‘I gave up cof­fee – and said good­bye to anx­i­ety’

The Sunday Telegraph - Stella - - #ONE DAY - By Victoria Young

For the past 20 years I’ve lived a see­saw life: an­i­mated daily into con­scious­ness by cof­fee, then more cof­fee, of­ten ‘wind­ing down’ with wine in the evening. There were days wine didn’t make an ap­pear­ance. But al­ways, al­ways, there was cof­fee.

I be­came hooked on it in my gap year when I was wait­ress­ing. I’d al­ways thought it was bit­ter but forced my­self to drink it, mainly in a bid to seem more grown-up. I quickly re­alised that cof­fee, the world’s most ac­cept­able drug, is a wait­ress’s best friend. The per­fect pick-me-up, it oblit­er­ated any ex­haus­tion I felt from be­ing on my feet all day. I never looked back: the love af­fair had be­gun.

Af­ter that, I stuck with cof­fee through thick and thin. That in­cludes preg­nancy and a chronic di­ges­tive dis­or­der (I was di­ag­nosed with col­i­tis 12 years ago), de­spite natur­opaths and doc­tors ad­vis­ing me to give it a miss. It was my con­stant true love, more so be­cause of all the other foods I’ve elim­i­nated to try to help my con­di­tion. ‘There’s al­ways cof­fee,’ I’d think.

It was an in­te­gral part of my life. I’d av­er­age four very strong cups per day. I’d have drunk two be­fore the school run, and then have two more at my desk. I’ve lost count of the num­ber of trains I’ve come very close to miss­ing, and the times I’ve been just a lit­tle bit late for work be­cause I chose buy­ing cof­fee over punc­tu­al­ity. And it was a run­ning joke with my best friend (a tea drinker) that I’d al­ways turn up to her house with a take­away cup in hand.

There was noth­ing about cof­fee that I did not love with a pas­sion: the rit­ual of se­lect­ing and buy­ing it at my favourite cof­fee shop; the joy­ful bub­bling of the es­presso ma­chine and the di­vine aroma that then filled the house. I loved the rich, adult taste of a strong cup of cof­fee, and I pos­i­tively adored the lurch­ing, cre­ative high that fol­lowed. Did I link that to the low-level hum of non-spe­cific anx­i­ety and con­stant over­think­ing I felt? I did not. And, even if I fleet­ingly won­dered – plenty of peo­ple had sug­gested that caf­feine makes anx­i­ety worse – I saw it as a nec­es­sary evil. Then there was sleep. In re­cent years I’ve had chronic in­som­nia. I know, I know, ‘News­flash: caf­feine is linked to in­som­nia,’ but I thought my ‘No cof­fee af­ter mid­day’ rule re­moved that risk.

There was no dra­matic Da­m­a­scene mo­ment. But one day I found my­self won­der­ing if I could give up cof­fee for a week

– I was cu­ri­ous to see whether I could live with­out it.

For the first three days I was like a junkie in with­drawal, suf­fer­ing from a bad headache, in­er­tia and to­tal ex­haus­tion. But on day four I be­gan to no­tice a change. I was less de­hy­drated and had more en­ergy. There was a dawn­ing light­ness: no mood swings and far less brood­ing melan­cho­lia. And – cru­cially – the non-spe­cific angst that has been with me for years melted away too.

My sis­ter and my hus­band were both swift to com­ment on how much calmer I seemed. My hus­band, pre­vi­ously my part­ner-in­cof­fee-crime, sug­gested I should con­sider do­ing it for longer than a week. The strangest thing was, I agreed with him. I was and am so grate­ful that all I have to do to feel bet­ter, is to not do some­thing.

It felt like a huge re­lief not to be con­stantly look­ing for my next fix. The prepa­ra­tion of the es­presso pot and the search­ing out of the best cof­fee shop used to feel like a joy­ous rit­ual. I’ve re­placed it with mint tea and am re­lieved I don’t have to in­ter­rupt my day to feed an ad­dic­tion.

At first I won­dered whether, with temp­ta­tion on every street cor­ner, I could keep it up. But hav­ing made the con­nec­tion be­tween my state of mind and my cof­fee con­sump­tion, I just don’t want it any more. It’s not worth it. So good­bye cof­fee. I’ll al­ways love you, but I just don’t need you now.

‘For the first three days I was like a junkie in with­drawal, suf­fer­ing from in­er­tia and to­tal ex­haus­tion’

Left A newly re­laxed Victoria Young

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