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One Small Change

The Perfect Recession Drink

Having now crossed the halfway mark in this month-long drama, I'm beyond most of caffeine's major withdrawal symptoms. Although I still crave a jolt before exercise and early-morning projects, I no longer need it, and that's a liberating and empowering feeling. There is one thing, though, I sorely miss and maybe even need, and that is the comfort that a cup of joe provides on a steel-gray morning when there's no one at home and threats of recession and fear dominate the headlines.

There's something about wrapping your hands around a familiar mug, hunkering down in a soft chair with a fleece throw, and feeling the warmth of each sip slide into your system like feet into slippers. Somehow things never seem so bad or hope so distant when there's a fresh coffee in hand.

I have a theory: The more fear and uncertainty there is in the country, the greater the lure of coffee. I call it the Coffee Comfort Factor, or CCF. For anecdotal proof, look no farther than your local coffeehouse where people huddle over their steaming cups like cavemen around a bonfire. Coffee and the atmosphere that surrounds it supply a feeling of momentary security that I believe is every bit as addictive as caffeine. It's similar in effect to going home for a bowl of mom's chicken soup – but without the resulting indigestion and cholesterol spike.

Although I'm no psychologist, I do know something about fear. After 9/11, when I felt the tendrils of anxiety creeping into every corner of me, I made a list of my 12 biggest fears and set out to face each one during the course of a year. I spent a day as a high-rise window washer to surmount my fear of heights. I did a stand-up routine at a comedy club to stare down my phobia of public speaking. I had an aging carnival knife-thrower use me for target-practice in order to confront my fear of death. And I spent time in solitary confinement so I could face the ever-present fear that is one's self. And what I concluded after that year of living bravely was that the root of all fears is the simple but paralyzing dread of being alone. You'll have to read my book to get the intricate philosophy of that (shameless plug for Accidental Courage), but suffice it to say that I'm convinced all our fears originate there. And coffee, in its small comforting way, always manages to make us feel like we're not alone – and we cherish that.

For the last week I've been trying to reclaim a small measure of CCF by experimenting with a variety of warming brews, or coffee substitutes. I first tried herbal tea because it's naturally caffeine-free and, if you believe the packaging, is outrageously calming and healthy. Here's an example from my very own pantry:  Celestial Seasonings' Peach Apricot Honeybush tea is a "fruity nectar" that comes complete with African proverbs ("By persevering, the egg walks on legs"), an opportunity to trade $1 and a proof-of-purchase for a Red Dress Pin designed to raise awareness about female heart disease, and a reproduction painting on the box of a giraffe eating peaches. Enough already! It's just too early for all this.

Next I tried something called Teeccino, an herbal coffee made with roasted grains, fruits and nuts that was supposed to deliver "all the satisfaction without the caffeine and acidity of coffee," plus a "natural energy boost." While the chicory made it taste faintly of chocolate, there was no soothing coffee-like aroma, and a couple of cups left a sour after-taste in my mouth and gut. And there was no detectable energy boost. Maybe it's an acquired taste, but it wasn't for me.

Now I'm onto instant oatmeal and enjoying that much better. That's right, oatmeal. Ocean Spray makes a wonderful cranberry-pomegranate flavor that provides me with comfort, warmth, nutrition and even a bowl to hunker over. It weighs me down a bit more than coffee ever did, but it's the best substitute I've found so far when it comes to reclaiming some reassurance.

Have I gone crazy yet?

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About The Author

Joe Kita – Joe Kita is a noted writer, editor, motivational speaker and teacher. He authors the blog "One Small Change" for CorePerformance.com.

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Tags: Beverages, Stress, Caffeine