Ah, coffee... even the aroma can make people feel satisfied, complete, at peace, and frankly, as though all is right in the world... me included.
The explanation is simple: It contains the most widely used stimulant in the world. According to the National Institute of Health, in Western society, at least 80 percent of the adult population consumes caffeine in amounts large enough to have an effect on the brain. This effect is powerful. Caffeine stimulates the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. This then produces pleasant feelings and euphoria. Over time, this gets reinforced. Think of that first morning sip of coffee. It's how people start their days and get moving. The simple act of drinking coffee is reinforced by the positive effects.
Apart from the physiological effects, coffee is associated with a variety of activities in our culture. For example, "let's do coffee" refers to the act of meeting someone to drink coffee. But would we say "Let's do soda" or "Let's do juice"? Probably not. Coffee is much more than the act of drinking it. It's part of our culture. Meetings are made over coffee, love affairs commenced over coffee, relationships ended, and iconic TV shows are centered on it. Think Seinfeld. Some people even plan trips around coffee in much the same way one might visit wineries on a vacation. Recent trips that I took, one to Los Angeles and two to Canada -- Toronto and Montreal -- included a well thought out tour of the best coffee houses.
But just as coffee can have so many positive effects, it can also be quite harmful. It is after all a stimulant, and this can lead to irritability and anxiety. It can also tax the adrenal glands and lead to fatigue. Other harmful effects include irritation of the esophagus and digestive system, given the acidity.
So, let's say you want to cut out the caffeine but don't want to be a mess, here's how to do it:
- Wean off rather than quitting cold turkey. The later will surely leave you feeling tired, sluggish, and with a headache. One approach that works for a lot of my patients is to wean off gradually. So, fill part of your cup with caffeinated coffee and the rest with decaffeinated. You might start with three-quarters filled with caffeinated and one-quarter with decaffeinated. Slowly adjust this so that you use more and more decaffeinated. Decaffeinated still has a slight bit of caffeine and of course you'll get the same taste and aroma associated with fully caffeinated.
- Separate the substance from the setting. Is it the actual caffeine you crave and ultimately miss, or might it be the cozy environment of a coffee shop? If the latter, then continue to go there but substitute the beverage with a less caffeinated option such as tea or even juice.
- Examine your reasons for wanting to quit. Similar to other habits that people try to quit, you need compelling reasons for doing so. Is it for physical reasons such as better sleep and less irritation on your digestive system? Or perhaps it is to save money? List your reasons and stay focused on them.
- Give yourself a break. That's right, actually take a small break during your day to do some stretching, go for a walk, socialize, or even take a snooze for a few. Your body and mind are going through changes so you need to cut yourself some slack and pamper yourself.
- Know that the negative side effects of not having caffeine are temporary. You may not feel your usual self for a few days, but rest assured, you won't die from not having coffee. After your body adjusts, you might actually feel more energized and healthier.
For more tips on healthy living check out my book Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days.