Before starting college, I had never been much of a coffee drinker. Perhaps I’d enjoy the odd mocha, or some syrup-laden frothy concoction, but the majority of café visits consisted of a hot chocolate order (always with marshmallows and whipped cream.) So it was a little surprising how quickly my growing habit of a once, sometimes twice-weekly latte consumption – on a Sunday morning, or to perk me up for a nine a.m. – became what was often the one thing that motivated me to get up in the morning. Even now, on particularly unpromising days, the thought of the warm, stimulating drink is undeniably comforting.
However, there reached a point last year where I was finding difficult to deal with stress. I was constantly wired and unable to sleep – either my thoughts would race until the late a.ms or I would wake up far too early, unable to return to the cossetted dream-space – and the resulting grogginess made the need for a morning shot even greater. In my attempts to rectify it I tried a variety of different lifestyle changes: less sugar, consistent exercise, even meditation. But one unfortunate suggestion kept cropping up on my portfolio of health consultant tabs. Cut the caffeine.
It wasn’t a cheerfully made decision, but the more I searched across the Internet, the increasing amount of negative press I found surrounding the beloved beverage. Hundreds of threads existed all across different forums, of people touting how much-improved their lives had been since quitting the drink, citing everything from increased energy to reduced anxiety. Medical articles stated how it could cause dehydration, muscle damage and increase blood pressure, while dermatologists warned it could cause dull skin and eye bags. Overwhelmed by the deluge of information, I decided to try it. For one, entire month, I forewent my near-daily morning coffee for non-caffeinated herbal tea instead, to see what the benefits would be.
I can now report that with regards to the specific stress I was feeling, not drinking coffee definitely helped. I was finding that the same buzzy alertness that the drink gave me on good days could easily turn into uncomfortable heart palpitating and stomach-squirming on the not-so-good ones. This is because the way that caffeine activates dopamine in the brain to make us feel more alert can also make our prepped muscles feel jittery, lead to increased blood-flow, and then to a subsequently faster heartrate, all of which mimic the symptoms of existing anxiety. It’s for this reason that experts advise those who struggle with the disorder not to consume more than two cups a day.
I admit, though, that despite the one upside I found in the lack of aggravation over my feelings of nervousness, I didn’t really notice any other benefits. My energy levels were as usual, my skin looked the same – even my sleep was improved more so by other factors, like finding ways to block outside noise. This surprised me. How come I hadn’t experienced the same amount of overwhelming changes that I had read about online?
The thing is, if you search for the benefits of daily coffee consumption, there’s almost just as many. As long as you’re not drinking an excessive amount of the stuff, and too late into the day, there’s a lot of scientific evidence out there to show that it may support brain health, reduce the risk of liver conditions and diabetes – and even help us live longer. And even aside from the potential physical perks, if you think about from a social point of view, coffee is kind of an amazing drink. Since the sixteenth century in the Middle East, where coffee was first cultivated, the resulting coffee houses became dynamic social hubs, where people would meet to play games, listen to music and to discuss world affairs. Much of this is true to this day, where grabbing a coffee is one of the most common hallmarks of friendship. Cafés provide the perfect environment for study, chatting, reconnecting, even just relaxing. If enjoyed in moderation, it is difficult to argue that coffee is a negative thing for the majority of those who consume it.
Of course, I cannot deny other people’s experiences with eschewing the drink. Everyone’s body is different, and not all of us are going to react the same to adding or removing substances from our lives. Indeed, if you do find yourself struggling with side-effects like increased anxiety, stomach upset or disrupted sleep, certainly, try giving up coffee. It did temporarily help me. Now, though, in less stressful times, I am back to my daily, vanilla latte-sipping ways. And, honestly, it feels great.