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Coach Corner
Individuals

What to Know About the Darker Side of Quitting Tobacco

October 19, 2022
By Pivot
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Although we celebrate the benefits of quitting tobacco

The reality is that quitting can sometimes be uncomfortable and even painful. These types of experiences are unpleasant but fairly common. Along the journey towards a tobacco-free life, it’s helpful to be aware of the darker side of quitting and use proven tools – including the Pivot community and your Pivot coach – to find hope and healing. 

What makes up the darker side of quitting tobacco

Grief

For many people who use tobacco products, a cigarette, a can of dip, or a vape pen can feel like a friend. It offers comfort in times of stress or pain and making the decision to stop brings up unexpected feelings of grief at the loss of that friend. 

This experience is normal! The comforting feelings associated with nicotine are very real. But there are ways you can honor this loss and find healing. Writing a goodbye letter to your cigarettes can help you recognize your grief while focusing on all the benefits of your new life without them. 

Mood 

Changes in the mood when quitting tobacco (like feeling irritable, anxious, or down) are a common part of the withdrawal process. Nicotine impacts brain chemistry, and stopping nicotine can cause a swing in the other direction. This is your body getting used to not having nicotine and improves with time. 

Finding ways to boost your mood can help with temporary mood swings. Activities that bring satisfaction and pleasure such as being active, connecting with others, and/or doing good deeds can bring a newfound sense of meaning to your life while enhancing your mood. 

For some people with mental health challenges like anxiety and depression, tobacco use can be a form of self-medication. If removing tobacco products from your life causes symptoms of anxiety or depression to feel unmanageable, or if your mood changes do not improve in a couple of weeks, it’s a good time to talk with your doctor or counselor for more support. 

Cough

Some people develop a temporary cough after quitting smoking. This is a sign that your body is healing! Tobacco smoke paralyzes the cilia (tiny hairs) in the lining of your lungs. After quitting, the cilia become active again and try to move particles out of your lungs. 

Typically, a cough will improve within a month after quitting and will continue to improve the longer you stay tobacco-free. You can help your body in this healing process by drinking plenty of fluids like water, tea, and juice. 

Feelings of emptiness 

For most tobacco users, boredom is a powerful cue to begin the smoking/vaping/chewing ritual. After quitting, everyday feelings of boredom can morph into emptiness or aimlessness. Many people struggling to stay tobacco-free say their biggest challenge is finding something to do with their time, energy, and even their bodies.

The void left behind by quitting is an opportunity to begin or rediscover a hobby or other activity you enjoy. Reaching out and serving or connecting with others can also shift your focus outward and help you fill your emotional bucket when you feel empty or lost.

Whatever you experience on the way to a nicotine-free life…

Chances are others have gone before you. If you’re already a Pivot member, reach out to your coach or the community to find support, encouragement, and effective ways to cope that will work for you! 

Authored by: 

Linda Bundick, MS, CHES, CHWC, NCTTP

Nikki Utech, BS, NCTTP

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