“Do you think I could have a brain tumor?” I asked my nurse bestie while we waited in line for the chairlift. My head had been throbbing for the past fifteen minutes and, being one of those incredibly lucky people who never gets headaches, my inner hypochondriac was having a heyday.
She rolled her eyes and assured me I didn’t have a brain tumor (but I mean, how did she know for sure…?), and we later discovered the reason for my unusual pain: unbeknownst to us, her brother had made decaf coffee that morning. And that was the moment I could no longer deny my dependence on caffeine to be a functioning human.
I don’t usually speak to my fear of commitment as a positive thing, but in this case, the thought of relying on a drug so much that I was experiencing physical withdrawal effects was disconcerting. I’ve had enough experience with hormonal imbalance in the past to know caffeine can do a lot more damage than cause headaches in its absence (despite my preference for articles about coffee’s health benefits). So I suffered through the irritability (read: bitchiness), lethargy, headaches, and fogginess and detoxed off.
My withdrawal symptoms abated within a week, and two months later, I’ve noticed some seriously magical changes:
1. My PMS VANISHED
Fo real. I used to get the cramping, the bloating, the cravings, the breakout, the “What is liiiiiife?” monthly existential crisis… now, it’s been two cycles and my period has snuck up on me with no warning signs whatsoever (shout-out to LOLA tampons for being there without me making a preemptive CVS run because it hurts to wear a bra).
So what’s happening here? Well other than the fact that caffeine is a diuretic (meaning it dehydrates and bloats us even more), the reason for this is because when our liver is busy flushing caffeine out of our system, it can’t get to a super important role: flushing out excess estrogen. And thus we’re left with estrogen dominance, which ultimately causes PMS.
2. My mood became stable AF
In the past I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety, though after many years of personal work I’m in a pretty good place. This is largely because I’ve learned to embrace life’s highs and lows and know myself well enough to understand what I need during the rough times. But since cutting way back on caffeine, there truly have been fewer “lows.”
At first I thought maybe I was misattributing my stable mood to a new crush, but then I remembered dating in NYC generally has the opposite effect. So I did some research and learned in the short-term, caffeine boosts dopamine (which is why it improves mood…temporarily); over time, however, it actually depletes serotonin (the feel-good chemical in your brain). And of course, caffeine is a stimulant that raises heart rate and blood pressure and causes physical symptoms of anxiety. So no wonder cutting back left me feeling a lot less cray.
3. My energy and concentration were consistent throughout the day
#Freelancelyfe makes it hard enough already to maintain any semblance of focus, but I was noticing I was having a particularly tough time before laying off the Joe. I even wondered if I should be considering medication (or more meditation). But after the initial withdrawal phase, my focus has been unreal.
But wait…isn’t caffeine supposed to improve focus? Yes, in the short term. However, over time we rely on caffeine just to bring us to “normal,” and when it wears off our concentration is shot – hence my previous “concentration roller coaster.” Now, a little half-caf or green tea makes me feel superhuman, but I use it sparingly so I don’t have to gamble on whether or not concentration will be on my side when I need it!
4. I slept through the night (!!)
I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve slept through the night. I didn’t know this was unusual until my mid-twenties, when someone told me they “woke up a few times in the middle of the night” and I stared at them blankly, waiting for the rest of the story. Being a poor sleeper, I’ve always been careful to stay away from caffeine after 4pm or so, but didn’t realize how much it was impacting my sleep until I gave it up. Almost immediately, I fell asleep more quickly, and my sleep was deeper and less disturbed than I could ever remember.
Caffeine rises norepinephrine levels (the “fight or flight” hormone), telling our body to stay awake. Studies show that sleep is negatively affected even when consumed 0, 3, and 6 hours prior; others show only 75% of caffeine is removed from one’s system after 10 hours. Plus the amount of caffeine consumed in these studies is much less than most open-concept office startup employees guzzling. So, safe to say even if you’re “not having any caffeine after 4pm,” it’s likely still sabotaging your Zzzz’s.
The United States has the highest caffeine consumption in the world, with soda (I’m looking at you, Diet Cola), coffee, and tea being the main culprits. Yet most Americans are unaware of the the detrimental effect excess caffeine consumption is having on their mental and physical wellbeing. Cutting caffeine was the best thing I’ve done for my health in a long time. So recruit a friend or coworker (for commiseration purposes) and join me in the decaf camp. After throwing a (very temporary) fit, your body and mind will thank you.