Thursday, October 23, 2014

Coffee and Productivity: 10 Reasons Why I Avoid Caffeine for Creativity and Health

Ah, caffeine, the lifeblood of the Creative. Can you survive without it? Mountain Dew Code Red with a sugary cereal bar was my high school breakfast, I used to bounce off the walls then crash midday. Code Red had the highest caffeine content of any soda with an addictive red dye to boot. When I started working full-time as a bill collector I drank three cups of cream-and-sugared coffee for the comfort and taste. When I transitioned to finding writing work I was drinking instant espresso and wondering why I couldn't sleep, it was all mindless consumption. Weaning caffeine out was easy, I switched to trying various green teas for the taste. When I switched to veganism then semi-raw veganism I transitioned to no caffeine at all. It's a rare treat now. Sometimes with dangerous affects.

Green tea latte I ordered in a cute seaside cafe in Okinawa, Japan

Recently I made a very strong cup of green tea. Shit got did: organized, listed, cleaned, decorated. I felt my old "Writer's voice" returning, my "real voice" trained out by copywriting. I crave that lost voice with the same mad passion Ahab has for killing his whale, and green tea was a vessel that bought it back. But the green had its price; I woke up destroyed. That's my usual cycle with caffeine: a ton gets done one day, but the next day I move like a zombie. It's a zero-sum game.

The little booth we enjoyed our treats in. I adore cafes and still want to open one. I have a conflicted relationship with caffeine...but still try to avoid it!

Many doctors say coffee and tea are healthy. Many of the healthiest countries in the world drink it. Some of the oldest people in the world credit a black cup of coffee a day for their longevity. Yes, it boosts creativity and metabolism.  But I have to call bullshit on it's purported Wonder Powers for Perfect Health. Here are my issues with caffeine:

1. It's addictive. Plain and simple.

Any substance that creates a chemical dependency can't be good. Caffeine produces withdrawal headaches and even scarier, dependance for functioning. When I stopped drinking coffee and replaced it with ample water my semi-frequent migraines vanished. I don't miss 'em!

2. It's an unnecessary addiction.

I've been stopped here and reminded that air, water, food, and love* are also "addictions." I shouldn't have to point out we need those things to live but we don't need caffeine to live? If we're healthy and getting the correct amount of sleep, healthy food, exercise and ample water we shouldn't need caffeine to function with ample energy. I'm not saying I do all of that "right", hell no I don't! But I'm striving to improve my general health all the time and don't want caffeine to impair the judgement of my results. More on that below...

*That love-high you feel is your brain producing oxytocin, the love/addiction chemical. Next time you see your S/O say "You're my wittle oxytocin-producer... yes you are, yes you are!"

3. I want to use energy levels to gauge progress with my health.

I'm always trying new vegan /whole food/exercise combinations and striving to be as frugally healthy as possible. I want to hyperactively productive with my creative passions. I don't like caffeine messing up my ability to judge if my lifestyle improvements are working. I want to be naturally energetic as a reflection of proper hydration/sleep/diet/exercise.

4. Even in small doses, you develop a tolerance and need more for the same high.

A 1995 study showed that you develop a tolerance for the amount of caffeine you're drinking and will need more to function as well as your initial dosage in as little as 8-12 days, even if you're only drinking a tiny bit of caffeine. Furthermore, you can crave more in a matter of hours! I can't stand being dependent on any particular thing to get by other than healthy food and water.

5. I don't want to need it to be creative.

Caffeine gets you creative for a while...until the inevitable crash. I don't want to be dependent on any substance to be creative, I'm going to try natural methods like the ones in the classic book The Artist's Way.

6. It's nice to keep on-hand for emergency use only.

The less you drink it, the more if will be effective for emergency deadlines. Sparingly.

7. It's like those "speed shoes" in Sonic The Hedgehog. You're faster but it screws you.

I used to avoid the box you crush to make you much faster in Sonic The Hedgehog. You're faster but you almost enviably lose all your rings and/or  fall pray to the dozens of enemies and booby traps. It's no different in real life for me. (Phase 1) I get coffee high, over-ambitious and start on several projects and once, (Phase 2) The caffeine wears off and I'm left my a giant project-pile and house mess that sets me back a day or more and (Phase 3) The next day I'm sloth-slow after working too hard the prior day or staying up too late from not being able to sleep due to caffeine and I'm set behind.

It tends to be a hinderance and not helpful at all if you're not careful. And about that coffee high...

8. The Coffee-High creeps me out.

Caffeine increases dopamine and adrenaline levels, creating the mood and creativity boosting coffee high. I loathe taking anything that changes my mood, I'm that rare creative person that's never tried illegal drugs. The creativity boost is delicious and being happy is good, in theory. But it weirds me out. It's "fake" happiness, I don't like the thought of having to drink the coffee to be happy. And it can cause cranky withdrawals or tiredness later. I prefer to improve my mood and creativity naturally.

9. Cost.

The coffee you pick up from Starbucks, the cans of healthy or not-so-healthy energy drinks or teas add up! Let's say you buy coffee five days a week at it's average retail cost of $3.65*, that's $73.00 a month and $876 a year! A lot of people I know buy little energy drink pick-me-ups throughout the day that add more to that cost.

A cup of coffee at home costs 65 cents on average, that's the better way to go if you're going to drink it and a preparing a cup of tea can be a relaxing


10. The Cult of Coffee.

The smell of coffee is heaven for me and many others. I grew up influenced by big-time coffee culture being Hispanic and raised in Naples, Italy.* My mom would make daily cappuccinos and let me taste the sweet, frothy goodness. Coffee is nostalgic and comforting. It has a cultured, old-world association. Cafes are soothing spaces to work. The process of making it is a relaxing ritual. It's also culty and occasionally snobby.

*Want to feel your eyes twitch involuntarily? Test the might of a real Italian Espresso. The "Americano" coffee was invented from American soldiers in Italy during WW II that needed the stronger Italian coffee watered down.

Coffee smells and tastes delicious, it's a decadent treat and I'm not saying you should stop drinking it. I did, after all, recently share a pumpkin spice latte recipe. I know it affects everyone differently. But I hope you consider how much you drink, where you buy it, and why you drink it. I'll share alternatives healthy/tasty caffeine-free drinks and energy boosting methods in future posts.

A great post to read is The Best Time to Drink Coffee According to Science, with information on timing your coffee according to your natural circadian rhythm.

Do you need your cup of joe or tea to survive? Let's discuss coffee and creativity. I'll confess it's tempting to drink it occasionally for that creative boost
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  1. You might get a wee bit of push back on this post lol. I am loving my cup of Earl Grey Tea every morning. Can take or leave coffee - find it too strong. I never drink anything with caffeine after 5pm or it interferes with my already crappy sleep patterns. I love tea, would find it difficult to give up. I drink it with evaporated milk instead of cream (lower in calories) and find it comforting. I have never found that much of a caffeine high or low with it though, I think it is much lower in caffeine than regular coffee.

    1. Forgot to say I completely agree it costs too much so only drink it at home, try to never out unless travelling, and I hate the cult of coffee too

    2. I love and miss earl gray. I adore tea, I imbibe on ocassion but try to keep it minimsl. Figured this pist would get push back but it's sonethibg I've wanted to share for a while now. The stuff can be deadly.

    3. Oops something* oh and same on sleep. My cycle is naturally bad enough as it is. Funny enough I'm working so long/h ard these that I can pass out even if I have coffee at night.


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