When I posted the photo below to Flickr for my 43rd day of self portraits, a commenter asked for tips on how to kick the caffeine habit and I thought a proper post was in order.

I was advised by my doctor last week to cut out caffeine because I was having benign heart palpitations. I realized after leaving her office that I’d been feeling pretty stressed out about a bunch of things lately, and certainly that was more of a contributor to feeling wonky than the normal not-too-terribly-much caffeine I’d drink in a day. But I had to start somewhere and I didn’t have a magic wand to make my troubles disappear.

I was drinking a generous mug of coffee each morning; around 12 oz. I’d occasionally have tea (black or green) in the afternoon, and less frequently I’d have another coffee.

From the first cut back, described below, I felt much better physically. No more palpitations. I’m now on Day 5, and I feel… cleaner. There’s a definite separation between mind and body, though. My body feels great, but my mind hasn’t fully caught up. From what I’ve read, most people withdrawing from caffeine get over the symptoms within a week from the last caffeine intake, and many in as little as 48 hours after. Here’s what I did:

First day: They night before my first caffeine-free day, the man had an allergic reaction to a wasp sting and we spent several hours in the emergency room (he’s fine). Suffice it to say I woke up a groggy disaster. I had black tea (about half the caffeine of coffee) with breakfast because the thought of the cold turkey was just too horrifying. I attribute any grogginess that day as much to the restless night than to a decrease in caffeine intake.

Second day: Tylenol for minor headache in the morning. Cup of green tea (about 1/4 the caffeine of coffee) around 11AM. The effects were marvelous. By the afternoon, I was better able to focus.

Third day: Cup of green tea around 11AM. I was more tired than the second day, but I soldiered through it.

Fourth day: No caffeine. I took a Tylenol mid-morning, and that was it. I was groggy for much of the day, but it was Saturday. I read nearly 120 pages to finish the book I was reading, took a short nap, and did a bunch of laundry. By the evening, I was feeling much more alert. Alert enough to keep pace with the man in a game of Scrabble, and crafty enough to beat him.

Fifth day: That’s today. I’ve been up for nearly two hours, and though I was groggy upon waking, after some breakfast and getting a few things done I’m feeling pretty okay. Not overwhelmingly energetic or mentally keen, but pretty okay.

By mid-morning today I’ll be at the 48-hour mark since my last caffeine intake. By the time I show up at the office in Colorado tomorrow to put the fall issue to bed, I’ll be nearly three days off the stuff. I don’t know if I’ll stay off it forever, but for now I think I’ve bid that monkey a fond adieu.

If you’re looking to kick the caffeine habit, I recommend the following. Post your own tips in the comments, and I’ll add them here.

  • Commit. Just do it. I’ve tried to kick caffeine in the past, but was never fully committed. The moment I committed this time, I stopped longing for the taste of coffee. It was weird.
  • If you don’t have to go cold turkey, don’t. Mix decaf in with high-test for a while, or downshift into tea. It’s amazing how quickly your body will adapt to functioning on much less caffeine than you’re used to. I especially think a tapering-off will be less painful for people who consume a huge amount of caffeine in a day.
  • Treat the pain. You don’t need to martyr yourself by suffering through the headaches. (Beware that some over-the-counter pain meds contain caffeine.)
  • Force yourself to take it easy. Don’t make late-night or early-morning plans. If you can, wait till you’re not going to press on a publication (but really, I think all the work I had to do kept me from wallowing in caffeineless self pity).
  • ETA (11th August): Silvia makes a great suggestion and I’ve found this works for me, too—sometimes we just want a warm and cozy beverage. An herbal tea works wonders.
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