People who have smoked for most of their lives may not recall what life was like before smoking. For years, smoking was a reward, a past time, a coping tool for stress, anger, boredom, anxiety, sadness, frustration and every other emotion or challenge that came along.
As a result, longtime smokers may not have developed emotional coping tools or practiced letting go or learned to sit with their feelings. This can leave the newly quit in double trouble! At the same time withdrawals, anxiety and stress step in, the quitter's only known coping tool (smoking) steps out. When you stop smoking, you stopped doing something you were used to doing every day for many years. It is no wonder why your emotions go through a challenging time!
It is normal to feel nervous, restless and even sad when you quit smoking. You miss your daily ritual; even more so if there are no new behaviors in place for each of the moments throughout the day that you used to smoke.
Quitting is a process. It takes time. It does not feel comfortable at first and that is OK! When you stop smoking, you can no longer do what you used to do in the same way you used to do it. Temporary mood swings can result from quit related hormone fluctuations and quit related withdrawals. It will get better, so keep going!
Know that every smoker goes through similar challenges. As you work your way through your quit, you are actually 'becoming a nonsmoker', not just 'not smoking'. Make a commitment to find new emotional coping tools so you can move forward happily and successfully as a nonsmoker. Plan ahead how you will meet your emotional needs as a nonsmoker. Your answers to the following questions will help provide you with a personal road map to success:
- How will you relax?
- How will you reward and celebrate?
- How will you process feelings of anger?
- How will you deal with anxiety?
- How will you cope with stress?
- How will you overcome sadness, depression?
- What will comfort you and get you through a bad day?
Chances are, you have no idea how to answer these questions because you have never had to! This is a normal experience, and rest assured you can find things that interest you, inspire you, calm, comfort, entertain and support you as a nonsmoker.
Think of things that have helped you get through strong trigger moments in the past. Think of things that make you laugh or recall fondly. Really work your quit process; brainstorm and come up with new emotional coping tools that can address your individual needs effectively. Next week, we will take these new coping tools you've identified and discuss how to move forward successfully as a nonsmoker!
Keep going and KTQ,
Vikki CTTS-M Celebrate your quit with other quitters:
One minute you feel fine, the next you feel like crying at the drop of a hat. Other times you may feel like breaking something (or someone).
Welcome to the roller coaster of emotions called quitting smoking. Feelings of anger, stress, sadness, anxiety, and elation cycle back and forth, up and down, and take you for a loop-de-loop leaving you feeling physically exhausted and emotionally drained.
If you think you are on this ride alone, you’re not. Many ex-smokers experience mood swings when they quit smoking. This is because nicotine is a mood enhancing drug. Nicotine works by releasing feel-good chemicals (called endorphins) in the brain awakening the reward pathway. When you quit smoking, you lose not only this chemically induced happiness, but the behaviors, habits and associations you’ve also created with cigarettes as a “friend,” stress relief, a crutch, and as a way to deal with a myriad of emotions.
But smoking was never a way to cope with emotions. Smoking was a way to not deal with emotions. Smoking cigarettes literally teaches smokers to mask emotions behind a smoke screen. Freeing yourself from behind that smokescreen means learning new ways of handling emotions more effectively. Studies show that in the long run, ex-smokers are actually happier than when they did smoke!
The road to feeling more in control of your emotions may very well start with acknowledging that, at least temporarily, your emotions are out of control. Try reigning them back in with these suggestions:
- Talk things out. Call up a friend and vent. Or consider finding a therapist. If you don’t want to talk things out, then write them out in a journal, text message someone, or log into the Q and use the three post rule!
- Increase endorphins, naturally. Doing things you enjoy naturally releases endorphins: exercising, gardening, spending time with friends, working on a hobby, and playing an instrument or sport. It’s hard to be upset or sad when you’re doing something you love!
- Take a breather. Step outside and take some deep breaths. Inhale slowly through the nose and out the mouth, counting to 10 each time. Go for a brisk walk or bike ride. Exercising outdoors has been shown to improve mood!
- Use rote responses. These are mantras you repeatedly chant to yourself: One day at a time. This too shall pass. Just BREATHE!
- Ask your doctor about medications. Some quit smoking medications can help minimize withdrawal symptoms (like irritability and mood swings) while others have anti-depressant or anti-anxiety properties (Bupropion). Some herbal remedies like St. John’s Wort show promise in alleviating mild depression, anxiety and sleep disorders.
Learning new ways to cope with emotions takes time and practice. You may not feel like yourself again for days, weeks or even months after quitting. While the emotional roller coaster won’t come to an abrupt stop, the bumps and dips do eventually even out. Hang in there!