Quitting smoking is a significant life change, and it’s common to experience a range of emotions and effects, including anxiety, severe irritability, difficulty breathing, and more.
Nicotine, the addictive substance in cigarettes, has been shown to have mood-altering effects (even if it is relatively harmless).
When you stop smoking, your body undergoes a period of adjustment due to the lack of nicotine in your system – your brain keeps on ‘begging’ you to consume nicotine whenever possible, which leads to feelings of anxiety as your body slowly learns to function without cigarettes.
In this post, we’ll take a look at why you’re experiencing anxiety after you’ve just quit smoking.
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Why Is My Anxiety Worse After Quitting Smoking?
Anxiety may feel more intense after quitting smoking due to the absence of the calming effect that nicotine can provide.
Many regular smokers admit that consuming tobacco has helped them deal with challenging situations. For instance, most claim it helps them relax or think clearly about a problem they must solve.
However, this isn’t true – cigarettes only address your nicotine withdrawal after hours of not having one. The withdrawal amplifies the anxiety a smoker feels during a difficult time, and as a result, lighting up a stick addresses their withdrawal – one part of their anxiety.
As mentioned, nicotine is something your system seeks after hours or days of not consuming it. A smoker’s natural reward system depends greatly on the dopamine release nicotine brings. Without it, their body will try to adjust to its absence, causing irritability, restlessness, and mood swings, along with other withdrawal symptoms.
Despite these symptoms, it’s wise for motivated smokers to keep in mind that these only manifest within the first three weeks of quitting smoking. These first few weeks are the hardest, but by the first month, your lungs are clearer, you can breathe easier, and you can kick cigarette smoking for good.
How To Deal With Anxiety After Quitting Smoking
Embarking on the journey to quit smoking is no small feat, and dealing with post-quit anxiety is a significant part of the process. To help you understand the anxiety that often accompanies this journey, let’s delve into some practical strategies that can help you forget smoking for good.
Let’s talk about exercise – not the gym rat type, but a good old-fashioned walk or jog.
Physical activity – even just casual strolls – releases endorphins, feel-good chemicals that make you feel great. These little neurotransmitters are your natural mood boosters, and they’re effective at kicking stress to the curb.
So, chuck on your sneakers and hit the pavement – physical activity and staying busy are great ways to keep your anxiety in check.
Mindfulness and Meditation
Meditation might sound a bit ‘out there’ for some people, but it has been helpful for many successful quitters who have kicked tobacco to the curb.
Mindfulness and meditation are like a mental tune-up – they help you stay present and centred. It’s not about crossing your legs and chanting; it’s about taking a few minutes to breathe and clear your head.
The process of mental wellness and checks won’t always require you to say ‘ohm’ as you think about how your day went and how you’ve stopped yourself from smoking. You can always go in a quiet room and write about your day to keep you in a mindful state.
Join a support group or have a yarn with friends who’ve been through the same quitting process. Sharing your story, hearing others’ experiences, and swapping advice can make a world of difference in your efforts to quit smoking. Knowing that you’re not flying solo in the anxiety department makes the journey more like a group hike rather than a solitary trek.
If you consider talking to a GP to help you quit, they can refer you to active quitting groups that you can listen to, share, and learn from to help yourself quit smoking. You can also talk to your family and friends to help you quit smoking for good and design an environment suited for smoking cessation.
Consider a Chat with a GP
If the anxiety is getting a bit too much, don’t be shy about reaching out to a GP. They’ve always been a huge part of the success of many former smokers.
Aside from lending an ear and helping you navigate these stormy waters, they know how to dig into what’s causing the anxiety and work out some personalised strategies to help you stop smoking for good while dealing with these challenges.
They can also prescribe you with the right tools to alleviate the symptoms, such as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) and nicotine vaping products (NVPs)
In a nutshell, quitting smoking is more than just tossing them aside – it’s a lifestyle shift.
Anxiety After Quitting Smoking: How Long Does It Last?
Anxiety is a short but significant part of your quitting journey. Short because it will only disrupt you for a week or two, and significant because once you’re done with it, the quitting process gets easier.
The first day is often the most challenging because you’ve just quit tobacco for a few hours. The cravings are strong, and it feels so easy to cave into them. It also feels like it doesn’t get better by the second and third day as the withdrawal symptoms grow stronger, even though your body is actually removing nicotine from your body completely.
However, after six days of quitting smoking, you’re already feeling much better. Your body has better oxygenation, you’re breathing easier, and you have more antioxidants in your body, helping your lungs and various parts of your body heal from the constant tobacco smoke.
You can only expect things to get better during your first month of quitting smoking. Your body is completely free from carbon monoxide and nicotine. Your lungs have almost completed healing themselves (you always feel like you can take a deep and satisfying breath), and you have improved circulation.
After four months of quitting (a big milestone, by the way), you have significantly less shortness of breath and can walk and run for longer. You have fewer bouts of irritability and mood swings, and you often forget about cigarettes at this point.
Within a year of stopping smoking, every withdrawal symptom and effect of smoke chemicals in your body have all but disappeared. Your lungs are much more resilient and are functioning as they were before you started smoking. You might have gained some weight, but now, you have the physical capacity to go through exercise without any difficulties at all.
Quitting smoking will always bring anxiety, but it only takes a short time to deal with this withdrawal symptom – along with other symptoms – and won’t even take a month of your life.
However, when you quit smoking after a week, a month, or a year after making your decision, the benefits only go up and ensure you’re living a life that keeps you healthy mentally and physically as you age.
We know that the idea of quitting alone can make you anxious, but that’s where we can help you.
Smokefree Clinic gives you access to many medically reviewed and trustworthy resources that can inform and aid you in your path to wellness, so have a look around!
If you’re ready to get started, Smokefree can connect you to Australian healthcare professionals who excel in helping patients quit smoking for good.