Quitting smoking can momentarily bring on a more depressed mood as your body adjusts its hormone balance and the nicotine receptors slowly start to decrease back to a normal level. Think of it this way- when you smoke a cigarette, nicotine attaches to naturally occurring receptors in your brain. When this happens, you get a flood of dopamine (the feel good hormone). As time goes on and your smoking becomes a habit, your brain develops even more receptors allowing more nicotine to bind to receptors, resulting in a huge flood of dopamine. Well, your brain is not used to having this much dopamine readily available and down regulates this amount. Think of it as you listening to uncomfortably loud music and putting earplugs in to lessen what you can hear (Sleight, VJ. (2016, September 18) A craving is just your brain screaming, “WHERE’S MY NICOTINE?” Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/craving-just-your-brain-screaming-wheres-my-nicotine-vj/). This is what your brain does with dopamine.
Once you stop smoking, your brain will take a while (a few weeks usually) to adjust to the lessened amount of dopamine that is being produced. Your brain is still down regulating the amount of dopamine being produced, leading to even less dopamine being processed in your brain than before you started smoking. So, you’ve turned the music down but you haven’t taken the earplugs out yet (Sleight, VJ.). The time it takes is different for everyone’s brain to adjust to the normal hormone levels now being produced (some only days, some up to a few weeks) and this could by why some people experience depressed symptoms after quitting tobacco use and some do not. It could also be the reason for increased agitation and feelings of anxiety as part of the withdrawals.
Also, as we dive into the winter season in Michigan we need to be aware that seasonal depression is among us. Up to 10% of adults will experience SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder (Mental Health America, http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/sad).
Here are a few things that you can do consistently throughout the week to help fight the onset of depression or to just increase your happiness in general:
- Keep a Gratitude Journal
- Savor the moment. This could be any moment- having dinner with a friend, talking with a loved one, walking outside, etc. Savor it by being completely present in this moment- no thoughts of the past or future, electronics put away, thoughts on what you feel, see and hear in that moment.
- Be kind to someone. This could be someone that you know, or a complete stranger. But the idea is to act with kindness without expecting anything in return. Open the door for someone, smile at a stranger, give someone a compliment.
- Spend less money on things and more on experiences (but free experiences are an added bonus). We get used to and bored with things. Experiences are encoded as memories that we can cherish forever, and they foster personal growth.
- Make a new social connection or strengthen a friendship that you currently have. Say hi to a stranger, call a friend that you haven’t spoken to in a while, check-in on your neighbor.
These are just a few! I encourage you to do some of your own research, try out new things and see what works for you to lessen the seasonal blues. I strongly believe in taking care of your mental health and reaching the highest potential as possible regarding your happiness– we all deserve it! If you would like to work on more specific coping mechanisms with a smoking cessation counselor one on one to develop an individualized approach with tangible resources to help you quit with less distress, reach out to Amber Jager at (313)446-9817 for persons living in the Detroit area, and Erin Suprunk at (734)961-1077 for persons living in the Ypsilanti and Jackson area to see if you qualify for FREE smoking cessation services!
Please take into consideration that the combination of these activities are meant to be a part of lifestyle changes in order to help increase general happiness and fight off mild feelings of depression, but are in no means meant to treat Major Depressive Disorder or other extreme conditions that need to be treated by a physician. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or experiencing extreme or worsening depression, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, and prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones.