How I quit smoking and why it has helped me fight depression

Everybody knows smoking is bad for you. But apparently it’s even worse for you when you have depression.

Recent research suggests that smoking increases risk of depression because nicotine damages certain pathways in the brain that regulate mood. As a result, nicotine may trigger mood swings.

Trying to quit when you have depression is even more difficult than when you don’t and is usually not recommended when you are at your lowest, as clearly you have bigger fish to catch then. That said the scientific reason why it is harder to quit smoking when you have depression is that nicotine stimulates the release of the chemical dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is involved in triggering positive feelings. It is often found to be low in people with depression, who may then use cigarettes as a way of temporarily increasing their dopamine supply.

So here are the issues:

–          Smoking increases depression

–          Smoking makes you feel temporarily better so you smoke more, which increases your depression

–          Quitting will more likely make you feel worse at the beginning (although let’s be honest this is a problem for all smokers, not just the ones suffering from depression)

–          Eventually these symptoms pass and the health benefits of quitting clearly outweigh any downside

So now that we have summarised what everybody knows already, what do we do with it? Just like with exercising, knowing that you need to quit smoking doesn’t mean that you are able to just put the last one down and be done with it.

 

I started smoking when I was 13. Since then I have quit (and started again) so many times that I have lost track. The first time I stopped smoking I was 19, smoking 2 packs a day and coughing my lungs out for 2 hours every morning. My uncle died of lung cancer leaving a very young child behind and my dad convinced me to quit (“It’s too late for me but not for you” – on a side note this was 18 years ago and my dad is still there, still smoking a pack a day).

So I went for it with the full 3 months patch treatment. I was feeling wobbly towards the end (I was slightly scared of the after patch period) which is when I came across Allen Carr’s brilliant book “The Easy Way To Stop Smoking”.  That totally worked on me and I did not touch another cigarette for 4 years.

Sadly I started again at 23 and spent the next 12 years fighting with this. I would quit for a few months and somehow have “just the one” on a night out… and buy a new pack the next day. And the circle would start again until I decided when I got to 32 that I was a smoker and that was that. I then smoked A LOT. And when depression kicked in again when I was in Denmark I was once again a heavy smoker.

When, about a year later, I started researching how to manage depression, giving up smoking was one of the first thing I found. It’s on all of the advice online. “Try to reduce or quit, it will help.” But they did not explain why. I did not feel I had the strength to quit at the time and I was trying to survive so quitting smoking was not the highest item on my agenda.

Nonetheless the seed was planted and later on when I was feeling better and settled in my long term therapy back in the UK, I approached the subject with my therapist. She kept telling me to wait. I guess she could see better than me that I was still fragile as, as it happens, I did relapsed several times during this period.

As the Matthew Hussey retreat approached (see Shut your negative inner voice up and be your own best friend instead) I was getting more and more keen to quit smoking. The retreat was in the US and I was acutely aware that I was going to stand out as a smoker. Also it was very likely that I would not have many opportunities to smoke during the retreat and I was worried that this would impact how much I would enjoy the retreat. I am not proud of it but I needed my fix every 2 hours maximum and when I was unable to smoke for X or Y reason that would distract me to the point of not being able to concentrate on anything else.

Once again my therapist recommended that I waited until after the retreat. She said I would come back with a lot of energy and motivation and this would be the best time to quit. And she was right.

The retreat was so amazing that I barely had time to think about smoking during the sessions. Matthew made us choose 3 goals that we wanted to achieve in the next 6 months and I choose giving up smoking as one of them. We then spent a whole week on learning how to achieve our goals. I obviously cannot go into the details of what I learnt that week in a single article but I can tell you how I applied it to giving up smoking.

 

This is what I left the retreat with

This is what really happen
Goal

 

Give up smoking
Timescale to achieve the goal

 

I must have stopped smoking before my birthday in 2 months

 

I quit smoking 5 weeks before my birthday J
Strategy

 

I will book a hypnosis session with my therapist

 

In the meantime I will start thinking about myself as a non-smoker and reduce the number of cigarettes I smoke in a day.

 

I will think about all the benefits I would get from quitting and write the down. I will put them up somewhere obvious in the flat so that I can see them regularly.

 

Once I have quit I will replace the smoking breaks by a 5 minute meditation and remind myself of how good I felt about myself when I was a non-smoker and that staying strong will impact my other goals.

 

Note every day how much I have saved by day by not smoking.

 

I did

 

 

I did thought of myself as a non-smoker but did not reduce the number of cigarettes I smoked in a day.

 

I did thought about them but did not write them down not did I put them up.

 

 

Never happened, I had too much work. I replaced the smoking breaks by yogi tea breaks.

 

 

 

 

I did that indeed for a couple of months. I was saving £236 a month!

Rituals Before I quit:

–          Spend 10 minutes every day thinking about giving up smoking and getting ready for it

After I quit:

–          Spend 10 minutes to meditate on the positive feelings I get from having quit

 

This did happen, but not quite that formally.

 

Why To be healthy

To be a good mother and show the right example

To be proud of myself

 

Positive representation of me having achieved my goal

 

Health me, running, with a family I did start running and I celebrated my first year anniversary by running a 5K before work.

 

The family still hasn’t happened but there is still time.

 

 

By the end of the week, this goal was so anchored into my mind that I knew this was happening for real. I picked the day I was going to have the hypnosis session with my therapist and decided to go for a day that would be easy to remember because I would be celebrating it every year: 21 June.

This day did not come early enough. By then my motivation was so high that I could not wait to quit smoking! The hypnosis session was successful. She obviously took me to a deep state of relaxation as I do not remember a thing but it has worked and I have not touched one cigarette since then.

I should add that my default setting until then was to reach for cigarettes at the first crisis. And I am proud to say that in one year I have survived the following crisis / events without going back to smoking:

–          My boyfriend who had declared that he would quit on the same day as me (I hadn’t asked him to do so by the way) only lasted 3 weeks. That did not even bother me.

–          My boyfriend then broke up with me about 3 months later when I was on a 4 weeks work assignment in Kuala Lumpur. That did bother me, but I didn’t go back to smoking.

–          Nervous breakdown due to being overworked in December – I only took one week off even though I was clearly heading straight back into heavy depression and my therapist had recommended time off early that month. That will teach me not to listen.

–          Got rejected twice for internal roles I had applied to.

–          Christmas back in Paris where my whole family smokes, except for my younger sister. And my nephews and niece of course.

–          January and February – full on depression – major Bridget Jones moments drinking wine and calling my ex – not pretty!

So now I feel rather proud that I managed to not start smoking again even while going through all this.

And this brings me to the biggest benefit I have personally found in giving up smoking; self-respect and confidence.

Being a smoker in France was fine. But since I moved to the UK I have really felt rejected for being a smoker. Apart from the fact that it was a major source of arguments for 6 years with my first partner, I also had a line manager who told me that had he known I was a smoker he would not have offered me the job (?!). And these are only a couple of examples from a long list of discriminatory measures, looks and comments that you get when you are a smoker in the UK.

And as a result my critical inner voice would get involved: “seriously, what is wrong with you? Why can’t you stop? You are supposed to be clever but for some unknown reason you continue to smoke even though it has so many downsides to it and it costs you an arm! You are just weak…” Bla bla bla

So the reason I am so happy that I am now a non-smoker is that I got my critical inner voice to shut up, at least on that subject. And that is a victory against depression.

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