This monthly challenge was not one I ever thought I’d try. Not because I considered myself a caffeine addict that couldn’t give it up, but because I didn’t think I was consuming enough for it to have an effect. I remember looking at my music teacher in school; a guy who consumed 15 cups of coffee a day. When he gave up caffeine, he was a mess. Me on the other hand? I didn’t drink 15 cups of coffee a day. In fact, my average was probably 2. Why did I need to bother restricting myself? It was more curiosity, but the decision to do so has utterly blown me away.
When I decided to do this, I did some research on caffeine and how it affects the body. Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. It makes us feel alert and awake and while moderate amounts can boost concentration and productivity, it is addictive and can lead to anxiety. It increases our heart rate and blood pressure, it’s a diuretic thus can dehydrate us, it can cause the shakes and prevent us from getting a good night’s sleep.
This all sounded reason enough to eliminate it. I had been dealing with anxiety on and off for some years and this was motivation to at least give it a shot. I began by writing myself a list of all the places that caffeine is found. This included: coffee, tea, energy drinks, soft drinks, raw cacao and chocolate products, and over-the-counter painkillers. Energy and soft drinks were immediately eliminated without concern, for I never consumed them anyway. My two cups of coffee a day, they were fine to go too. But the green tea and chocolate? That was going to prove difficult. If I admitted honestly, I was probably consuming 10 cups of green tea a day. And chocolate? I was definitely eating that several times a week.
Good old Tetley Tea told me that one cup of green or black tea contains between 30-50mg of caffeine. The variation comes down to grams of tea in the tea bag (or used loose) and how long the cup is brewed for. This means two cups of tea equals one cup of coffee. Crap! I was consuming the equivalent of 7 cups of coffee a day without realizing it! And then there was the chocolate. Fifty grams of dark chocolate contained upward of 25mg caffeine – another small cup of coffee.
So, off I went to my local health food store where I figured I would find the best selection of caffeine-free teas. I opted for Pukka Lemon, Ginger & Manuka Honey, Echinacea & Elderberry, Three Mint, and a Detox blend to start me off. For the first week I thought I’d cleanse the system by having hot water with a slice of lemon in it for my first drink of the day. This was the time I’d normally have my coffee, hot and creamy and tasting like vanilla almond milk.
It was difficult having to down the lemon water instead of coffee for the first couple days, but then I got used to it and actually found enjoyment in doing so. It also meant that I had the option to do some meditation or yoga after my morning brew, whereas with coffee, this just wasn’t an option. So many times I’d have my coffee on autopilot without having first done my yoga or meditation. I hated feeling like I hadn’t set myself up well for the day and would have to wait until hours later to practice.
As the days would go on for the first two weeks, I would get an almighty headache. I had heard about this (and seen it with the aforementioned music teacher) and was worried about how bad it would be. It was bad. And I couldn’t take caffeine-containing pain killers to help! Nope, there was nothing I could do except ride it out. They would kick in every day around 2pm and it was really hard to continue with my work day, but somehow I powered through.
On Day 7, even though the headaches continued for another week, I experienced this beautiful moment of nirvana. I was sat at my desk writing away when I looked out the window at the sunshine and realized that for the first time in I don’t know how long, I felt relaxed. My mind wasn’t working in overdrive, I wasn’t stressed or worried, I simply felt tranquil and present.
The week went by and my mood just got better and better. I didn’t know what was going on. Surely this couldn’t be the caffeine (or lack thereof) having this profound effect on me? Maybe it was the calling of springtime?
By Day 15, the headaches had stopped and I was feeling on top of the world. My energy levels were consistent throughout the day, every day. I wasn’t even craving coffee, though I allowed myself the odd cup of decaf if I wanted one. But the most overwhelming difference was my mood. I just couldn’t believe how relaxed and dare I say it, happy, I felt.
The month went on and I was sharing with everyone I knew just how great I was feeling. If you’ve spent a lot of time hoping no one would ask, it’s suddenly quite strange wanting to talk about yourself so incessantly!
I’ve reached the end of the month and just as I determined at the end of my January meditation challenge, there’s no way I’ll ever look back. I can’t say for sure that I won’t have a cup of coffee at some point in the future and I will definitely eat chocolate again, but for my own wellbeing I will be keeping the quantity to a bare minimum. I just feel too bloody wonderful to live my life otherwise!
If you’ve been thinking about giving this challenge a try, I could not encourage you enough. Particularly if you have been dealing with anxiety or moodswings. You’re probably more sensitive than you realize when it comes to caffeine stimulation. If you give it a try, let me know below how it goes for you!
Photos via Unsplash and Kat Kennedy