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