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5 Things You Need to Know About Nicotine Withdrawal and Anxiety

author image Johan Mengesha
Johan Mengesha is a senior manager of eHow in Santa Monica, Calif. Mengesha has written for print and online media outlets since 2003 and has a journalism degree from Cal State Northridge. Published work has appeared in the "Los Angeles Daily News," the "Daily Sundial" and the "African Tribune."

Coping With Withdrawal

The nicotine in cigarette smoke is addictive. When used in small amounts, nicotine creates a pleasurable feeling, which makes you want to smoke more. The more you smoke, the more you crave. One of the major problems is when you want to quit, you suffer withdrawal symptoms. You may experience headaches, nervousness, irritability and difficulty sleeping. Nicotine can also affect your mood, because it alters the chemistry of your brain and central nervous system. The chemicals in cigarettes irritate the air passages and lungs. Some of the poisons found in cigarettes remain in the lungs and mucus can block the airways. The cilia (hair-like formations that remove particles from the lungs) stop working as effectively, making smokers more susceptible to bacteria and viruses. When you quit smoking, your lungs also need to go through a healing process. The body begins to restore itself, so despite the temporary side effects of withdrawal, quitting smoking is critical to your overall health.

Physical Withdrawal Symptoms Can Lead to Anxiety

Anxiety is both physical and emotional, as the chemistry of mind and body interact. The feelings of anxiety may involve a myriad of symptoms, such as restlessness or edginess, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, blanking out, irritability and muscle tension. These symptoms can escalate to obsessive thinking or panic attacks. Anxiety can be related to a variety of medical conditions, so it is important to determine if your symptoms are related to withdrawal from smoking or may be connected to a medical condition.

Watch for Initial Feelings of Withdrawal

In the beginning, you may experience some depression related to withdrawal. Calling a friend for support or using meditation can be helpful. If you experience insomnia, you might want to avoid caffeine after 6 p.m., take some quiet time before settling in and read a good book before bed. If you feel short-tempered, irritable or angry, remember to use deep breathing, talk about your feelings with someone and exercise regularly. To combat concentration problems, consider doing important tasks when you are most alert. Take breaks and avoid sitting for too long. Find healthy ways to relieve your stress and get plenty of rest. To avoid weight gain, eat healthy snacks, plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean meats and low-fat dairy products, and avoid fast foods. Walk 20 to 30 minutes per day and drink lots of water. You might want to create a "survival bag" of things that calm you or give you comfort (such as pictures of loved ones) and healthy snacks to keep you on track with your goal of quitting smoking. Carry it with you at all times.

Don't Make Quitting Harder Than It Already Is

Quitting smoking is a huge lifestyle change, and you should follow a few tips to reduce the stress and anxiety of the process. Tell friends, coworkers and family members you are quitting before you actually stop. Once you determine a quit date, share it with others and make sure they understand you are serious about the time line. Don't just stop one day; begin delaying tobacco use before quitting. Once you do stop, reduce exposure to tobacco, even if it means spending less time in environments that are conducive to tobacco use. Above all, stay focused on your goal, avoid other stress and keep yourself busy.

Expect Stress and Anxiety, but Remember it Will Get Better

Within the first month of stopping use of a substance such as nicotine, you may experience heightened anxiety, panic attacks or obsessive thinking. This will get better, so persist, because it is worth quitting. Every hour that you go without a cigarette improves your health. Within 8 hours after your last cigarette, the carbon monoxide levels return to more normal levels. Within 3 months, your circulation improves and your lung function will improve by 30 percent. When you are anxious, you tend to take shallow breathes, which prohibits your body from receiving the necessary oxygen. When this occurs you may experience many of the unpleasant symptoms of anxiety. Having a healthy circulatory system and remembering to breathe deeply will help minimize or eliminate the symptoms of anxiety.

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