carolyn loves coffee.
If you were to ask my friends and family what they think of when they think of “Carolyn,” I can almost promise you that “coffee” would be included in their response. In the peak of my college career, I was consuming 6-8 cups of fully caffeinated coffee every. single. day. From the minute I woke up until dinnertime I was drinking coffee like it was water. This got especially bad during the warmer months when I lived off iced coffee.
Ironically, during this same period of time I experienced horrible anxiety and stress. Which made sense… I was in my final year of college, working multiple jobs, and living a very full life outside of school and work- I was tired and stressed! But my racing heart made falling asleep hard and waking up at 3am in a panic every night gets old fast. Not to mention, I made for pretty miserable company to all my friends and family.
What I didn’t know was how much the caffeine I was consuming was affecting my body and emotions.
when i finally called it quits.
This fall, I finally did the thing. I cut the coffee, cold turkey. It was a rough 48 hours. That first night, I went to bed around 8:30pm instead of the normal 10:30-11pm and slept like a rock. The next day I felt pretty hungover through the late morning and all afternoon before falling into bed around 9pm. But on day 3, things started to turn around. I actually woke up easily when my alarm went off rather than feeling groggy and hitting snooze. I made it through the day feeling just… normal. Not totally exhausted but not buzzed from caffeine either, just feeling how much natural energy my body had without it being masked by caffeine. It was refreshing. I definitely was ready to go to bed earlier than normal on that 3rd day, but all-in-all I was feeling pretty great. I was sleeping soundly through the night which was a very welcome change!
Fast forward a few weeks of drinking decaf every other day or so when I needed the coffee experience during my quiet time or to fuel a good conversation with a friend. Things were still going so well at this point that on the odd occasion when decaf wasn’t available, I went with the caffeinated option. It seemed okay, and somehow ended up happening every few days instead of every few weeks. Life started picking up and so did my stress; with stress came the thumping heart and racing mind once again. But this time I was a little wiser and cut out the caffeine instantly. It didn’t change my stressful situation, but I knew better than to exacerbate it with caffeine. Sure enough, in a few days my heart calmed down and my sleep improved.
coffee = anxiety?!
Now I see you, coffee lover who is feeling guilt tripped and secretly wondering if coffee is responsible for all their anxious woes. You’re hating me for sharing this story of hope and redemption because you might have to give up your beloved pour-over. Don’t shoot the messenger, and don’t read what I’m saying as “coffee causes anxiety.” Yeah, there are some that go as far as to say that, and with pretty decent scientific evidence. I’m not that educated though and it’s a big claim for me to make. But does it make pre-existing stress and anxiety worse? In my experience, yes. Likewise, the removal of caffeine from your diet isn’t going to cure all your anxiety. That’s personal work that has to happen between you, the Lord, and your brain chemistry. But by removing caffeine you are able to see what anxiety is “real” and actually needs to be dealt with because you have eliminated any false anxiety brought on by the caffeine. And that is a huge revelation!
Another sort of strange benefit from cutting caffeine has been reintroducing it in small amounts and learning how to feel the anxious feelings while being aware that it is simply my body responding to a stimulant, and I do not need to allow my emotions to engage with the physical feelings. This has helped me to work through anxious feelings I experience sans caffeine, because often those situations are equally “false” if I step back and look at them objectively. Just because I feel a physical anxious feeling does not mean I have to emotionally respond!
Please know that I am writing this while drinking a (small) cup of fully caffeinated coffee. I’m grateful this life isn’t an all-or-nothing sort of thing, and I think the greatest thing we all can learn is to be mindful of our bodies and aware of how they respond to different things we so we can best care for the temples we have been given.