Quit Smoking Tip of The Week: Fight Post-Cessation Depression!

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black and white blank challenge connect

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.

white headphone

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).

photography of trees covered with snow

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.

National Suicide Lifeline

HIV Doesn’t Celebrate Holidays

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By: Jonathon Arntson

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No matter how much I teach and preach about HIV and taking control of it instead of letting it control you, I still have my own ongoing struggles. One of them is with adherence. It’s not because I question the medications or their importance. It’s because I have a tendency to let life get away from me. This shows up in a deeper depression, heavier drinking, lower funds, and less fresh, stable eating. I pamper myself with gifts, food, and décor. I also live across the state from my family and getting back to visit during the holidays can take a large bite of my wallet.

Sometimes, it gets really real like this week when I cancelled an infectious disease appointment because I wasn’t sure if I would have enough for the copay. I recently rented a car as an indulgence to visit family for Thanksgiving, but unfortunately I had to do the same the following week for a funeral in the same city across state. While giving me better options as far as schedule, this unexpectedly set back my wallet, and on top of that, I need to reschedule my appointment.

I’m not upset about not having money; I am upset about losing control over my treatment. I am undetectable, but I cannot continue proclaim so if I do not have the labs to prove it. My last labs are from July of 2017. Now I am at the mercy of Henry Ford’s appointment openings and running the risk of getting off my ID-appt-every-six months schedule. At least I have medication refills to last another couple months. I think. But I do not wish to make that yet another thing to have to handle and remember. Once those things start adding up, I tend to fail on all accounts. It’s happened before.

For more HIV and the holidays reads, check out Being Positive and Beating the Holiday Blues or this reminder from 1992 of how far we’ve come: Holidays and the Bad Tidings of H.I.V.

So, how could I have handled this better? For one, I could have looked before this past weekend to see when my appt was scheduled to take place. This would have reminded me to set aside the copay. Instead, I squandered it on a rental car (and Starbucks, to be honest) when I very well could have saved with Greyhound (and… Speedway?).

Perhaps that would have worked, but perhaps another angle to consider is the mental health benefit I had by renting a car. I used Turo, a site that connects you to vehicles listed by their owners. I had a 2016 Chrysler 200c. It was a sweet ride, and since I rely on bus and Uber here in Detroit, it felt awesome to speed down the freeway with music blasting. It was an expensive feeling, but I did a lot of thinking along the way and had numerous moments of clarity re: life.

Either way, I packed my travel pill case with a few Genvoya even though I knew I’d only need one. I managed to maintain my eating times so that I could take my medication at 7pm without suffering an upset stomach.

When I was home, I answered my family’s questions like, “How are you doing with… everything?” Y’know, everything being the menacing little virus that’s suppressed into some dark corner of my body (apparently the stomach and lymph node areas). Those moments make me yearn for the days when I could handle and sustain a stronger buzz. Now I have to face reality as it happens. But it’s all in the name of remaining adherent. Undetectable. Untransmittable.

Since my tolerance is diminished, I am also working to lessen the amount of alcohol I consume. I find this is connected to my medication–this has affected my adherence in the past. I take my medication between 7pm and 9pm. This is so I will have eaten dinner because my meds hurt my stomach if it is empty. However, if I drink around the same time as, or even hours after, taking my meds, I will certainly feel queasy and uneasy. Many times I wake up the next morning feeling like back in the day when I could have more than a bottle of wine and be okay the next day. But again, it’s reality-facing time and all that.

While we get to celebrate the holidays and hopefully have some time off with friends and family, we positive folks know the virus is always there waiting for an opportunity. As I move into Part 2 of the holidays, I seek to do a better job preparing for financial hiccups, upset stomachs, and several days of being away from my home without a maintained buzz. But hey! There are many more ways to make it through and even enjoy the time.

Enjoy your holidays!

Genvoya on ceramic tree