In my previous article I talked about the effects of caffeine on people who suffer from various types of anxiety. Letting go of the hold this popular stimulant has on the body and psyche is no easy feat. Some argue that quitting caffeine is as hard to kicking cigarettes or losing weight. If you have a patient who believes he or she needs to stop, or that you feel would benefit with stopping or cutting back, below is a detailed plan for helping them be successful.
STEP 1: Identify why quitting is important to you. Ask your patient to write down at least three reasons why he or she wants to quit using caffeine. If they tend to be anxious, one obvious reason is to help them get control of their anxiety. However, there are many other benefits to quitting such as reducing high blood pressure, improving sleep and saving money. Ask your patient to keep these reasons with them at all times. They can jot them down on a 3 x 5 index card, business card or restaurant napkin. It doesn’t really matter. The important thing is for them to keep the reasons handy so they can pull them out and remind themselves while they are standing outside of Starbucks or about to order a large glass of iced tea at their favorite restaurant.
STEP 2: Educate yourself about withdrawal symptoms. Yes, your clients can have withdrawal symptoms from caffeine. Fortunately, they tend to be mild in most people and only reach the level of being a nuisance. The most typical withdrawal effects are:
▪ concentration problems
▪ flu-like symptoms
If your client is able to understand that these effects are short-lived and cause no lasting negative effects, it will be much easier to tolerate them.
STEP 3: Choose a start date. This tip may seem like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how many people never put a plan into action because they have not decided on when to start. Ask your clients seeking to give up caffeine to choose a start date that is realistic. It may be next week or next month. If the next couple of weeks are going to be unusually stressful, then they should start after things settle down. And they should not try to quit too many things at one time. If they are already quitting smoking, cutting back on carbs or kicking gluten out of their dietary routine, encourage them to conquer those things first.
STEP 4: Track your caffeine intake. Your client will need to track how much caffeine he or she takes in each day. They can make up a simple chart or download one of the several caffeine trackers available for smart phones (Coffee Addict or myIntake). Ask them to estimate their daily caffeine intake over a period of one week. Once they know how much caffeine they take in, they can proceed to step 5.
STEP 5: Cut back gradually. Your clients should avoid quitting “cold turkey.” Reducing their caffeine intake gradually helps prevent withdrawal symptoms. A general rule of thumb is to reduce caffeine intake by 50% each week. So, if your patient normally drinks 8 cups (600-800 milligrams of caffeine) of coffee a day, he or she would cut back to 4 cups a day the first week, 2 cups the second week, 1 cup the third week and ½ cup (or stop altogether) the fourth week.
STEP 6: Increase your fluid intake. As your patient reduces liquid, even if it is coffee or soda, it is important to replace it with non-caffeinated beverages to avoid dehydration and headaches. An ideal replacement is water. Water will help the kidneys flush toxins out of your client’s system. It also keeps him or her hydrated.
*This article is based on a chapter in Dr. Moore’s book “Taking Control of Anxiety: Getting the Best of Worry, Stress, and Fear.