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Stress and Smoking Cessation

Understanding the Stress That Comes with Smoking Cessation


Updated January 25, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Stress and Smoking Cessation
While our ability to manage stress improves once we recover from nicotine addiction, early smoking cessation can actually temporarily increase the level of stress most of us feel.

How successful we are in managing this intense, though thankfully short, phase of the process depends in great part on our level of preparation.

As members of the support forum here at About.com Smoking Cessation like to say, "An educated quit is a successful quit." They're right.

The Stress of Nicotine Withdrawal

Physically, we are reacting to nicotine withdrawal and the fact that we are no longer receiving a daily dose of the thousands of chemicals in cigarettes.

As harmful as smoking is, our bodies became accustomed to receiving doses of those chemicals multiple times a day. When we quit, we're going to feel a variety of physical reactions from the absence of them.

Sometimes referred to as quitter's flu, symptoms of nicotine withdrawal can make us feel like we're sick, even though we're not.

Common symptoms of nicotine withdrawal:

  • Cravings to smoke
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Crankiness and irritability
  • Lack of concentration
  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Postnasal drip
  • Dry mouth
  • Constipation, including gas/stomach discomfort
  • Sore tongue/gums
  • Tightness in the chest

Most of us experience some combination of the symptoms above, but if you are ever concerned about how you're feeling, don't hesitate to contact your doctor. A check-up early on in smoking cessation is a good idea, regardless.

Thankfully, nicotine withdrawal and the stress associated with it is a short-lived event. Better days are soon to come.

The Stress of Letting Go

Apart from the physical side of recovery from nicotine addiction, we must also begin the work of dealing with the feelings associated with our cigarettes -- the psychological side of smoking.

When we quit, we quickly start to feel the stress of emotional loss, which is triggered by the many associations we've built up around smoking over the years. We smoked when we were happy, angry, sad, bored, lonely... you name it. When we stop smoking, the emotions that bubble up are often powerful and can take us by surprise.

For most of us, healing the mental side of nicotine addiction is where the real work of smoking cessation lies.

Arm Yourself with Knowledge

Use these tips to help you manage stress as you recover from nicotine addiction, and remember that healing is a process of gradual release. As you erase old associations and habits one-by-one and replace them with new, healthier choices, quit-related stress will be reduced and your ability to manage stress in other areas of your life will improve.

A Word About Support

Recovery from nicotine addiction is a roller coaster ride for most of us. Having a support network in place to help manage the ups and downs is an essential ingredient for the long-term success we're all after. Enlist friends and family to cheer you on, and join the support forum here at About.com Smoking Cessation for support that never sleeps.

This very active community of people quitting tobacco sparkles with can-do encouragement and camaraderie. With people visiting from every time zone on the planet, support is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Stop in and do some reading, and if you'd like to join in the conversations taking place, register as a member (free).

Use Time and Patience as Quit Buddies

So often, we're in a rush to get things done; to see instant results from the challenges we take on. Smoking cessation is one area where we must suspend that desire for instant gratification.

Most of us smoked for decades, and erasing years of habit takes time.

Be patient and don't put yourself on a time table with smoking cessation. Allow recovery to unfold for you as it will, and you will find your freedom, just as others before you have.

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