Depression and Smoking
When you are in the middle of a battle, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. And if quitting cigarettes isn’t a battle, then I don’t know what is. It is a battle against your own mind, a battle that you can and will win if you prepare yourself for it properly. The majority of smokers that relapse do so because of the effect that nicotine withdrawal has on their mood. Depression-like symptoms are some of the most common in people going through nicotine withdrawal.
This fluctuation in mood affects people differently. Those who have been previously diagnosed with depression will have to anticipate that the symptoms probably will return and get prepared for it. For those who have a relatively normal mental health history, the nicotine withdrawal may bring on symptoms of depression that they’ve rarely experienced before. Regardless of which group you fall into, it’s important to be ready to battle the nicotine withdrawal depression symptoms.
5 Ideas to Defeat Depression After Quitting Smoking
Therapy is a fairly taboo topic to most people. Those of us who see a therapist regularly don’t like to openly talk about it. But we keep going back because it’s great for stress release, mood management, and self-improvement. You may be thinking, “Well I don’t have a mental illness, why would I need to see a therapist?”. Our answer to that is: whether you have a diagnosed condition or not, psychotherapy is a fantastic tool to help you deal with emotions, handle situations, or even just vent about your life. This is important, especially when you are trying to kick a habit that doesn’t want to be kicked.
Most therapists have extensive histories of dealing with people trying to quit and many are very good at coaching you through it. As a smoker, you’ve been moderating your mood with a substance for a long amount of time, and adjust to life without that substance is not easy. Many ex-smokers have attended therapy just for the period of time in which they were actively quitting. Others continue therapy because they find it beneficial to their everyday lives.
Getting active and getting out there can help you through the quitting process. Walking, jogging, swimming, or engaging in any other physical activity you enjoy can help to relax you. Release some of the negative emotion and energy associated with quitting by engaging in light exercise at least once per day. Start with 20-30 minutes of light exercise three times a week, or simply go for a walk when things become overwhelming.
You don’t have to become a body builder or marathon runner, but exercising when you’re quitting smoking is extraordinarily helpful. Here they are:
When you’re pushing your body to its limits on the treadmill, lighting up a cigarette is the last thing on your mind. And when you realize how much smoking has reduced your stamina, you’ll think twice before lighting up. Exercising is great stress relief, and no one needs stress relief more than a smoker trying to quit. Exercise releases endorphins in the brain that boost mood and self-esteem. This helps minimize the quit smoking depression. Many smokers don’t want to quit because of the chance of weight gain, but exercise would solve that problem.
Yes, getting into an exercise routine is hard. It’s very hard. But it is possibly the best possible solution to getting rid of depression after quitting smoking. When you feel those cravings coming on, turn them back on themselves and use them as motivation to hit the gym.
Remember that quitting smoking can be difficult, even for the happiest of people. To combat the decrease in mood, it may be a good idea to make a timeline of the quitting process and mark certain points where you plan to reward yourself. We recommend 1 day, 3 days, 1 week, and 1 month. Reaching each of those points has its own unique challenges, and you’ll certainly deserve a reward for reaching them. For example, if you are a reader, buy yourself a brand new book at each of the points on the timeline. If you enjoy dining, take yourself out to eat or go out to eat with a friend or loved one. Rewarding yourself in this manner keeps you motivated and occupied. Your nicotine withdrawal depression will melt away as you see yourself getting closer to being smoke-free, and receiving rewards and enjoying your favorite activities at the same time.
Create a Coping Checklist
When you’re feeling extremely down, your addiction tricks you into thinking that this is how you’ll feel until you break down and have a cigarette. The best way to fight back is to create a “Coping Checklist”. It’s just a simple list of things to do when you’re feeling particularly low. The idea is that these things bring you back to reality and realize that these negative emotions aren’t going to last forever.
Here is a sample coping checklist:
- Deep breathing exercises
- Listening to music with positive vibes
- Watching YouTube videos that tug at the heartstrings
- Taking a short nap
- Having a healthy snack
- Getting some exercise
- Contacting friends, family, or support coaches
- Calling a quitting support line like 1-800-QUITNOW
Nicotine Replacement Therapy
There is no shame in admitting that quitting smoking cold turkey may just be too difficult for you at this time. For a vast number of people who quit smoking, stop smoking aids are very helpful. The most popular quit smoking aids are:
- Nicotine inhalers
- Nicotine gum
- Nicotine patches
- Nicotine lozenges
- Nicotine sprays
Most of these are over the counter, and the idea behind them is to relieve your nicotine craving while eliminating the toxic smoke and ash that usually accompany it. While these products do slow the process of breaking the nicotine addiction itself, just the fact that they are no longer inhaling toxic smoke and ash on a daily basis is a huge improvement. It adds another step in the transition and increases the success rate compared to going cold turkey.
Using most of these products eliminates the nicotine withdrawal depression, but the habits and rituals of smoking still stick with many people. You won’t feel cravings or have mood issues but you may feel like something is missing and just generally miss smoking cigarettes.
Keep Your Perspective
Perhaps the most important coping tip for fending off quitting smoking depression is doing your best to maintain perspective. If you are experiencing depression as a side-effect to quitting smoking, try to remember that this most certainly a temporary experience. Your addiction will try to tell you that these feeling go on forever until you feed it with another cigarette, but depression associated with quitting smoking generally passes within one to two weeks of your quit date. Reminding yourself that there is a light at the end of the tunnel is crucial.
Note to Readers: There are some situations where depression can become overwhelming. For those with a previous diagnosis of depression, or for those whose depression remains even after two weeks, it may be worthwhile to seek advice from a medical professional. Some individuals begin smoking as a way to cope with undiagnosed depression or other mood disorders. There are warning signs that may indicate that your sadness has become serious. If you experience thoughts of self-harm or suicide, or you lose interest in activities that you were once passionate about, you may be experiencing clinical depression. Some who experience clinical depression have sleep difficulties (too much or too little) or issues with appetite. If you aren’t sure whether you are suffering from clinical depression, contact your physician for an assessment.
The Difference Between Depression and Sadness
Despite what many people believe, depression and sadness are not the same. They differ in many ways. Depression tends to be present almost constantly, whereas sadness is a temporary experience. Most people report that depression lasts two weeks or longer.
Depression also tends to be much more severe, and may significantly interfere with people’s lives. It may interfere with work, play, or even responsibilities. It can also prevent you from engaging in things you want to do.
How is this Different from Withdrawal from Smoking?
Smoking withdrawal can produce depression-like symptoms, but they tend to be much milder. They also tend to last a shorter period of time than depression. As someone who is quitting smoking, you can expect to experience symptoms for up to two weeks, but usually, no longer than this. If your symptoms include severe sadness, thoughts of suicide, or they last longer than two weeks, it is vital that you speak with your doctor or a qualified health professional. Sometimes, depression comes first; for some individuals, smoking is a coping skill. If this is the case, it is important to also seek treatment for your illness.
The statistics for depression can be surprising for some people. Nearly 1 out of every 6 Americans will experience depression at some point in their lives. This translates to nearly 15 million people experiencing depression at least briefly throughout each year. However, depression doesn’t discriminate; it affects people from all walks of life, races, genders, and lifestyles. Smokers, people who have concomitant medical issues, and people who experience extremely high levels of stress tend to experience a higher rate of depression than other demographic groups.
Higher Depression Rates in Smokers
Researchers aren’t exactly sure why smokers are more likely to experience depression than their non-smoking counterparts. One theory suggests that depression likely occurred before the person even began smoking, and the smoking itself is used as a coping and self-medicating skill. Others suggest that the stress of being addicted to a substance, and the repeated highs-to-lows experienced by smokers may lead to high levels of stress hormones. Still, others suggest that those who make poor decisions around smoking may also make poor decisions in other life areas, leading to high-stress experiences.
Is Smoking an Appropriate Coping Skill for Depression?
Smoking is never an appropriate coping skill for depression or mental illness. There are far more appropriate methods for dealing with depression. In fact, because of the way smoking and nicotine affect brain chemicals, the process often worsens depression and anxiety. It is extremely important that you seek out positive ways to cope with your depression as part of your lifestyle change.
Wrapping Up: Smoking and Depression
Hopefully, these ideas can help eliminate those initial smoke-free blues. Just remember that depression during the quitting process is temporary! So just fight your way through it with the knowledge that there is, without a shadow of a doubt, happiness on the other side. It’s about 3 days of hell, 2 weeks of discomfort and then a lifetime of healthy living.
Do you have any tips for dealing with smoking and depression? Tell us about them in the comments below!