Sometimes, you have to make unfortunate sacrifices for the sake of your health. It’s just a fact of life. In my case, it was giving up some of my favorite foods just to feel better and more even keeled. Despite my love of coffee, soda and chocolate, I ultimately realized the pleasure I got out of consuming these caffeine-rich favorite foods of mine was not worth the negative effects they had on my mood and my anxiety. So here’s how I managed to convince myself that eliminating these trigger foods was just the trick to calming my body and mind. Easy? No. Worth it? Absolutely.
I’ll start here. One of my favorite places to be is inside a coffee shop. It’s peaceful and inviting. I love the smell and taste of freshly brewed coffee and tea. Every time I walk into a coffee shop and take in all the delicious scents, I am instantly relaxed. This feeling is blissful and soothing. But the coffee itself? Quite the opposite.
Unfortunately, my love of coffee and caffeine creates somewhat of a health challenge for me. Since I was a young, I have struggled with anxiety and panic attacks, which leave me feeling dizzy, shaky and disoriented. In some cases, these attacks have been so extreme that I’ve felt like I’m going crazy, or worse, dying. One thing I’ve realized over the years is that caffeine can trigger my symptoms. What seems like an innocent cup of java has the power to make my hands shake and my heart race, which many people might experience with a caffeine high. Additionally, however, I may feel dizzy and lightheaded. And sometimes, these sensations can snowball into a full blown panic attack. So I have to stop myself and ask: is it really worth that warming, rich cup of coffee?
I vividly remember my first experience with a caffeine-induced panic attack. It was about ten years ago. Over a weekend, I decided to cook a big breakfast for my family. I brewed a pot of my new specialty coffee (it was a caffeinated holiday blend) and drank it while I flipped pancakes. After everyone was served, I excitedly sat down to eat. But then things took an unpleasant turn. My hands shook a little as I read the newspaper. When I held my fork, my hand trembled. At first, these resembled signs of hunger. But I knew it was something else when they wouldn’t go away. My heart started to pound heavily. My whole body felt nervous for no apparent reason. And the worst part? I couldn’t control it.
I went upstairs to relax and took deep breaths to calm down. I knew then and there that my new caffeinated holiday blend was the culprit. I’d probably drank more of it than usual, so this must have been the root of the problem. I also knew that this blend had a higher amount of caffeine than I was used to in my daily brew. Although I loved the taste, I promised myself I’d never buy it again. I also decided to reconsider my tenuous relationship with coffee.
Here I found myself at a fork in the road. I wanted to decrease my caffeine intake to ensure I’d never have an experience like that again, but at the same time, I very much enjoyed my morning coffee and didn’t want to fully give it up. In this case, my love of coffee and my habit of drinking it on a daily basis was becoming harmful to my mental health. The compromise? I started to drink decaffeinated coffee and have just one cup a day. In the afternoon, I like green tea. It’s rich in antioxidants, helps my body fight off illness, and tastes delicious. Tea doesn’t seem to affect my system, but I still choose decaf when I drink it. Caffeine just isn’t worth the anxiety.
Other caffeinated foods and drinks can make me feel jittery, but none of them exacerbate my symptoms as much as coffee. I often used to drink heavily caffeinated diet sodas; now I’ve nearly eliminated them from my diet. I’ve substituted sodas with water or decaf iced tea. These are healthier choices, and don’t trigger panic symptoms.
But even despite sacrificing some of my favorite treats for the sake of my health, I’ve found ways to compensate for the things I truly miss about those foods. For example, what I miss about sodas is the carbonation. So, when I’m craving a little carbonation, instead of reaching for a caffeinated soda, I have a wonderful, simple recipe that satisfies my craving for a bubbly drink. I mix a small amount of pomegranate or cranberry juice with seltzer, or, sparkling water. It tastes slightly sweet and fizzy. The perfect replacement for diet soda!
And then, there’s chocolate. I absolutely love chocolate, especially the dark varieties. But here we go again: cocoa beans contain caffeine, so this is one delectable dessert I know, for my own sake, I shouldn’t overindulge in. I don’t want to deprive myself of it either. It makes me happy to savor creamy, dark chocolate, as long as I limit it to one or two squares. In this case, it can really just be about knowing your limits and finding that perfect level of moderation.
The coffee shop, with its warm and welcoming aromas, is still one of my favorite places to be. And I’ll continue going to the coffee shop. I’ve now learned how to pull in the reigns on my cravings, and make the right choices for my own health. We are creatures of habit, and the world is full of alluring temptations. For me, those things just happen to contain caffeine. But now that I know that a diet low in caffeine makes me feel so much better and less anxious than I did before, I’ve found ways to live without it. I’m perfectly content sipping on a frothy decaf cappuccino and breathing in the delicious coffee aroma. But something I’ll never order? A double shot of espresso. Some things aren’t worth it when it comes to being happy and healthy!
Discover how to incorporate effective anxiety-busting foods and nutrients in your diet by reading The Anti-Anxiety Food Solution.
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