How to Deal with Depression Related to Quitting Smoking

A woman at the couch
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Depression is a common complaint early on in smoking cessation. Lack of nicotine and the loss of the "companion" that we thought helped us manage everything from anger to fatigue leaves most new ex-smokers feeling empty and adrift for a time.

Quitting smoking can be very challenging at times, and is difficult enough when you're feeling happy. 

If you start to feel depressed after quitting tobacco, please know that the condition is a byproduct of smoking cessation and is temporary.

That said, if your low mood doesn't pass in a reasonable amount of time or gets worse, be sure to check in with your doctor for advice.

Symptoms of depression may include:

  • sleeplessness
  • sadness
  • difficulty concentrating
  • anxiety or an "empty" feeling
  • fatigue
  • changes in appetite (more or less)
  • loss of interest in hobbies, activities
  • emotional irritability

Depression Related to Smoking Cessation

It is normal for nicotine withdrawal to trigger emotional upset, and the upheaval is usually a roller coaster ride early on in smoking cessation. Try to relax and let feelings come as they will. Quitting tobacco is a big change in lifestyle, and you should expect to react, to some degree, both emotionally and physically.

We are also at an increased risk of suffering a smoking relapse during periods of depression caused by smoking cessation. It is hard to stay focused and maintain the resolve to not smoke when you're feeling low.

Years of smoking taught us to bury our feelings behind a cloud of smoke.  As smokers, we used cigarettes to deal with everything from anger to sadness to joy, often leaning on tobacco to avoid difficult emotions. It is healthy and productive to let those feelings out in the light of day now, even if we feel a little raw from the experience of it to begin with.

For mild depression that comes with smoking cessation, try some of the following tips.  They might help you feel better.

  • Get out of a quick walk.  Fresh air is always invigorating, and exercise releases endorphins in the brain, which are known to improve mood.
  • Set goals, but don't bite off more than you can chew.  Divide tasks (and goals) into small chunks that you feel good about accomplishing.
  • Try to spend time with people who make you feel good.  
  • 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.
  • Create a list of things you can do a moment's notice when you're feeling the urge to smoke. Jolting ourselves out of a negative thought pattern is often as simple as changing what we're doing.

While quitting smoking, the body and mind are in a state of transition, and it's not uncommon for new ex-smokers to struggle with their emotions. Don't worry if you are close to tears one moment and angry or sad, the next. Balance will return in time.

If Depression Pre-Dates Your Quit Program

If you have been diagnosed and/or treated for depression prior to quitting smoking, it is important to let your doctor know ahead of time if possible that you're planning to quit.

 Smoking cessation could make you susceptible to additional mood disturbances. 

Smoking also causes some medications to be metabolized more quickly, so when you quit, prescriptions might need to be adjusted.

Your doctor can monitor and correct dosages on any medications you might be on, if necessary.

Always be alert for drastic mood changes and contact your doctor as soon as possible if anything out of the ordinary occurs.

Think of Gratitude as a Quit Tool

Ex-smoker Michelle is a moderator at our smoking cessation support forum.  She understands the recovery process from nicotine addiction well and offers her thoughts below on depression that can come with smoking cessation.

From Michelle:

When you're feeling down and having a difficult time finding the positives, quitting smoking is something you can always feel good about. Think about it -- how long did you spend wanting to quit before you were able to do it?

Take time at the end of the day to acknowledge the importance of what you are working to accomplish. Find comfort in knowing that you are being kind to your body.

This gratitude list was created by new ex-smokers.  Do you feel any of the same emotions that they do?

Gratitude can help offset negative feelings and make it easier for you to manage depression due to quitting tobacco.

Change Your Mind - Change Your Life

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've ever given yourself.

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

Keep your perspective - while you are moving through this transitional period, crying, whining, and even screaming are all preferable to inhaling deadly chemicals.

Smoking is Not Comforting.  It is Familiar.

Early in the recovery process, new ex-smokers sometimes resort to lighting up because they perceive smoking to be something that offers comfort.  Don't make this mistake as it will land you back at square one. 

Push through and know that time away from smoking will make it less familiar.  You'll begin to see nicotine for what it is...a highly addictive drug that robs people of time with those they love and seeks to kill, one puff at a time...if you let it.

Give yourself time to develop new and healthier coping strategies. Don't buy the lie.

There is never a good reason to light up.

Think about some simple treats you can indulge in to lift your spirits. Rent a comedy, try a new hairstyle, call a friend, go shopping; spend a little of the money you're saving since you quit to buy yourself something special.

If the blues have come on since you quit smoking, be patient.  You'll feel good again. In the meantime,  find comfort from your friends, family, or your faith. With practice, these will become the more familiar sources of comfort to you, and smoking will become that thing that you thought used to make you feel better.

Take comfort also in knowing that millions of people have been through this process successfully before you.   Many include it among the most rewarding experiences of their lives.

Above all, remember that quit-related depression is a temporary state.  Happier days are ahead, and with them will come a tremendous sense of pride and empowerment from overcoming this killer addiction.

Source:

National Institutes of Mental Health. Depression. Updated October, 2016.

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