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Depression Related to Quitting Smoking Depression

Quitting smoking is difficult enough when you're feeling happy. Unfortunately, it can become further challenging due to mood changes—a common complaint early in smoking cessation. People who smoke are more likely to experience depression than non-smokers, and symptoms of depression often occur while quitting, often as part of nicotine withdrawal.

While people may experience depression after quitting smoking, research has also shown that quitting smoking may decrease depression in the long term.

Knowing what you may experience as you work to become smoke-free can better prepare you for the journey ahead.

Causes of Depression After Quitting Smoking

Nicotine withdrawal is the primary reason for the temporary depression you may experience after quitting smoking. When you use nicotine regularly, your body and brain become dependent on it as the nicotine bonds with your brain receptors to trigger the release of dopamine, the "feel-good" neurotransmitter.

Once you stop smoking and are producing less dopamine than your body and mind have become accustomed to, it is normal to react with low moods and depressed feelings.

Lack of nicotine also means losing the "companion" that you thought helped you manage everything from anger to fatigue, which leaves most new ex-smokers feeling empty and adrift for a time. Luckily, for most, the condition is a byproduct of smoking cessation and is temporary.

Symptoms of Depression After Quitting Smoking

Some common symptoms of depression that you may experience when you stop smoking include:

  • Anxiety or an "empty" feeling

  • Changes in appetite (eating more or less)

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Emotional irritability

  • Fatigue

  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities

  • Sadness

  • Sleeplessness

You may experience one, some, or all of these at one point or another and to varying degrees.

If you start to feel depressed after quitting tobacco and your low mood doesn't pass after a few weeks or gets worse, be sure to check in with your doctor for advice.

Mood changes with quitting smoking are common, but persistent depressive symptoms that worsen or interfere with your functioning may reflect a clinical depression that requires treatment.

Coping Techniques When Quitting Smoking

Quitting tobacco is a big change in lifestyle, and you should expect to react, to some degree, both emotionally and physically. You are also at an increased risk of suffering a smoking relapse during periods of mood changes caused by smoking cessation. It is hard to stay focused and maintain the resolve to not smoke when you're feeling low.

Evidence suggests that people who experience depression before or during the early stages of quitting are at a higher risk of smoking relapse.

After years of smoking, it is possible that you began to bury your feelings behind a cloud of smoke. Cigarettes are used to deal with everything from anger to sadness to joy, causing smokers to often lean on tobacco to avoid difficult emotions.

It is healthy and productive to allow yourself to acknowledge those feelings and find constructive ways to deal with them, even if you feel a little raw from the experience. For mood changes that come with smoking cessation, try some of the following ideas to improve your mood:

Stay Active

Exercise can be a helpful distraction from the urge to smoke, and some research has shown that it can be helpful during the early stages of smoking cessation. Other research has found that exercise can be an effective

Get out for a quick walk. Fresh air is always invigorating, and exercise releases endorphins in the brain, which are known to improve mood.

Create Realistic Goals

Set goals, but don't bite off more than you can chew. Divide tasks related to your goals into small chunks you feel good about accomplishing.

Consider using the SMART goals technique. This involves setting goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. This approach can help you stick with your goals, maintain motivation, and achieve lasting results.

Stay Motivated

Find ways to stay motivated and inspired after you quit smoking. When negative/sad thoughts come up about smoking, remind yourself that you miss smoking mostly because it was an addiction, and once you're healed, you won't feel this way.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been found to be an effective method of helping people cope with unwanted thoughts and urges when they quit smoking. A therapist can work with you to reframe your thoughts.

Know Your Triggers

The thoughts you have about smoking are intensified by smoking triggers. Common triggers include being around people who are smoking, going to places where you used to smoke, and drinking alcohol.

If you always smoked first thing in the morning or in the evening after dinner, for example, you can expect to have strong thoughts about cigarettes during those times of the day after you quit.

Emotions can be triggers to smoke as well. Stress, boredom, excitement, and even happiness may increase your urge to smoke.

Changing your routine can be a useful tool when you're going through nicotine withdrawal. For example, if you always smoked a cigarette before bed, try doing something else instead like going for a walk. Replace the ritual of smoking with a new habit.

Keep helpful items on hand like crunchy snacks or sugar-free candies to give you something to occupy your hands and your mouth instead of using cigarettes.

You may also want to steer clear of places or people that remind you of smoking until you've gotten through the early days of withdrawal. Changing your environment can be the difference between giving in to thought about smoking and managing the thought in a more adaptively

Practice Mindfulness

There are many ways to practice mindfulness, including meditation, yoga, and deep breathing exercises. Mindfulness can be taking just a few minutes out of your day to pay attention to the sensations in your body or to the sounds inside your house or on the street.

Mindfulness may sound like a strange concept if you're not used to practising studies show that it can help people who've quit smoking cope with the urge to smoke.

Practising means realizing that you are not your thoughts. Just because you have a thought, doesn't mean you need to act on it. When you have thought about smoking, you can simply acknowledge it, let it be, and wait for it to pass.

Engage in Self-Care

Taking care of your basic needs can go a long way in managing difficult thoughts during nicotine withdrawal. You may be more likely to think about cigarettes when you lack energy, so be sure to get enough sleep every night and eat a nutritious diet as well.

Exercise can be a great activity to boost energy levels and manage stress. If you're overwhelmed by addictive thought patterns during nicotine withdrawal, doing something physical can help get you out of your head and into your body. Try dancing to some music or taking a quick walk.

Ask yourself: What makes me feel good? Whether it's listening to music in your room, going for a drive on a sunny day, or seeing a movie with a friend, make a list of the activities that bring you joy, and remember to schedule downtime for yourself.

Join a Support Group

You may find comfort in being able to talk to other people who are quitting smoking, too. By joining a support group, whether in-person or online, you can learn from other people's experiences. You may find inspiration and tips on coping with thoughts about smoking.

Quit smoking apps are full of advice on quitting smoking effectively. Many of them track your progress and some even send daily messages of encouragement.

Even talking to a family member or friend when you're having thoughts about smoking can help you disrupt the thought. Let yourself be distracted by the positive people and things in your life.

Adjust Your Perspective

One of the greatest challenges new ex-smokers face is an important change in perspective. It is that shift in thinking from seeing smoking cessation as an exercise in deprivation to realizing that it is, in fact, one of the best gifts you'll ever give yourself.

This is a crucial step in the process of healing from nicotine addiction, and it is with this transformation that many see their quitting-related symptoms of depression begin to lift.


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