The Caffeine Crutch

Before I had kids, I had an ongoing flirtation with coffee. It picked me up when I was down, soothed me on a cold winter day, and helped me get through all-nighters in college. We never went steady though. That is, until I had kids. When I became a mom, the sleep deprivation hit me like a brick wall. I jumped on coffee like it was the last thing on earth. We quickly became inseparable, particularly my mornings married to the mug.

We were happy. It brightened my day, gave me the extra kickstart or high that caffeine does, and it felt good. That has never changed. Coffee in and of itself never let me down. However, the benefit has dwindled and the need for more has become common. Between coffee at home in the morning, a coffee house visit for social time or a work meeting, and energy drinks to get through busy evenings or road trips, caffeine has pervaded my daily life.

In the caste system of vices, coffee and caffeine are rated pretty low-threat on my list. So I’ve put my attention elsewhere and allowed this addiction to thrive. I know just the mere mention of going caffeine-free may qualify as blaspheme in your book, so I will tread lightly here. Just hear me out. Consider me your wellness-experimentation guinea pig. What may life look like if I were to go caffeine-free?

Caffeine gives me a buzz. The more I have, the more akin it is to jet fuel. Life without it can seem sad, plain, boring, or altogether dysfunctional. The result of it in my life is a daily experience of ups and downs, highs and lows controlled by caffeine. Life without caffeine would be more even-keeled and the consistency and reliability of my energy (after the withdrawal period) would bring me a newfound sense of peace and lower level of anxiety. So many of us nowadays struggle with anxiety. How much of our incidence of anxiety is actually induced by caffeine? I would bet the correlation is high.

Also, our children model our behavior. My parents are caffeine addicts. Do I really want that for my children? Not to mention, caffeine is a physically addictive chemical. It artificially stimulates the pleasure center of our brain, known as the nucleus accumbens. It artificially stimulates that area enhancing the feeling of pleasure I receive from whatever I am doing at the time.

Without caffeine, that part of the brain feels low by comparison and then those things I do without the caffeine seem less pleasurable. I don’t know about you, but I want my brain to rate and experience pleasure based on the experience itself. Otherwise, I run the risk of dampening the true pleasures of life, such as simple playtime with my children. If all the artificially-stimulated pleasure of caffeine makes me need coffee to feel the enjoyment of time with my kids, then it is cause for concern.

So here is the scoop…for the last nine days, I have been flirting with going caffeine-free. I began last Wednesday cold turkey. The first few days were rough with the classic headache and very low energy. That did not last too long though, but once I started to feel better I had a pre-workout that contains caffeine. Before I knew it, there I was, just like before, jonesing for my afternoon cup of coffee (and feeling particularly anxious). Hence the momentum article yesterday. Ha! Old habits die hard. However, I have yet to make a pot of coffee in the morning. I am a work in progress.

I learned some things in the past week though. I learned that almost immediately upon going caffeine-free, my anxiety level dropped like a rock. Although my energy was low, I felt a deep sense of peace I have not felt in decades. It reminds me of a Joyce Meyer quote: “Coffee is just a big cup of stress.” It activates our “fight or flight” response so it is not surprising when we reach for coffee during times of stress, we actually add to our physical stress level instead of eliminating it.

I have found that I have more time in my day as well when I am caffeine-free. That few minutes in the morning making coffee is now spent on my Thanksliving project or snuggling longer with my children before getting out of bed. The time I spent running to the coffeehouse and standing in line is now spent on extra quality time with my kids. It is important for something as significant as coffee has been in my life to replace, not remove this habit of self-care…replace it with something that truly provides care for myself. I am still deliberating on the best self-care replacement.

I also realized I could save a TON of money. If I stop the morning pot of coffee, the occasional energy drinks, and the occasional afternoon cups of coffee, I could easily save $200 per month. With that money I could get a massage twice per month (um, hello self-care!), save for an extra family vacation once per year, or something else pretty significant. Who knows?! The sky is the limit! Something to consider…

Dwindling in caffeination,

Nikola Rosa