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Shaking the Caffeine Monkey Off My Back

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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Silvia

Hi ;) I follow the link from flickr. I was drinking a loads of coffee for more then 10 years and some months ago I started with the palpitations too. It was a stressful time. Before going to the doctor I reduced to just two little cups/day. When I felt better I went back to loads of coffee and the palpitations came back. I decided I really had to stay on the “two a day” and I’m feeling very well. Now I am trying to do the same to my smoking habit. Surprisingly I just cut is down to half with no worries. But I must admit that some days are more difficult. Thanks for the post!

Silvia

I just remembered something. When I started to drink less coffee I could understand that many times I just needed something warm and cosy, to comfort me. So I started to drink tea, without caffeine, I bought some delicious camomile teas, different combinations, with apple, lime-flower and so on. That also helped me to relax. Sorry I talk too much. I visit you for several months now ;)and I love to read you!

pixie

A few years ago I was working for a women who was all organic and natural etc. I learned a lot just from talking to her and while working for her I decided to quit soda. Prior to that I was a coke head. I drank soda all day long. ALL DAY LONG. I hated water.

So when I switched off soda’s I didn’t go cold Turkey on caffeine, I was allowed a sweet tea, and then after a week of sweet tea’s (only at lunch) I started doing half sweet and half un-sweet. Now I can’t stand a sweet tea. It’s WAY too sweet. I have occasionally had a soda and I never ever drink more then about 4 sips and I just feel *done* and it’s only for a special occasion but I find myself over the years wanting it less and less. THen when I got pregnant I didn’t want to drink caffeine and also i started to LIKE water. Once I committed to JUST drinking water and I got used to it, now I love it and drink it all the time, crave it. I still don’t drink the “recommended” amount which I have always thought was silly. Drink water when you are thirsty. Easy. Drink wine and fruit juice etc when you feel like it.

mom

I am very proud of you – as a 2-cup-a-day person, I know this is hard. I have always limited my day’s caffeine to 2 cups of coffee at breakfast. After thatm no caffeine wither in soft drinks or tea. My mid-day and evening treat is herbal tea which I find to be very relaxing and refreshing. And, as you know, even when under heavy stress, I have never had high blood pressure or palpitations.

Katie

I have been completely caffeine free for going on 4 years now. I originally quit because I constantly got horrible migraine headaches. I did quit cold turkey, but it wasn’t coffee I was addicted to, it was Mountain Dew. The withdrawal headaches were the worst. But I am now loving life as a caffeine free person! With now only about two really bad migraines a year! Congrats on kicking the habit!

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Caffeine addiction is one of the most famous types of addictions in the world, just like cocaine and marihuana. Caffeine addiction sometimes has been considered a lie, but it is a really, because caffeine is a stimulant that becomes addictive within a certain period of time. Interestingly, caffeine addiction shows up when you are not expecting it, and it does not necessarily show up because we want to. You can more information for the Burgundy Wine in: http://www.burgundywinevarieties.com/

Silvia

Hi ;) I follow the link from flickr. I was drinking a loads of coffee for more then 10 years and some months ago I started with the palpitations too. It was a stressful time. Before going to the doctor I reduced to just two little cups/day. When I felt better I went back to loads of coffee and the palpitations came back. I decided I really had to stay on the “two a day” and I’m feeling very well. Now I am trying to do the same to my smoking habit. Surprisingly I just cut is down to half with no worries. But I must admit that some days are more difficult. Thanks for the post!

Silvia

I just remembered something. When I started to drink less coffee I could understand that many times I just needed something warm and cosy, to comfort me. So I started to drink tea, without caffeine, I bought some delicious camomile teas, different combinations, with apple, lime-flower and so on. That also helped me to relax. Sorry I talk too much. I visit you for several months now ;)and I love to read you!

pixie

A few years ago I was working for a women who was all organic and natural etc. I learned a lot just from talking to her and while working for her I decided to quit soda. Prior to that I was a coke head. I drank soda all day long. ALL DAY LONG. I hated water.

So when I switched off soda’s I didn’t go cold Turkey on caffeine, I was allowed a sweet tea, and then after a week of sweet tea’s (only at lunch) I started doing half sweet and half un-sweet. Now I can’t stand a sweet tea. It’s WAY too sweet. I have occasionally had a soda and I never ever drink more then about 4 sips and I just feel *done* and it’s only for a special occasion but I find myself over the years wanting it less and less. THen when I got pregnant I didn’t want to drink caffeine and also i started to LIKE water. Once I committed to JUST drinking water and I got used to it, now I love it and drink it all the time, crave it. I still don’t drink the “recommended” amount which I have always thought was silly. Drink water when you are thirsty. Easy. Drink wine and fruit juice etc when you feel like it.

mom

I am very proud of you – as a 2-cup-a-day person, I know this is hard. I have always limited my day’s caffeine to 2 cups of coffee at breakfast. After thatm no caffeine wither in soft drinks or tea. My mid-day and evening treat is herbal tea which I find to be very relaxing and refreshing. And, as you know, even when under heavy stress, I have never had high blood pressure or palpitations.

Katie

I have been completely caffeine free for going on 4 years now. I originally quit because I constantly got horrible migraine headaches. I did quit cold turkey, but it wasn’t coffee I was addicted to, it was Mountain Dew. The withdrawal headaches were the worst. But I am now loving life as a caffeine free person! With now only about two really bad migraines a year! Congrats on kicking the habit!

Andra Stark

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