Discover Your Real Cravings in Life
Reaching for a cigarette when you’re feeling stressed or depressed may feel like a familiar go-to, but is smoking helping your depression or making it worse?
Many studies have shown a link between smoking and depression; indeed, it’s long been known that smokers have a higher rate of depression than nonsmokers. Recent research even suggests that it’s possible that nicotine itself changes neurotransmitter activity in the brain, leading to an increased risk of depression. And yet many smokers talk about the antidepressant benefits of smoking and continue to smoke because of their expectations of relief.
According to Mike Knapton, associate medical director for the British Heart Foundation, this perception that a cigarette can relieve stress is a big misinterpretation of what’s really happening in your body. Some of the perceived stress or depression you feel between cigarettes is actually a symptom of early nicotine withdrawal. Additionally, while smoking may make you feel better momentarily, you’re setting up a craving pattern that won’t stop until you quit. Not to mention, the “high” you experience from smoking doesn’t deal at all with why you’re depressed or anxious in the first place. The insatiable craving pattern just creates a mask that hides your real needs and feelings.
The good news is that smokers who had quit for over a year showed levels of anxiety and depression similar to nonsmokers. That means quitting may actually be a way to boost your mental health.
Of course, quitting is not easy, and as you experience withdrawal, you might feel other layers of depression and anxiety surface. But unhooking from a nicotine craving can give you a clear slate to discover what you really want out of life and develop emotional strategies to realize it. The key is to figure out a “high” that isn’t destructive so your body can activate the same reward system in your brain.
Here are cravings that may be hiding under your smoke-induced depression and some creative ways to meet them:
- Craving to be heard? Find a therapist to talk out your feelings and explore the roots of your depression and anxiety.
- Craving to be engaged? Develop activities you love and passionately throw yourself into them: sports, the arts, social clubs, etc.
- Craving to cuddle? If you don’t own a pet, volunteer at a pet shelter and make friends.
- Craving to feel stable? Consult your MD. You may be a candidate for medications that can temporarily help you deal with depression while you engage in these other activities.
Discovering and responding to your real cravings can help lift your depression and redirect your life in positive ways. And the more positive you are, the easier it is to quit.
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