'I Quit Coffee, It Transformed My Life'

In August 2017, I had suffered with severe anxiety and I had a panic attack. I was referred to a therapist for a few months.

When I would become anxious, I'd lose my appetite and I'd ruminate a lot. I would also feel restless and I would fixate on health-related fears for days or weeks at a time. I would experience acid reflux that would last for weeks and my anxiety would be so severe, that I'd often dissociate.

After visiting a healthcare professional, I was diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and discovered that anxiety and depression are higher in people who have this disease.

I was told that drinking coffee had triggered my acid reflux. So, I decided to give up caffeine as an experiment to see if my anxiety would improve, towards the beginning of 2018. Before that, I had one cup of coffee a day and several cups of black tea. I'd been drinking black tea since I was 12 years old, so I didn't know how I would feel after I had quit it.

Jess Van Den Quit Coffee
Jess Van Den (pictured) quit caffeine in January, 2018. Jess Van Den

How my body reacted to quitting caffeine

I didn't notice any changes on the first day, but the second day was very bad. I had severe withdrawal symptoms which were mainly headaches and a lack of energy. I lay on my couch for that whole day; I felt like a zombie. It was a terrible experience.

But on the third day, I began to feel okay again, and a few days after that, my energy levels became better throughout the day. Previously, I had felt drained and lethargic around 3:00 p.m. due to a dip in my energy levels, but as the days went on, my energy had balanced out.

At first, I didn't notice a difference in my anxiety, but over time, it became significantly better. I realized that I no longer had a low level of underlying anxiety that stuck with me throughout the day. I realized that I'm very susceptible to caffeine.

I also made several other changes that helped to maintain my mental health. I began to exercise almost every day and get a good amount of sleep. A combination of all of those things had helped me significantly.

After quitting caffeine, I never had the desire to go back to drinking or ingesting caffeine regularly. I didn't miss it at all. A few months after quitting caffeine, I accidentally picked up my husband's tea cup. I took a sip and thought: This is disgusting, I don't miss it at all!

Vanilla rooibos tea was a great alternative for me. Sometimes, I tend to add a calorie-free sweetener to it. I drink it in the morning after I wake up, and the nice thing about it is I can also have it at night because it has no caffeine in it.

Jess Van Den Quit Coffee
Jess Van Den accidentally had coffee a year after quitting it. Stock image. Getty Images

What happened when I accidentally drank caffeine a year later

In January 2019, a year after quitting caffeine, I was in Canada with my husband and some other friends. We had visited a famous tea shop on Vancouver Island and we bought a packet of decaf caramel coffee. When we had arrived at our apartment, I made a cup of decaf black coffee and drank it. Later that night, I couldn't relax. I had felt very jittery and I was craving a lot of sugar.

I left our apartment at 9:00 p.m. to buy myself a doughnut, which is not something that I would have usually done. After I had arrived back at the apartment, I was craving more coffee. But I looked at the packet and realized that I had bought a caffeinated packet instead of the decaffeinated one.

I was shocked. I didn't realize that caffeine had that much of an impact on me until I had that experience. My husband and my friends, who were in the apartment with me, said, "There you go, it explains why you couldn't relax and why you were craving sugar!"

I'm relieved that I've been able to be healthy and happy since quitting caffeine. I feel that my nervous system is calmer. Although it took a bit of adjusting, I'm lucky to not miss caffeine. A big part of that for me was finding a nice, warm drink that I can still enjoy.

Jess Van Den Quit Coffee
Jess Van Den (pictured) quit caffeine in January, 2018. Jess Van Den

If you suffer from severe anxiety, you know how debilitating it can be and how unpleasant and terrible it is. But if something as simple as giving up caffeine can make any sort of difference, I want to share my experience in the hope that it would help other people too.

Jess Van Den is a self-employed silversmith. She opened an Etsy shop in 2008. She is also the founder of Create & Thrive and the Thriver Circle where she teaches fellow makers how to turn their handmade hobby into a business.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Newsweek associate editor, Carine Harb.

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