Feeling emotional after quitting smoking? Top tips for coping

Are your emotions all over the place since quitting smoking? You're not alone: feeling like you're on an emotional roller coaster is one of the most common feelings associated with nicotine withdrawal.1

What causes these emotional effects?
When you smoke, the nicotine you inhale with every cigarette goes from your lungs, into your blood stream and then straight to your brain. Once it gets there, it causes dopamine to be released, which gives you that intense rush and makes you feel "oh so happy".2

Sadly though, that feeling only lasts a few minutes. Your nicotine levels begin to drop along with the dopamine … so does your mood. Normally, you would alleviate these feelings by having another cigarette, and increasing the levels of nicotine in your system again. But when you stop smoking, nicotine levels continue to drop and the emotional roller coaster begins.3

Remember that these feelings are usually only temporary.You should soon be back to your normal good-natured self.1

  • Feelings of anger, frustration and irritability usually peak in the first week and hang around for 2 to 4 weeks4.
  • Anxiety or feeling tense usually builds up over the first 3 days of quitting and may last approximately 2 weeks.4
  • It's also normal to feel sad for a period time after you first stop smoking.1 If you experience some mild depression, it will usually start within the first day, continue for a couple of weeks, and then go away within a month.1 If you've previously experienced depression symptoms, you may experience more severe smoking withdrawal symptoms, including more severe depression symptoms.1 During this period of depression or low mood, always see your doctor or pharmacist who can recommend support and treatment options that may be useful and allow you to cope better.

What can you do to help?

Get out there and do some exercise. Go for a walk or jog if you’re feeling up to it. Do a gym class, or lift some weights. Being proactive and doing some exercise will help lower your stress levels, reduce your cravings and help tackle the withdrawal symptoms that are sending your emotions into a tailspin.1

Watch your caffeine intake. Try and cut down on things like coffee (yes that includes espresso martinis), tea, cola and chocolate. When you stop smoking, your body absorbs almost twice as much caffeine as when you smoked, which can make you feel even more restless, anxious and irritable6. Not exactly what you need right now.

Take a step back. Give meditation a go, or try some relaxation techniques like yoga, listening to calming music (perhaps avoid the heavy metal for now) or deep breathing – in through your nose, and out through your mouth for 10 breaths. You could even treat yourself to a massage or a hot bath.1

Do something for yourself. Try things that make you feel good about yourself and give you a sense of wellbeing and pleasure: create a special space for you to relax and take some “me time”, give a new hobby a try, listen to some music, or spend time with your friends and family who will support you and help keep you motivated.7

Talk to your doctor: If you don’t feel like you can manage the emotional side of quitting alone, make sure you talk to your doctor before you throw in the towel. You're up to 4x more likely to succeed in quitting smoking with the help of a healthcare professional compared to quitting unaided,8 and your doctor can help you map out a quit plan to provide the support you need.

So you see, it’s not all bad. The emotional ride is expected, and, for most people, it will pass. In the meantime, there are lots of different things you can do to help alleviate these feelings and make sure you remain focused on going and staying smoke-free.But remember, always talk to your doctor or pharmacist to help manage the emotional side of quitting. You're up to 4x more likely to succeed in quitting with the help of a healthcare professional compared to going at it alone.8

©Pfizer 2019. Pfizer Australia Pty Limited. Pfizer Medical Information: 1800 675 229. Sydney, Australia. PP-CHM-AUS-0990,09/2019
  1. National Cancer Institute. How to handle withdrawal symptoms and triggers when you decide to quit smoking. Available at https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/tobacco/withdrawal-fact-sheet#q3. Accessed 13 September 2019.
  2. Benowitz, N. (2010). New England Journal of Medicine, 362(24), pp.2295–2303.
  3. National Cancer Institute. Why people start smoking and why it’s hard to stop. Available at https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/tobacco-and-cancer/why-people-start-using-tobacco.html. Accessed 13 September 2019.
  4. Hughes JR. (2007). Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 9(3), pp. 315–327.
  5. Medical News Today. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms and how to cope. Available at https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323012.php Accessed 13 September 2019. 
  6. Swanson JA et al. (1997). Addictive Behaviors, 22(1), pp.55–68. 
  7. Better Health Channel. What to expect when you quit smoking. Available at https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/What-to-expect-when-you-quit-smoking?viewAsPdf=true Accessed 13 September 2019.
  8. West R. (2012). Stop smoking services: Increased chances of quitting. NCSCT Briefing #8. London: National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training.