How to Reduce Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms
Before signing yourself up for JournalOwl’s 21-day caffeine free journaling challenge, its important to understand the potential withdrawal symptoms and how to mitigate or avoid them completely. Firstly, you should understand that you are up against two different beasts: physical and mental withdrawal.
The good news is that physical withdrawal lasts between two and nine days. Seems like a broad range, but everyone’s physiology and level of addiction to caffeine is different. You can expect the peak of withdrawal symptoms to occur on the first- and second-day abstinence from caffeine. Although the withdrawal symptoms are short, they are definitely intense – especially if you cut out caffeinated coffee cold turkey. Before we dive into how to mitigate or avoid withdrawal symptoms, let’s review what you might encounter along your 21-day challenge:
This will undoubtedly be your #1 complaint in the first day or two. From that moment you skip the morning cup of Joe, the headache will likely start around 10am and not stop for a day or so. It will be a throbbing pain in your forehead that might spread to other areas of your head.
The headache occurs because caffeine is shown to constrict blood vessels in your brain. In fact, one study uncovered that less than 3 cups of coffee per day (250mg) can reduce cerebral blood flow by as much as 27%. Your body has grown accustomed to pushing blood through smaller blood vessels. When you reduce or stop taking caffeine into your body, those blood vessels no longer constrict. Suddenly, more blood flow is circulating in your brain and other areas of your body. This increase in blood flow will trigger a headache until your body adjusts to the new environment.
“If you are going through hell, keep going.”
— Winston Churchill
Not to worry though, our bodies adapt quickly to change – especially if you are keeping a healthy diet filled with fruits & vegetables, adequate sleep, and daily exercise. Hang in there during this 48-hour period because it can be intense, even at night when you try to sleep. An ice pack on your forehead can help dull the pain. As quickly as the headache came upon you, it will also lift. By the second or third day, the headache will be gone.
2. Anxiety & Panic
Sounds strange that a withdrawal symptom of no caffeine is anxiety considering the research showing that caffeine increases cortisol (better known as the stress hormone). Caffeine is a stimulant that increases your blood pressure and heart rate too. Your body can become both physically and psychologically dependent on caffeine. Abstaining, especially cold turkey, can cause your body to react with heightened feelings of stress, anxiety, and panic.
If you are feeling a bit short of breath, tight in the chest, or just a general sense of fear in the first week of quitting caffeine – you can likely attribute that to caffeine withdrawal. Coming off habitual caffeine usage is a tricky endeavor for your physical and psychological states.
“To be tested is good. The challenged life may be the best therapist.”
— Gail Sheehy
When those feelings of stress, anxiety, and panic come over you – just remember that it is normal to feel this way during a transitional period. Your body is simply re-adjusting to its “new norm” and you can rest assured that “this too shall pass”.
3. Dog Tired & Fatigue
People all around the world depend on their daily dose of caffeine in the morning, whether in the form of coffee, an energy drink, chocolate, soda, or any other caffeine-laden product – it is everywhere. The caffeine is known to decrease fatigue by blocking receptors for adenosine. Without getting too scientific, adenosine is a neurotransmitter that makes you feel drowsy. By ingesting caffeine, you are effectively blocking those receptors from telling your brain to rest. Energy is restored, or so you think.
Cutting out caffeine gives your receptors the ability to accept adenosine. You are no longer tricking your body with caffeine. And if you’re tired, you’re tired. People who tend to push themselves, especially college students and hard-charging professionals, will often over caffeinate to trick their body into feeling energized. In the short-term, it is an effective way to meet aggressive deadlines, but in the long-term – it can spell trouble for your health.
“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.”
— Louisa May Alcott
For those who consistently rely on caffeine to power through their day – abstaining will cause even more fatigue. But, again, don’t overthink the fatigue you are feeling during your 21-day caffeine free challenge. It’s easy to give up on a challenge when you feel worse than you did when using caffeine, but these physical withdrawal symptoms are part of the recovery process. Lean on the members of your JournalOwl Community as you journal your way through the first 21 days of caffeine cessation. They will provide tips & tricks to overcoming the feelings of fatigue or provide you with the wisdom to accept your current state of being in exchange for your future self.
4. Moodiness & Depression
Mindset is a powerful tactic in life. Many people rely on caffeine to rev their engine before a big task. Need to write a blog article? Better brew up a pot of coffee. Need to make 50 outbound sales calls today? Better slam 3 cups of coffee to stay on point. It is well known that caffeine can elevate your mood, making life’s constant challenges much more bearable. The problem is that many people will use caffeine as a crutch to cover up underlying mood disorders and chronic depression. The stimulating effects of caffeine can lead to a general sense of wellbeing and improved energy, but the long-term toll of habitual overuse can lead to adrenal fatigue and other health ailments like high blood pressure.
When the band-aid (caffeine) is removed, underlying mental disorders can surface in the habitual caffeine users. Moodiness and depression are symptoms you might experience in the first few weeks of caffeine cessation. This is common and no reason for alarm. Accepting the emotional state of withdrawal is a powerful tactic to allowing your psychological state to heal. Similar to how your body must physically re-adapt from caffeine cessation, your mind must also do the same – although it could take longer for the psychological effects to improve.
Lean on your JournalOwl Community members about any emotional challenges you face during the 21-day challenge while expressively writing about it in your online journal.
In addition to the Community Support provided by JournalOwl, try the tips below to mitigate or avoid some of the withdrawal symptoms. Keep in mind that you cannot avoid all suffering when eliminating a powerful substance like caffeine from your diet. It is important to embrace and expressively describe whatever symptoms you feel during the 21-day challenge in JournalOwl. Doing so is part of the healing process and will allow you to refer back to the pain you’ve endured when you consider using caffeine again in the future. Your historical journal entries are a good reminder of what you have endured in your quest to become a better YOU.
“Suffering + Sacrifice = Success”
· Gradually cut your caffeine intake weeks before you start the challenge. Although many people dive into challenges headfirst, you can mitigate many of the physical and mental withdrawal symptoms by preparing yourself weeks in advance. If you are drinking 4 cups of coffee per day, start reducing it by 1 cup per day each week leading up to the challenge. On Day 1 of the Caffeine Free challenge, cut out caffeine completely.
· Try to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep. You may find yourself sleeping more than 8 hours in the first few weeks of cessation as your body adjusts to the “new normal” of no caffeine. The additional hours your sleeping could very well be a sign that your body was sleep deprived for far too long. Without caffeine revving your engines, your body can finally catch up on the rest it needs.
· Exercise daily. Although you have eliminated caffeine from your diet, you may find that your level of anxiety and stress go through the roof during the first few weeks. This is a normal withdrawal symptom. Daily cardiovascular exercise, such as jogging or the elliptical, can help offset some of the anxiety-related symptoms of caffeine cessation.
· Hydrate early and often. Even mild dehydration can exacerbate withdrawal symptoms of caffeine cessation. Make sure you drink plenty of water.
Everybody has their own reason for abstaining from caffeine. Some people recently diagnosed with high blood pressure were advised to cut back on caffeine, while others who experience generalized anxiety are seeking ways to improve their condition. Whatever your reason, it is important to fully understand why you continually reach for caffeine. Of course, it is an addictive substance, but there are emotional reasons that continually lead you back to the coffee pot. Through 21-days of continuous introspection, you are well-equipped to understand the reasons why you remained hooked on caffeine for so long. Supplemented with the Community Support offered by JournalOwl, you have the necessary tools to reshape your perception about the source of energy.
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