Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Dare to be caffeine-free

Like many others, I start most of my days with a piping hot cup of tea. Throughout my day, I then drink a cup or two of coffee and finish off with another cup of tea in the evening. What can I say, I like caffeine. As much as I like it, however, the science student in me knows how bad the substance actually is for you. While caffeine is incredibly useful to help wake you up and give you the alert brain you need for a 9am lecture, it can also cause headaches, irritability, confusion, as well as heartburn and diarrhoea. I don’t know about you, but none of those things sound that pleasant to me. But, even knowing all the side-effects, I continue to drink caffeine every single day. Could I possibly manage without it? Well, I put that to the test and ditched caffeine for a week.

I knew that the first day would be difficult, kicking any habit usually is. But the thing about caffeine is that it’s extremely addictive. When I woke up on day one, it was tough to stop myself from switching on the kettle. Alas, I couldn’t give up before I even started. I was determined. I spent much of the morning yawning, and perhaps didn’t help myself by staying up late the night before and choosing the spend the day jumping on and off trains. Having spent the morning travelling, I thought I was doing quite well. The cold wind made sure I was feeling awake and alert, so maybe I could live without caffeine. My naive optimism about my caffeine requirement was crushed when I returned home and found myself taking a nap on the sofa for three hours. After waking up from what was, quite possibly, one of the top-10 naps of my adult life, my first thought was to go to the kitchen and make a cup of tea. I realised that a worryingly large percentage of my liquid intake during a regular day came from drinks that contained caffeine. So, no tea for me that afternoon – just a glass of juice instead.

I didn’t have any headaches, I didn’t feel any obvious withdrawal symptoms – but what I did feel was grumpy

On the second day of my caffeine detox, ironically, I woke up to the smell of freshly-ground coffee beans coming from my kitchen. I resisted the temptation once more, but realised that what I was really, desperately craving was a hot drink – not the caffeine specifically. As my family sat around the table enjoying their morning coffee, it became clear how much of a huge role caffeine plays in our social lives. It’s not just the cup of coffee you have with your family before leaving to go to work, but also at every important meeting, or a catch-up coffee date with a friend. I started to miss the social aspect of drinking tea or coffee and I felt awkward sitting down at my family table sipping on squash while everyone around me had their fingers wrapped around a warm beverage.

To my surprise, after two whole days without caffeine, I felt good. I didn’t have any headaches, I didn’t feel any obvious withdrawal symptoms – but what I did feel was grumpy. It felt like I had to put far more effort into being positive and interacting with other people and I could feel myself getting frustrated at the mundane tasks of everyday life. But I didn’t feel any more tired than I normally would. Sure, I wasn’t as busy as I usually am as I was still ignoring all of my university work and spending time relaxing with my family. But my body felt fine. I even went swimming (which didn’t go that well to be quite honest – but I think that may have been more due to the excess amount of food I consumed over Christmas).

Finding the motivation to do anything without caffeine was hard, I was so used to working and having a cup of tea or coffee next to me

I made the assumption at the start of my caffeine detox that the most difficult day I would face would be the day that I headed back to Warwick. The thought of having to travel from London all the way back to uni via train, without any caffeine whatsoever, made me dread the day. And when that day arrived, I woke up before my alarm and went downstairs to have breakfast. I usually hate having breakfast, it’s almost as if my stomach wakes up three hours after I do. But I knew that I needed to get the energy if I was to have no coffee that day. As I ate, I went over my plan for the journey. Of course, things did not go to plan. After having my train cancelled and having to work my way round it, all I wanted – all I craved – was a warm cup of tea, but had to settle for a bottle of water. Despite being let down by Transport For London, I wasn’t going to let that ruin my day. I got onto my train at Euston, got my laptop out, and startled tackling all the work I neglected over the Christmas break.

Finding the motivation to do anything without caffeine was hard, I was so used to working and having a cup of tea or coffee next to me. I found myself staring out the window far too often – don’t get me wrong, the English countryside is lovely, but not what I should be focusing on with deadlines fast approaching. Although my motivation may have been on the low, I felt really well rested. Ditching the caffeine made falling asleep at night a lot easier, and surprisingly, getting out of bed in the morning wasn’t that hard either.

After my seventh day of no caffeine, that first cup of tea in the morning the next day was amazing

Eventually, as the days went by I was starting to crave my morning and afternoon tea, and after my seventh day of no caffeine, that first cup of tea in the morning the next day was amazing. I may have only been a week, but it felt like a month. I guess that my experiment did prove that I can survive, quite happily in all honesty, without the caffeine – but really, I don’t want to. I have finally come to the realisation that I am ready to give up the coffee full time, but I’ll make exceptions for when there’s a deadline related emergency occurring for which I’ll need an extra boost.

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