It?s a little known fact that caffeine can mimic many of the symptoms of stress and anxiety. As someone who used to be very familiar with anxiety, I was told by my doctor that cutting down my caffeine intake could help me. At first, I wondered how on earth cutting down caffeine was meant to help what I considered to be a largely mental problem – so I maintained my caffeine intake. After a few months, I was still experiencing a lot of physical anxiety symptoms everyday, and with those physical symptoms came the thoughts of ?I?m going to faint? or ?I?m having a heart attack?. In this way, the physical feelings of my anxiety fed a lot of the anxious thoughts I got. So I decided to do some research into this caffeine business, and how it might have been affecting my anxiety. Some of the signs of too much caffeine include symptoms such as nervousness, headaches, faster heart rate and faster breathing. Coincidentally, those were some of the symptoms I experienced when I felt anxious. In that moment, I decided to gradually cut down from my 500mg a day (400mg is the recommended dose for a healthy adult anyway), to 200mg a day. I noticed a huge difference, not just in my physical symptoms, but also in my thoughts. Other techniques from cognitive behavioural therapy, such as the ones we teach on our Stress Control course, also helped me to get the rest of my anxiety under control.
Fast forward a few years, and on the 29th October 2017, after a couple of months of gradually cutting down again, I took the plunge and decided to stop consuming caffeine. Now when I say I stopped caffeine, I am exaggerating ever so slightly. Caffeine is not just found in tea and coffee, but also in some chocolates, some over the counter medications, some fizzy drinks, and even decaf beverages aren?t caffeine-free – there are still small amounts of caffeine in decaf. So in reality, I do still consume a very small amount of caffeine some days of the week, because who can live without chocolate cake?! However, the benefits I have noticed have been immense. These days I have more energy, I don?t feel so sluggish, my sleep has improved massively, I am able to respond to daily challenges more effectively and with less stress, and my general mood has improved. And surprisingly, I barely miss it! It?s amazing how such a simple thing could have such a big impact on wellbeing.
So what does a day without caffeine look like? Throughout my day, I enjoy drinking fruit juices and flavoured waters, keeping me far more hydrated than when my liquid diet was largely made up of tea and coffee. I also enjoy drinking herbal fruit-flavoured teas and hot water with lemon, and I occasionally treat myself to a decaf latte or a chocolate bar. If I have a cold or I need to take a painkiller, I avoid using over the counter medications that contain caffeine. I also enjoy caffeine-free fizzy drinks. It might sound difficult, but if you gradually cut it down over time, you get used to it and by doing it this way, I managed to avoid the withdrawal symptoms associated with going cold turkey!
In the UK, it?s common for us to have a cuppa as a comfort during difficult situations, but if you are dealing with stress or anxiety, or you just want to find another way of boosting your wellbeing, why not ask yourself: ?do I really need that ?cup of Joe???
Bethan Jones, Wellbeing Course Practitioner