Quitting ALL caffeine consumption in the New Year was one of a few resolutions I made to myself in the days leading up to the beginning of 2019. I read about what might happen while eliminating caffeine from my diet but I never expected the results of what would actually happen to me in the days that followed after quitting caffeine cold-turkey, especially as someone who was already living a life with low-to-moderate consumption on a day-to-day basis. Here is what I was experiencing, what happened, and how I feel about it now.
My Caffeine Consumption Habits
I do NOT drink coffee. In fact, I have never had a single cup of coffee in my life.
How I managed to survive all eight years of high school and college without trying it, I do not know. I guess if I needed a boost, I would turn to tea. Green tea has been a favorite drink of mine for ages. I first learned about its health benefits during a visit to China in 2015.
I don’t drink soda either. I quit drinking soda cold-turkey in September of 2013 and I have NEVER LOOKED BACK EVEN ONCE. I quit when I was a freshman in college. I started to notice how often I was getting Sprite or Mountain Dew from the dining hall soda machines, felt disgusted with myself, and never drank soda again. I could see all of the little lines of different things mixing as they were dispensed into my cup and visually, it was such a turn off. That was the first decision I had ever made to live a healthier life.
Without any coffee or soda in my life, the only recurring sources of caffeine were tea and, if I had some, maybe a bit of dark chocolate.
Caffeine is a drug. It is actually the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive drug. Because of how prevalent it is, society has developed very positive and accepting views toward it. Most people don’t think much, if anything, about it. Unlike many other psychoactive drugs, caffeine is legal and unregulated in most parts of the world. Science is able to explain most of the mechanisms and effects caffeine has on the human body.
Why I Wanted To Give It Up
I was already consuming very little caffeine on a day-to-day basis. When asked about why I haven’t cared to ever try coffee or other highly caffeinated beverages, I usually rattle off one of a number of reasons I have thought about over the years: it’s addictive, it’s costly, I don’t want to try coffee, I prefer not to be dependent on it, I am usually a morning person without coffee, so why bother? Tea was enough. You may also be wondering: if caffeine wasn’t causing any real or serious problems in my life, why not leave things alone?
The answer to that is that it was more of an experiment than anything else. I noticed I was drinking caffeinated tea each morning before work. I began to wonder how dependent my body had become on it after feeling so groggy on days when I did not drink any.
I also experience a lot of anxiety during times when it isn’t necessarily warranted so I began to wonder how much of that was fueled by caffeine after I observed certain behavioral patterns following drinking heavily caffeinated teas like Japanese matcha and black tea.
Day 1: December 31, 2018
I had a great first day with no caffeine intake. I knew I would be staying up very late since it was New Years Eve and even without caffeine, the excitement alone was enough to keep me going strong! I felt totally normal! “This is so easy!” I thought to myself.
Day 2: Happy New Year!
On New Year’s Day, I woke up a bit late. I had been out until maybe 3AM the night before and lets just say I didn’t feel 100% like myself after waking up but dehydration may have been largely to blame for that. I actually originally woke up around 8AM (meaning I got very little sleep) but then I fell back asleep again and didn’t actually wake back up until 10AM. It was unclear whether that extra sleep was due to sleep deprivation or lack of caffeine. It was likely just me being tired. After getting up, I went to visit my grandma and grandpa. At their house, the rest of the family all came over and we enjoyed a big breakfast and lunch together. (Side note: I haven’t actually gotten to this on my blog yet but I did make a stop back home to be with my family for the holidays!!!)
Day 3: January 2, 2019
On my third day without caffeine, the effects were definitely hitting me but interestingly enough, I still didn’t realize what the actual cause was. (You see, I didn’t begin this “caffeine-free lifestyle” with the expectation that anything would really happen to me after I stopped drinking tea. I knew it was a possibility but I figured the effects would be minor and negligible at best. It was more of a realization in hindsight where I started to notice certain things were happening BECAUSE I stopped drinking caffeinated tea.)
It is days like these where I am extremely grateful to have the opportunity to work from home. After working in the morning, I fell back asleep. (I never do that.) I woke up 3 or 4 hours later feeling disoriented and confused. It was almost 1pm and in a way, I was just (re)starting my day. Ugh, what a horrible feeling!!!
I was irritable. I had a migraine which I never get. I wasn’t feeling like myself at all. I even felt pretty unmotivated all day and down on myself. “Rocky, what’s going on with you???” I thought to myself, “This isn’t how I usually feel… Why do I feel kind of sad today? For no reason?” Something was wrong but I didn’t know what it was. 2019 was not feeling like it was off to a good start. In fact, it felt like one of my worst days in a long time.
I remember turning to Google and looking up “caffeine withdrawal symptoms.”
Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms
According to HealthLine.com, the main withdrawal symptoms of caffeine include:
- Inability to Concentrate
- Depressed Mood
- Low Energy
I was experiencing 1-7. These were all actually happening to me at once. A person who barely consumed much caffeine to begin with! (A standard cup of coffee may contain more than 95mg of caffeine whereas a cup of tea only has approximately 26mg. Clearly, that is still more than enough to somehow alter your body.) For all of you daily coffee drinkers who have tried quitting, I can’t even imagine what that must feel like. I really can’t.
Introversions Role in Sensitivity
As an introvert, I think I may have a higher susceptibility and sensitivity to drugs like caffeine so maybe my body reacted to tea withdrawal just as an extroverted person might respond to coffee withdrawal or a higher dosage of caffeine tolerance. Anything is possible.
Day 4: January 3, 2019
My fourth day was basically a repeat of Day 3. I subconsciously wanted to start my New Year off to a positive start but there was a major disconnect between my mind & body. Internally, I knew I wanted to write a particular blog post, get other things done, and be productive. Externally, I couldn’t. I couldn’t focus. I slept for probably 12 hours. I felt so lethargic and just exhausted as a whole. This manifested as frustration and anger towards myself which also confused me even further as I felt myself starting to feel depressed again.
Day 5: January 4, 2019
Friday was a very stressful day. I needed to do a lot of driving so I spent a majority of the day on the road. I was driving for at least 6 or 7 hours. Having something like driving to focus on helped force me to remain alert and attentive all day. I didn’t think much about feeling fatigued. My mood seemed to be improving as did my energy levels. I went to Game Night with my friends at night and never thought about being tired even though I was awake pretty late.
Day 6: January 5, 2019
On January 5th, I was excited. I was going to see my sister for the first time since Christmas since she had been traveling with her boyfriend for the holidays. That reason alone made me feel a lot better. She came home late at night and our family had a big midnight dinner. I made myself a non-caffeinated chamomile tea for comfort.
Day 7: January 6, 2019
Yesterday, I woke up pretty early. I never fell back asleep so that was reassuring. My mood seems totally unaffected by the lack of caffeine. I no longer have a headache. I no longer feel lethargic. I even had the energy to sit down, focus, and write all of this content which, in my ordinary life, would have been very typical but seriously felt IMPOSSIBLE for me to do last week.
Now I’m sitting down pondering what I want to do moving forward.
Conflicted Over Caffeine
I like the way tea makes me feel. I guess I also like the way caffeine makes me feel. It helps me wake up quicker and feel more alert and attentive throughout the day. It elevates my mood. It has proven health benefits. Tea is relaxing and it tastes amazing.
And still, I wonder… Is drinking caffeine worth it?
I can’t decide. I think I do want to drink caffeinated tea again. I do. I miss it. But going through this withdrawal stuff again would be terrible. Unless I never give it up entirely? Still, I have undoubtedly felt less anxious without caffeine. All at the expense of a number of other bad side-effects that are likely linked to withdrawal symptoms. If those go away, might it be worth consuming caffeine again? I do not know. Teas are some my favorite things in the world to enjoy. I hate the idea of developing a biological tolerance and dependency on a substance. I did not like seeing what happened to me when I chose not to consume it. That is the part that really sucks. Maybe the key to this is striking a balance. Tea is good for you so I would prefer to still have it. Maybe it is better to just not consume it everyday? Is it possible to do that without forming any sense of routine or dependency on it? I’m not sure.
What do you think? What do you drink?