Quitting Smoking Can Be An Emotional Roller Coaster

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-loopleaving 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 thereward 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 notdeal 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!