The holidays are creeping up and, for many of us, that looks like hustling on work projects before the end of Q4, less consistent sleep, more social obligations, and an extra cup (or 3) of coffee. Let’s be real, coffee is wonderful. There are numerous well-researched health benefits of drinking coffee (increases longevity, lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimers) and, perhaps more importantly, it just makes you happy.

However, as with any consistent behavior, it’s important to check in with yourself from time to time about how your caffeine consumption is really making you feel. Perhaps your weekly coffee shop run is turning into a daily thing, it’s starting to impact your sleep, or you’re experiencing the caffeine jitters a little too often. If this sounds like you, it may be beneficial to take a short break and reevaluate. Since Olivia quit caffeine last year, we thought we’d ask her about her experience with it – without any sugar coating!

Q. First off, does caffeine have a negative impact on your body?

Caffeine is a stimulant, so it creates neural excitation in the brain. And while this may sound fun, the pituitary gland actually perceives this excitation as an emergency and stimulates the adrenal glands to release stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. For many of us, we’re already experiencing daily, chronic stressors that cause us to release enough of these hormones — and when you’re pushed over the edge of the stress hormone bucket, this can result in anxiety, weight gain, poor sleep, and more.

Caffeine can also increase our estrogen and blood sugar levels, which can be problematic for those with hormone imbalances like PCOS, endometriosis and even plain old PMS. This is why cutting caffeine can be an important first step for anyone struggling with hormones and mood, especially if estrogen dominance is present. Estrogen dominance is associated with premenstrual syndrome, heavy periods, fibrocystic breasts, and even certain breast cancers.

Q. How does caffeine affect stress levels?

Caffeine and stress both elevate cortisol levels, so for those of us already experiencing stressful situations or health issues, it can be like pouring gasoline on a fire. Studies have shown that being a high consumer of caffeine is a direct predictor of high levels of stress, which can feel counterintuitive to those of us looking for a much needed mood boost from a cup of coffee when we’re struggling. While we may feel a lift at first, the ensuing cascade of stress hormone release only contributes to higher scores of anxiety and even depression in the long run. 

Q. What happens to your body when you give it up? 

Caffeine, as a stimulant, temporarily boosts our dopamine levels, giving us a quick hit of pleasure each time we consume it. That lethargic, melancholic feeling before you’ve had your morning cup isn’t actually your normal baseline state; it’s a state of withdrawal, which we all experience each morning before getting our fix. It’s important to remember this is a drug, as it stimulates the central nervous system. So without it, you can feel… unstimulated. Unmotivated. A nagging air of anhedonia, even depressed. 

That is, until your dopamine levels return to baseline and suddenly, everything feels good again, without the need of an external substance (and with no crash or withdrawal— just clean, consistent contentment). This is because your “pain” and “pleasure scales” function like a sea-saw. Every time you push that pleasure button with caffeine or another dopamine-releasing substance or activity, your brain has to rebound by upping our sense of pain and displeasure, just as hard in the opposite direction. 

After you artificially push your pleasure buttons with caffeine for so long, the brain has to adjust by giving you the opposite sensation as it works to regain homeostasis and get back to a dopamine baseline. Dopamine levels actually dip lower than baseline during withdrawal as part of this compensation. During this time, in order to avoid the pendulum swing from dopamine high to depressed, you have to tap into more of the sustainable hormones like serotonin, oxytocin (acts of kindness), and endorphins through exercise, human connection and get this: having fun that’s not tied to a goal or achievement. That’s how you get the good brain chemicals back in order! We chatted about dopamine and quitting substances (caffeine and beyond) with expert Dr. Anna Lembke on What’s The Juice Podcast

Q. What’s the worst part of quitting caffeine?

There’s no way to sugar coat it— quitting caffeine sucks. And, it sucks for around 30 days. This is what that first month looked like for me:

  • Day 1: Extremely tired, puffy eyes, scattered words, brain fog, zero productivity.
  • Day 2-7: Stressful to look at a screen, eyes can hurt, desire to sleep, relax, etc. Intense muscle aches or headaches, low mood and motivation.
  • Days 7-14: Wanting to be more social or exercise more in order to get your dopamine fix; brain is beginning to compensate but fatigue is still present. Sleep is deeper and more restful.
  • Days 14-21: Sleep has never been better; anxiety is lessened and PMS may improve this month (already!). Fatigue is still there, but lifting each day. Able to focus on singular tasks for longer instead of switching in between many.
  • Days 21-30: Higher libido, clearer eyes, more hydrated skin, thinking more clearly. Energy levels not 100% just yet, but noticing benefits each day. More present in general.

Q. What are the benefits of quitting caffeine?

  • Wanting to be more social
  • Falling asleep easier and getting 11-12 hours of the most restorative sleep (watch/listen to this podcast with Matthew Walker)
  • Higher libido
  • Talking less
  • Clearer eyes
  • Plumper and more hydrated skin (caffeine inhibits collagen synthesis)
  • Better digestion
  • Thinking more clearly
  • Increased productivity and the drive to earn the dopamine rush (read this book by Stephen Cherniske)

Q. What are some tools that you used to ease the transition?

  • Mineral supplement to support the brain (Mighty Minerals)
  • Electrolytes to replenish (caffeine is a diuretic so we want to reverse some of that damage)
  • B complex vitamin (energy support)
  • Lots of protein and eating consistently
  • Walking breaks, time in the sun, exercise to balance neurotransmitters and get dopamine/serotonin in a more balanced way
  • Adaptogens: Ashwagandha found in Adrenal Recovery to support the body in rebalancing stress hormones after caffeine 
  • Coffee replacement to mimic the ritual: Teeccino 

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