Depression Related to Quitting Smoking

How to Deal With the Temporary Mood Changes

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 you thought helped you manage everything from anger to fatigue leaves most new ex-smokers feeling empty and adrift for a time.

Quitting smoking can be very challenging, 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 after a few weeks or gets worse, be sure to check in with your doctor for advice.

Symptoms

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

  • Sleeplessness
  • Sadness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Anxiety or an "empty" feeling
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in appetite (eating more or less)
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
  • Emotional irritability

Coping Techniques

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 depression caused by smoking cessation. It is hard to stay focused and maintain the resolve to not smoke when you're feeling low.

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 let those feelings out, even if you feel a little raw from the experience.

For depression that comes with smoking cessation, try some of the following ideas to improve your mood:

  • 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 related to your goals into small chunks that you feel good about accomplishing.
  • 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 at a moment's notice when you're feeling the urge to smoke, like do a crossword puzzle or call a supportive friend. Jolting ourselves out of a negative thought pattern is often as simple as changing what we're doing.
  • Join a support group. Meeting people who are going through the same struggle as you can help you know you're not alone and offer some much-needed support. The American Lung Association's Freedom From Smoking program has groups all over the country, or do some research to find other support programs in your local area.

    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. The balance will return in time.

    If Depression Pre-Dates Quitting

    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 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 you're already taking might need to be adjusted. Your doctor can monitor and correct dosages on any medications you might be on, if necessary.

    Always be on alert for drastic mood changes and contact your doctor as soon as possible if anything out of the ordinary occurs. If you're having thoughts of self-harm, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

    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'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 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.

    A Word From Verywell

    If the blues have come on since you quit smoking, be patient; you will feel good again. In the meantime, find comfort from your friends, family, and keeping busy with healthier, more productive activities. With time and dedication, 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.

    You can also take comfort in knowing that millions of people have been through this process successfully before you, and many include it among the most rewarding experiences of their lives.

    Depression related to quitting smoking 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.

    View Article Sources
    • National Institutes of Mental Health. Depression. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml .
    • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recognize Signs of Depression. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/quit-smoking/guide/depression-and-smoking.html