to pay attention to my sleep and anxiety. I didn’t notice a huge change in my feelings of stress or anxiousness during the day, though my sleep was significantly better and deeper than it had been before — I woke up less often, for less long, and generally felt better-rested when I woke up. The problem was that I often had a harder time getting up in the morning as a result; I struggled to feel that burst of energy and mental clarity in the morning without coffee.

Another negative that I noticed was that I was pretty irritable because I felt so tired during the day. I snapped more quickly and had a hard time focusing on things, which made me grumpy.

Days 6 and 7: Tea Just Isn’t Cutting It

By the last few days of my experiment, I was drinking a lot more tea than usual, but I found that it just wasn’t giving me the same boost of energy and clarity that coffee used to. That makes sense — coffee has much higher levels of caffeine than tea does, so even several cups of tea won’t measure up.

I didn’t find that coffee had a large measurable effect on my anxiety, though I definitely noticed that I slept better when I stopped drinking it. What I really realized, though, was that the addiction that I had to coffee wasn’t just physical; it was psychological. Part of the reason that I missed coffee was because I associated it with my favorite parts of the day — getting to work, taking a break, or relaxing in the evening. More than that, I felt like I needed it in order to work hard, stay focused, achieve my work goals. Realistically, no amount of caffeine can do that for me, but in my mind, coffee played an integral part in achieving those things.

Answering Your Questions

I’m trying to find new ways to include my readers in me content, so in addition to sometimes including polls on what I should write about next, I’m going to start including your questions in my blog posts! The first is from @perfectlysass on Twitter.

I definitely did! My headaches only lasted the first few days, but I was pretty groggy and irritable throughout the whole week. I’m not sure that I can give much advice, other than staying hydrated! I read that drinking a lot of water helps mitigate the withdrawal headaches, and it definitely helped with me!

The second is from @hininetyseven.

I had a really difficult time getting my act together in the morning, honestly. I wish I could say that quitting coffee brought me tons of energy — and I think that maybe, given enough time without coffee, I’d regain my normal energy levels. But doing it for just a week only left me tired in the mornings!

Last words

Though I didn’t achieve many measurable results in this week, I did learn something interesting about myself and my relationship to the things I crave. Now that my experiment is over, I’m drinking coffee again — but I might be interested in trying a longer-running experiment to cut out all caffeine for a few weeks, and see what that does for my energy levels. I think that a large part of the reason that I didn’t experience big results with this is that I didn’t cut out caffeine entirely, and that I also didn’t do it for long enough. So who knows, maybe a month-long experiment is next for me!

Author: Sara Laughed

I'm Sara, a blogger, programmer, and American abroad. I live in the Netherlands my boyfriend and our 11 plants, and in this space blog about my life, discoveries, and mistakes. Follow along here or on social media!

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  • Thanks for opening up about your struggle! I’m 3 weeks caffeine and alcohol free (also because of my general health / anxiety) and I feel pretty great! Luckily I didn’t experience any headaches but I had a week where I just felt totally exhausted. I’ve learned to love tea with age.

  • This is so interesting Sarah!! I’ve always been a tea > coffee girl, but there was a semester in college where I had little sleep due to my schedule and started to rely on coffee for the higher caffeine. I noticed after about a month my moods were starting to be ALL over the place- so I cut the coffee and my moods went back to normal. Isn’t that crazy? Now I only have it rarely!

    xoxo A
    http://www.southernbelleintraining.com

  • It’s important to figure out what does and what doesn’t work for you, especially when it comes to dealing with anxiety. It’s such a unique animal, and I commend you for trying to figure out if coffee was a factor that affected your anxiety. I’m glad that you learned something valuable from your experience!

  • A very interesting experiment! I personally feel the effects of lacking coffee pretty quickly. A couple weeks ago, my power went out and I wasn’t able to get coffee until a few hours after waking up, but I was already nursing a decent headache. Like you, it’s also become more of a habit than a “wake-me-up” sort of thing!

  • I have tried to cut out coffee out of my diet (mostly because we’re trying to conceive) and I honestly was so excited that I felt like I didn’t “have” to have it! I did really find that I liked tea too, though.

    xoxo, SS

    Southern and Style

  • I rarely drink coffee. I honestly only drink coffee when I have a lot of exams, which are stressful. That’s why I often associate coffee with anxiety. For me, less coffee during exam time does help with anxiety.

  • This is interesting. I don’t drink coffee too much but when I stop drinking soft drinks I get caffeine headaches. It’s so weird that is can have an effect on your body like that.

  • I did three or four weeks without coffee back in February and March and it was hard but I found that I slept more when I wasn’t drinking it. Plus, it made me realize that I usually only drink it for the taste or just the idea of having coffee. This made me realize I could totally be drinking decaf way more than just regular coffee.

  • Whoaaaa!!! Why did you start drinking it in middle school? I don’t think I started drinking it on the regular until college. Now, I just reaaaallllyyyy love the taste, but I don’t need it.It is amazing that you learned more about yourself by doing this!

  • I honestly thought I was the only person who staunchly believed coffee contributes to anxiety so I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who was at least willing to give it up just to test that theory!

  • brave soul lol I could never give up coffee! and I feel the same about tea—it’s absolutely not a replacement for coffee. x