Giving up caffeine is the last thing I wanted to do. I was an absolute caffeine addict! When everyone was telling me that cutting back would really help, I didn’t want to believe them. I hate to admit it, but they were right. Giving up caffeine helped my anxiety – in fact I’d say it’s the best short-term thing I’ve done.
The problem is, when I’m anxious I don’t sleep well. I struggle to get to sleep, then when I am asleep I have bad dreams. In really bad anxious times I have sleep paralysis attacks, which make me scared to go back to sleep. Then in the morning the first thing I do is reach for a cup of coffee to wake me up!
It’s not just coffee either – I love a nice hot cup of Yorkshire tea. I’ve pretty much always got a brew on the go, and there’s a surprising amount of caffeine in tea.
Coffee is a pretty big part of my life. I love treating myself to a nice latte from the coffee shop, meeting friends over a cuppa and having a little pick-me-up cup throughout the day. But all that caffeine builds up.
When I’m feeling anxious I’ll hug a nice hot mug of tea for comfort, and clutching a coffee cup gives me something to do with my hands. Normally if my hands are empty and I’m having an anxiety attack, I scratch at my nails which ruins my skin and is really painful. I don’t even know I’m doing it until it’s too late, so if I feel an attack coming on I need to give my hands something else to focus on, and a cup of coffee does that perfectly.
It was getting to the point where I was shaky and jittery throughout the day. I’d get into bed at night feeling completely wired, unable to get to sleep or slow my thoughts down.
I put it all down to anxiety and didn’t even think to blame my faithful friend caffeine, until a friend said that when she struggled with anxiety a few years ago she cut out caffeine completely and it really helped.
What I didn’t know is that caffeine actually increases your stress hormones. So although I thought it was comforting and making me feel better, my coffee habit was really making things worse. When I eventually took the plunge, I was really surprised by how much giving up caffeine helped my anxiety!
I decided to give my caffeine detox a go once I’d run out of other ideas. The doctor had put me on beta blockers but they were giving me bad tinnitus so I was trying to avoid taking them.
I started by buying some nice flavoured green tea. Green tea does still have some caffeine in it, so it’s an ideal replacement to come off caffeine slowly. I’ve gone ‘cold turkey’ giving up caffeine in the past but struggled with bad headaches, so I decided to gradually phase it out this time.
The good news is you can get almost all your favourite coffees and teas as decaf versions now. Yorkshire tea decaf tastes exactly the same, which is great news for me! Although personally I’m not a fan of their bedtime brew – my mum said it “tastes like dentist water” and I just can’t get that out of my head now!
The hardest thing was remembering to ask for decaf at the coffee shop – it’s surprising how much of a habit your usual coffee order becomes. Other than that, the transition has been quite easy.
I have had to remind friends whenever they’re making a brew or ordering for me, and I have had to have caffeine at events and meetings, but even cutting down to one cup a day has made a really big difference.
As for side-effects, I did have some mild headaches. No way near as bad as last time, but I think these were down to dehydration mostly. Giving up caffeine has been a good reminder to drink more water! I did have a little bit of dizziness at first too, but I’m about 4 weeks into my caffeine detox now and that seems to have gone away.
I’d definitely recommend a caffeine detox to anyone with anxiety, or even just struggling to get a good night’s sleep. Since giving it up, my sleep quality has definitely improved. I have less bad dreams and I actually wake up feeling rested. I’m much calmer throughout the day and don’t notice my heart racing as much.
I don’t know if I’ll stay off caffeine forever or if I’ll just cut right back and treat myself occasionally, but to be honest I feel so much better without it right now that I just don’t think I need it any more. I’d rather be anxiety free than wired on coffee any day!