Depression

Seeing Through the Haze: How Quitting Smoking Affects Your Mental Health

July 3, 2020

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It is a well-established fact that quitting smoking is challenging for many reasons. Not only is it difficult just to make the decision to quit, but the actual cessation process comes with physical, social, and mental barriers that make it hard to push forward. With all of the available research on nicotine addiction and how cigarettes affect a person’s physical health, the benefits to quitting smoking are often clear to see. 

However, smoking cessation also has a lot of effects on your mental health that can be easy to forget about. Though your overall mental health should improve in the long run after quitting smoking, there can be some potential negative impacts on your mental health early on in your journey that are important to be aware of. By having an understanding of how to deal with them, you can ultimately be more successful in your decision.

Why Is Quitting Smoking So Difficult?

The barriers to fighting your addiction

It is important to note that there are various barriers to quitting smoking that can be difficult for anyone to overcome, whether you experience a mental health condition or not. No matter what additional challenges you may face, it is important to familiarize yourself with these barriers as best you can. By doing this, you may be able to better prepare yourself for the journey ahead and properly plan for how to overcome them. Here are some of the barriers you may experience on your journey to quit:

  • Physical Barriers. Nicotine, a major component of cigarettes, is the psychoactive substance responsible for addiction to smoking. It acts on many receptors in the body and increases the release of dopamine (a chemical that makes you feel happy). There is a continual reinforcement that occurs and ultimately leads to your physical dependence on nicotine to make you feel stress-free. Overcoming the physical withdrawal symptoms like headaches and fatigue can be difficult.
  • Social Barriers. The role that smoking has in various social settings also poses a challenge to quitting. Many people who smoke may have made friends or become part of a group because of it, and fear losing friendships. For others, there can be social triggers like drinking alcohol or being in environments where taking a smoke break has become a habit.
  • Mental Barriers. People experiencing mental health issues can be especially prone to nicotine addiction because of nicotine’s mood-altering abilities. It is also true that with mental health conditions such as depression, smoking rates are not only higher, but depressed individuals are less likely to stop smoking. The mood changes that accompany smoking cessation are not only difficult to deal with when you’re feeling generally happy, but can be even more challenging if you struggle with your mental health.
  • Behavioral Barriers. Similarly to the social barriers, there are certain behavioral triggers that can enhance physical withdrawal symptoms and make it difficult not to give into cravings for smoking. Whether it is a specific activity like driving or a feeling of stress you get at your job, there are certain events that challenge your ability to not go light up. 

It is important to brainstorm ways you can combat the challenges you may face, whether it be researching treatments for withdrawal symptoms, finding alternative lifestyle changes for your mental health condition, or avoiding social and behavioral triggers. 

A pile of smoked cigarettes sit in an ash tray.
Nicotine, the psychoactive chemical in cigarettes, can have differing effects in people who are mentally healthy and people who struggle with a mental health condition. Either way, there are barriers to quitting smoking due to the physical and psychological dependence that accompanies a nicotine addiction.

Will Quitting Smoking Make Me Depressed?

How to deal with the temporary depression symptoms of smoking cessation

Because of how nicotine has its effect on the body, it is possible that you could experience some symptoms of depression when you start your journey to quit smoking. A lot of the withdrawal symptoms that occur when you deny your body more nicotine are comparable to the symptoms you would experience if you struggle with depression. This can certainly be challenging to deal with, taking its toll on your mental health while also making it difficult not to smoke and relieve these symptoms. 

As your body is now producing less dopamine than it was used to, the consequence can be lower moods and energy levels. Some of the symptoms you might experience are: insomnia, sadness, feelings of emptiness, irritability, appetite changes, fatigue, and lack of interest in hobbies. Luckily, these symptoms are likely just temporary and should improve after a few weeks.

There are ways that you can counter depression symptoms related to quitting smoking. It is important to recognize that the decision to stop smoking is a major change to your lifestyle, and it is normal to experience physical and emotional reactions. Whatever you feel is appropriate and within your boundaries to cope with the symptoms you are experiencing will be beneficial to your well-being and your overall success in your journey to quit. Here are some ideas for coping with depression related to quitting smoking: 

  • Going for walks or exercising regularly
  • Spending time with people who are encouraging and make you happy
  • Keeping a journal and setting reasonable goals for yourself
  • Joining a support group for quitting smoking
  • Making a list of alternative activities to do at any point you feel cravings to smoke

If your symptoms are persistent and you cannot find ways to relieve them, consider checking in with your doctor to discuss ways you can find treatment moving forward. 

A woman sits against a wall with her face in her arms, appearing to be depressed or in some sort of emotional distress.
It is normal for your body to react physically and emotionally to a major lifestyle change like quitting smoking. You may even experience some temporary depression symptoms related to this decision, and it is important to have an understanding of this so you can find ways to improve your overall well-being throughout your journey. 

What Impact Does Quitting Smoking Have On Anxiety?

The complicated relationship between smoking and anxiety

When it comes to mental health, it can be difficult to distinguish the differences in terms of whether people engage in smoking because of their mental health conditions or whether they begin to struggle with their mental health as a result of their smoking habits. One thing is clear, however, and it’s that quitting smoking truly results in better long-term mental health.

But, just as we know quitting smoking can result in temporary depression symptoms, it can also result in feelings of anxiety. In fact, a large majority of smokers will experience anxiety associated with quitting. The answer, once again, lies in the mechanism by which nicotine affects your brain. Along with all of the other withdrawal symptoms that can accompany your choice to stop smoking, anxiety is another one that challenges your mental health. As a result, you might feel nervous, frightened or even panicked from time to time.

Rather than lighting up, it is important to understand that focusing on treating your anxiety symptoms will benefit you in the long run. The coping strategies mentioned previously in this article are applicable to dealing with your anxiety as a result of quitting. If you feel that you need to seek further treatment, you can check out MyTransformations to read more about Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) therapy and how it is used to treat symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

Though not an easy feat, overcoming your withdrawal symptoms associated with quitting smoking will ultimately lead to improved mental health overall. Research has shown that smokers are actually more prone to developing an anxiety disorder, such as generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder. So, it is important to recognize that despite the anxiety symptoms you may experience at first, smoking cessation actually alleviates your levels of anxiety over time.

A woman sits on a porch with her legs up, leaning back in a chair. She appears carefree and without much anxiety.
Quitting smoking can bring on a variety of withdrawal symptoms, which can include anxiety. Understanding that these symptoms should pass with proper treatment and coping strategies will be important to your success in quitting smoking. By the end of your journey to stop smoking, you should find that your anxiety levels are actually significantly decreased. 

Consistent smoking impacts your body in a variety of ways, including physically and mentally. Nicotine has the ability to alter your mood, emotions, and energy levels to the extent that you develop a dependence on it that can be challenging to counteract. If you familiarize yourself with the barriers that you might encounter on your journey to quitting smoking, you can better prepare to face them with confidence.

Knowing that quitting smoking can have a complicated link to your mental health is beneficial to your ability to cope with your symptoms and ultimately succeed in your decision. The initial mental health effects of quitting smoking can result in symptoms of anxiety and depression, among other feelings, but the important thing is that the end result is actually better mental health overall. 

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