My Year Without Caffeine
As my first year without coffee or soda comes to an end, I’m feeling more ambivalent than ever.
I had two resolutions for 2020: to go vegetarian and to give up caffeine. I’ve succeeded at both, but I had very different experiences reaching these goals.
When it came to going vegetarian, I struggled during the first few months but soon found my groove. The longer that I’ve gone without meat, the happier that I’ve been with my decision. I had been wrestling with the morality of eating meat for years, and I feel much better now that I’ve removed it from my diet.
With caffeine, I’ve had nearly the opposite experience. I used to drink many cups of both coffee and soda every day. When I first quit caffeine, I was happy with the change right away. Although I went through some very mild withdrawal symptoms (a headache and light confusion), I also experienced immediate benefits. Most notably, my sleep improved and my anxiety decreased.
I had anxiety trouble my entire life, but for some reason it never occurred to me that caffeine could be a contributing factor. I was thrilled with the improvements I saw simply from cutting soda and coffee from my life. It felt like a total game changer.
Then, as the year went on, the anxiety came back. Of course, this has been a strange, anxiety-inducing year for everyone. So, I’ve had a lot of trouble telling exactly what the effect of cutting caffeine has been. Did it really decrease my anxiety in the beginning, or was it just the placebo effect? If I was still drinking caffeine, would I be even more anxious now?
My sleep has also been poorer lately. It makes me wonder whether I was blaming caffeine for bad sleep when something else was really the issue. Alternatively, caffeine might have been just one of multiple causes for poor sleep.
2020 is a frustrating year for having made life changes. With our entire society in a state of flux, it’s just impossible to judge the real effects that removing caffeine has had.
I’m definitely going to remain caffeine-free for the next two weeks, if for no other reason than so that I can say I went an entire year without it. After that, I’m not as sure.
Although I’ve experienced some definite benefits and a few possible improvements, the truth is that I still really miss the taste of coffee. Although I don’t plan to go back to drinking it daily, I might end up drinking it from time to time.
I also can’t help comparing caffeine with another habit that I gave up: Several years ago I quit drinking alcohol after a decade-long struggle with substance abuse. As an alcoholic, I often told myself that I’d “cut back” only to end up ramping right back up to my normal amount.
I’m a little worried the same thing would happen with coffee, although caffeine is simply not addictive in the same way that alcohol is. Although caffeine can cause a mild physical dependence, I never felt “hooked” on it like I did with beer.
I often visit an online forum for people who have stopped drinking caffeine and another for people who have quit drinking. A stark difference that I’ve noticed is that far fewer people who quit caffeine stick with it. I suspect that my experience might be common: initial enthusiasm, followed by ambivalence.
If you had asked me half a year ago, I would have said that I’d never go back to drinking coffee, but now I’m on the fence.
Was It Worth It?
Regardless of what I decide in the future, I’m still glad that I gave caffeine up this year. Caffeine is the most ubiquitous psychoactive substance in the world, and it’s easy to take it for granted. I was drinking tons of coffee and soda every day without thinking twice about its affect on me.
Ending my caffeine habit got me thinking about the way these drinks affect my anxiety and my sleep. Even though I don’t have all the answers yet, I’m at least a step closer to understanding this substance’s effects on me.
It’s also had the more concrete effect of saving me money. Although I wasn’t breaking the bank on coffee and soda, I still saved around one thousand dollars this year by replacing them with water. That’s a significant chunk of change.
Two other minor improvements that I’ve noticed are better breath and whiter teeth. These are very hard to measure though, so it might just be in my head.
It’s also worth noting that this wasn’t an incredibly hard resolution to achieve. Although I miss the taste of coffee, it didn’t feel like any real struggle to give it up. I never had the type of cravings that I dealt with when quitting alcohol.
I worried that going without caffeine would ruin my concentration or my ability to get work done, but neither of those have been a problem. Although we often think of caffeine as a productivity booster, I’ve done just fine without it.
Overall, I think this experience was worth the time and moderate effort that it took. For anyone who thinks they might be drinking too much caffeine, I’d recommend giving it a try. You might not find all the answers, but you’ll at least gain a better understanding of the role caffeine is playing in your life.