Depression When You Quit Smoking

Depressed woman in pajamas sitting in bed
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Depression is a common complaint early on in smoking cessation. Lack of nicotine and the loss of the crutch that we thought helped us manage everything from anger to fatigue can leave us feeling empty and adrift.  

I'd like to introduce you to Michelle, a moderator at the About Smoking Cessation support forum. With years of smoke-free living under her belt, she understands the recovery process from nicotine addiction well and offers her thoughts here on depression that can come after quitting smoking.

From Michelle:

Quitting smoking can be very challenging at times, and is difficult enough when you're feeling happy. I would venture to guess that many people have relapsed during periods of depression; it is hard to stay focused and maintain the resolve to not smoke when you're feeling low.

If you start to feel depressed during the cessation process, please know that the condition is a byproduct of quitting and is temporary. That said, if it doesn't pass in a reasonable amount of time or gets worse, be sure to check in with your doctor for advice.

If Depression Pre-Dates Your Quit Program

If you have been diagnosed and/or treated for depression prior to quitting smoking, 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.  And this way, your doctor can monitor and adjust 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.

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

Quit-Related Depression

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 the feelings come as they will. Quitting tobacco is a big change in lifestyle, and you will react, to some degree, both emotionally and physically.

And think about it; there is no reason to deny your emotions; they are personal, and they belong to you. Years of smoking taught us to bury our feelings behind a cloud of smoke.  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. 

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. So don't worry if you are close to tears one moment and angry or sad, the next.  Balance will return in time.

Use Gratitude as a Tool

It helps to build up a reservoir of gratitude.

When you're feeling down and having a difficult time finding the positives, quitting smoking is always there; you can always feel good about that.

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

Make a list of little things you can do to give yourself a little lift. 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, keep reminding yourself that the blues are a temporary state.  Happier days are ahead, and with them will come a tremendous sense of pride and empowerment from overcoming this killer addiction.

More from Michelle: Patience with the Process


National Institutes of Mental Health. Depression. Accessed April 2016.

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