I remember my first coffee vividly.
It was 2003, I was 20.
I did NOT do any work for the ‘distance education’ course I had signed up for at University, and subsequently was writing an exam for the next day. I planned, as many of us have done in moments of desperation, an all nighter.
Realising I could not tackle this mammoth task on my own, I bought my first coffee.
…and it was kind of gross… I had milk and sugar in it.
BUT— holy cow.
My new best friend Coffee and I stayed up all night, I passed the course with an undeserved 75%, and Coffee and I cemented our relationship for realz. It was love.
So much so that when I arrived a young, fresh faced, soon-to-be teacher to the bright lights and big city of Toronto, I couldn’t wait to apply to my favourite place on earth, Starbucks. I was so passionate and impressive in my interview that the manager actually told me right there that she was hiring me (also commenting that people like me should do company recruitment or do staff training things—that’s some brand love right there folks). Starbucks continued to cultivate a sincere passion for coffee. Like a fine wine, coffee can be slurped, sniffed and savoured. Starbucks training program aims at ensuring their Baristas actually know what they’re talking about when you ask them about coffee. A side effect of this training meant I started drinking coffee black and pairing it with lovely sweet desserts. I drank it cold on the rocks and after I lived in Australia for 4 years, a land without 18% cream, I drowned my coffee with fatty cream almost every day for years.
When I had my two babies coffee made the sleepless nights bearable and a tired mommy functional. Babies were hard. Not just physically (although it was), but it was so much more – I suddenly loved like I had never loved, but also worried like I had never worried.
And I worried a lot on even the best of days.
I had my second baby, and worry grew louder and louder and louder. I poured myself into my passions to drown out the worry (worry about everything, my children, me, my career, family, my husband, my food–everything).
In the space of only 2 years I had a baby, decided to begin study to become a sleep consultant (a long time passion and interest), opened my business, oh and was also working a demanding 9-5 job. As the mom of two young girls under 3, with a husband who traveled regularly, and also having to fit in working out and meal planning, coffee got me through.
I’m not joking. I regularly drank two venti, iced coffee with cream a day. And sometimes I drank more.
One day last year, I took a break from clients and school, and went to my doctor to recommended a therapist. I am a HUGE mental health advocate (this was actually a big part of my portfolio as an educator) and have always been pretty open about my worry and anxiety. I’ve seen therapists and have had great success, but I was having trouble connecting with one since my return from Australia in 2012. I read self-help books and I was meditating, but it just wasn’t enough. My worry was literally causing my hair to fall out, and I was experiencing horrible migraine headaches.
I was working so much, DOING-IT-ALL, and working at a pace that–in the past–had kept the anxiety at bay. But now all that work, the stress and the lack of rest was contributing how out of control I felt.
I started seeing a new therapist someone the very next week and it literally changed my life.
I learned through my therapist that I was living my life too fast. I was simply doing too much. I needed to cut back on some things, really pour into myself and stop giving everyone else my time. I was the person who needed MY time the most. Me.
It took a lot of time to re-learn self-care (not the bullshit buzzword, but proper moments of stopping, saying no, stillness, and quiet). I continued to hone my meditation practice, I said no to events and extras. I started eating better, drinking less wine, all while continuing to see a therapist. I improved emotionally, but my hair was still falling out. So I went to my naturopath after visiting my doctor for a clean bill of health. We talked about stress management first. “How much coffee do you drink?” she asked. I chuckled and made some throw away comment.
“Coffee can be a pretty intense stimulator for some people — let’s try reducing”.
So I did and it was horrible.
I had days of headaches and felt true true mourning. Coffee was my best friend and had been for years. The less I drank each day (in an attempt to wean slowly), the more I wanted her back. Our ritual, the smell, the taste. I loved her. But ten the universe took over when I got a horrible stomach bug and I couldn’t drink coffee for about 2 weeks straight. Our breakup was forced upon us and it was probably for the best.
After two weeks, I felt different. I really did. I don’t know how to explain it but my body just calmed. I actually felt the difference. I slept better (actually I slept like a rock those first few days coffee free). I continued working with my therapist, who assured me I’d be able to have coffee again.
The whole time I was off coffee, I couldn’t believe no one asked me earlier in my anxiety journey ‘how much coffee are you drinking?” because there are some things to remember about coffee (that I knew but thought didn’t apply to me):
- Coffee is a real stimulant. Stimulants ramp up your nervous system to be on high, high, high, high alert–thus anxiety. Some people react differently to different stimulants. I’ve always joked that whatever a drug SHOULD be doing to me IS DOING in spades. Caffeine was working REALLY WELL FOR ME
- The effects of this stimulant can last up to 8 hours. So even after that initial rush is gone, the feeling of tension, nervousness or accelerated heart rate could last longer than the initial ‘wake-up’. It could also be making it hard for you to fall and stay asleep if you drinking it too close to bedtime.
- Quitting coffee won’t cure your anxiety, but it will calm your body down and maybe help you get into some great work with a therapist
So–what happened? For 4 months I drank tea. I replaced the coffee ritual. I enjoyed it.
I liked the new feeling of calm.
I liked the way I slept.
But–that’s about it. Just like back in the day when you felt that you ‘liked’ that boyfriend but didn’t love him.
That was with tea. I liked it, but I didn’t love it.
In the months between no coffee and coffee, I doubled down on all the things I could do to help my body come down from someone doing a super-human amount of things, to someone who does a lot of things but can work in leisure and relaxation. I did some deep work with a therapist (and continue to do so). My anxiety wasn’t cured, but it was a lot less noisy and when I figured out with my therapist why I felt so worried all the time I was able to see my anxiety a lot more clearly and not be so terrified by it. I’d have scary feelings but be able to face and manage them and walk away.
So after 4 months being completely and totally caffeine-free. I tried coffee again.
A lot less coffee. A tiny cup of coffee. And….it was like a sledgehammer of energy. I FELT the caffeine. I actually felt jittery, and kind of wired. BUT, I was also able to focus a bit better and felt a bit more alert. And I looooooooved being reunited with my coffee and cream (girl, that taste combination cannot be replicated)
I’ve been drinking 1 small cup each day for a little while now and usually in the morning. It’s really all I need. I feel it, I ride my caffeine rush through the tasks I want it to, and that’s it. I’m open to not drinking it again if I can’t stop distinguishing between the effects of caffeine and real actual worry. And sometimes I skip it and it doesn’t feel like I can’t cope (like it would have post coffee detox)
I sat here to write this because I really wished someone had given me the nudge about coffee earlier in my anxiety journey, as I think it made it possible for me to do better work with my therapist and essentially ‘come down’ from the heightened state I was just used to being in. We see coffee as benign as bread, but one thing could be making you feel like crying in a bathroom where the other is just a great addition to a sandwich.
Could this be you? If you’d like more information on how the foods we eat could be affecting our sleep, check out my segment on Your Morning here! If any of this is hitting home for you–please email me back! I’d love to hear from you. And as always–if you’re not sleeping because your child isn’t sleeping, you can always book a quick call with me to chat about that too!