Progress Not Perfection

My journey to heal depression, anxiety, and OCD

I Quit Coffee To Cure My Anxiety

Putting down my coffee cup in search of serenity

Woman holding coffee
At times, my anxiety spikes so much that I'm motivated to do whatever it takes to lessen it. Even if that means giving up coffee. And did I mention that I really, really love coffee? Like, everything about coffee -- the smell, the taste, the ritual, the warmth of the cup in my hands, the feeling of joy in my heart when I take that first sip. Some might even say that I have a coffee addiction.

I've been able to quit coffee a few times, but it's never lasted very long. My most successful break from coffee happened eight years ago. I was acting and waiting tables at the time, and leading up to my coffee detox, I remember asking another waitress who was in graduate school to be a social worker if she thought I had Generalized Anxiety Disorder because I was so anxious. All. The. Time. Or maybe I just drank too much coffee?

I quit caffeine and soon after, went on a weeklong yoga retreat in Mexico that involved daily intense three-hour yoga classes, eating tons of fresh fruits and vegetables, and sipping smoothies on the beach. Without coffee on this trip, I slept soundly, woke up on my own before 7am, and was bursting with energy. I've often thought if I were ever going to quit coffee again, I'd have to live in Mexico and do three hours of yoga a day.

Then there was the time five years ago when I quit coffee as my New Year's Resolution. On New Year's Day (yes, that would be the same day I made my resolution), I was going to brunch with a friend and on the way there she wanted to stop at a neighborhood coffee shop known for its strongly brewed beverages; one whiff of the coffee-filled air and my resolve dissolved.

But about a month ago I was so consumed with anxiety that I got a glimpse of just how much it was affecting the quality of my life. I didn't want to spend every day tormented by a constant stream of worried thoughts, and incessantly accompanied by the tightness of anxiety wrapping itself around my chest and twisting my stomach into knots. I reached a point where I had to do something. So I gave up coffee and switched to iced green tea; even though it's caffeinated, it doesn't make my mind and heart race like coffee does.

Going off coffee, what I'd hoped for is that I'd never be anxious, ever again. That didn't happen. Initially, the results were amazing: I felt calm and more focused, and my mind was uncharacteristically quiet. But then, I got anxious. And the anxiety was as bad as it's been when I was drinking coffee. What I realized is, off coffee, I still get anxious. And when I'm anxious, I'm anxious. But the difference is, I'm not anxious all the time, or for no reason. So the payoff has been good enough to keep me on the wagon.

And what's helped me not cheat is having a coffee detox support group on Twitter. The same weekend I was thinking about giving up coffee, one of my Twitter friends who I tweet with about how much we love coffee also decided to give up coffee. So now a few of us tweet about our #coffeedetox and how long we've been off coffee, instead of how delicious the latte we just had was or when we're planning to get our next coffee fix.

I've been off coffee for one month and counting. Some days it's easy and I have no desire to indulge, especially thinking about how jittery it would make me. Other days as I stand at the bar at Starbucks waiting for my iced green tea, I tilt my head back and stare longingly at the picture alongside the drink menu of a luscious iced coffee, its cascading swirls of milk and glass glistening with condensation. And on those days I feel like a life without coffee, like a life without warm Italian bread and melted butter, or a life without ice cream, is bleak and barren.

I'm not completely cured of anxiety, abiding in a permanent state of blissful tranquility. Without coffee, though, I notice small improvements and more moments of calm. But I miss (need?) coffee. For now, I'm enjoying getting some relief from anxiety, thinking that an occasional decaf wouldn't be so bad, and taking my coffee detox one day at a time.

Jennifer Garam is a Brooklyn-based writer, blogger, and teacher, and the founder of Writeous Chicks.

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