Why I Still Love Caffeine, Even Though it Sucks

Real life happens. A thick layer of sleep clung to me this morning as I clawed my way out of bed and into the day. I did all the things that usually make me wake up; I stretched and meditated, took a little walk, ate some breakfast, and had a cool shower.

I sat staring at my desktop for ten minutes before I gave in. “Okay, my brain is off. I’ll make some tea.” And here I am, fifteen minutes later, zooming through my to-do list and being mega-productive.

But what will happen this afternoon? Will I fall into that energetic black hole that lives between two and three in the afternoon? We’ll see.

And what about tomorrow morning? Will it be even harder to drag myself out from beneath the mountain of sleepy? Only time will tell.

The Ups and Downs of Caffeine

You’ve probably heard the buzz that coffee is good for you. The Mayo Clinic (which I consider to be a reliable source) says that “studies have shown that coffee may have health benefits, including protecting against Parkinson's disease, type 2 diabetes, and liver disease, including liver cancer. Coffee also appears to improve cognitive function and decrease the risk of depression.”

Why I Still Love Caffeine

That last sentence sure hits home. One cup of black tea and I am a cognitive Wonder Woman, doing division in my head and keeping track of obscure details, all while maintaining a perky sense of humor.

I’ve definitely experienced the downside of caffeine though: the anxiety or restlessness, the sour stomach, the insomnia or fatigue that comes from having too much caffeine, too often.

I’ve always wanted to be one of those people who can drink coffee all day and still function. It just makes me feel so happy. But caffeine is like a manipulative ex-boyfriend who pulls me back in with promises of romance, just as I’ve forgotten how much he actually sucks.

I’m sick of the abuse. When I got clear that I wanted a healthy relationship with caffeine, I started researching a strategy that would allow me to drink coffee and tea without getting sucked into dependence.

How to Have a Healthy Relationship with Caffeine

“Everything in moderation.”

If I had a nickel for every time someone has told me that, we’d both be on a beach in Southeast Asia. (That’s right, I’d take you with me. That’s just the kind of person I am. But that rule doesn’t work for me, not even a little bit.

I do well with firm lines, rules that are easy for me to follow. (You might not be this way, and that’s awesome. You do you. I can’t do cheese in moderation; it immediately makes me break out and get a stuffy nose. The same goes for gluten, all cow’s dairy products, cane sugar/agave, artificial sweeteners, etc., etc.

Caffeine and alcohol aren’t always bad for me, but too much or too often of either and things get pretty terrible inside of me. So I wanted a firm rule that would allow me to have some, but not tons, of these fun beverages.

As I was researching caffeine and alcohol strategies, I was also working on content for my upcoming course, How to Love Your Period. I found out that both caffeine and alcohol can exacerbate PMS symptoms in some women, even increasing the severity and duration of menstrual cramps and breast pain. If you haven’t read my period story, you might not know that cramps have caused me to black out in the past. I am all about a cramp-less existence.

My Caffeine Strategy/How to Love Your Period

I decided to kill two birds (moderating my relationship with caffeine, and kicking pre-period pain) with the following strategy:

For the two weeks leading up to my period, I am straight-edge as can be; it’s only herbal tea and seltzer water for me. After my period has ended, I taper myself onto caffeine, starting and ending with green tea to avoid the jitters or nasty withdrawal headaches.

Here are the perks of my “two weeks on/two weeks off” strategy:

1. I track my period, which is just a good thing for women to do. Knowing where you are in your cycle can help you plan ahead for the week when you might be extra spicy, or extra weepy. I love the apps OvuView and Clue. Check them out and see what works best for you.

2. It reinforces my pre-menstrual phase as one of cleansing and softening. If I’m not drinking alcohol or coffee, I’m probably not staying out late and dragging myself to work wearing last night’s mascara. This gentle (physical and mental) detox prepares my body for the monthly process of letting go, literally and figuratively. It gives me time to witness my life and consciously let go of habits/people/mental patterns that don’t do me any good.

3. I now have an effortlessly easy relationship with caffeine and alcohol. I never have to second-guess my choice to stick with seltzer and lime. I never get sucked into month-long caffeine binges that leave me bleary-eyed and nauseous. I have a clear-cut game plan that I don’t have to double check.

So, what do you think about “everything in moderation?” Does moderation work for you? Do you have other strategies for balancing sweat-streaked, glitter-bombed late nights and caffeine-fueled mornings with quiet, introspective nights at home and early morning yoga classes?

Let me know in the comments how you manage (or don’t!) your relationship with caffeine and alcohol.