Previous attempts at quitting left me an emotional wreck and I cried a lot. Now I am menopausal – in other words – emotional.
I can’t afford to let my emotions get the best of me. Is this crying part of the grieving process?
There are actually a handful of things going on for you, some of them inter-related. You identified a couple of them yourself:
First, you mention that you are menopausal.
This certainly has an impact on your emotional state. This impact happens both directly as a result of hormonal changes, and possibly indirectly as you deal with a changing stage of life. As you probably know, just about any major change in our lives can be stressful, and transitioning from one phase of life to then next certainly qualifies as a ‘major change.’
Second, the grief process is certainly at play here, too.
You already know that when you quit smoking you experience stages of the grief process, no matter how much you want to quit, and how much better and happier you’ll feel afterwards. You may also be experiencing some grief stages as a result of your life transition as well – after all, you are ‘leaving behind’ one stage of your life as you move into another. So the depression stage of the grief process could certainly be a factor in your crying jags.
Finally, there is a third aspect to all of this that you may not be aware of.
For most people, smoking is a way to ‘mask’ or ‘stuff’ your emotions. In other words, as a smoker, one of your first responses to any emotional situation is to light a cigarette. Think about it: if something upsets you, you want to smoke, right? If something makes you angry, sad, scared… smoking a cigarette (or several) is a common response. Even positive emotions like being excited or happy generally merit a ‘celebratory’ smoke for most smokers.
So part of what happens when you quit smoking is that you now have to deal with whatever emotions arise for you at full force – you don’t have the cigarette to run interference for you.
From a big-picture perspective, this is not a bad thing. Emotions are a part of what makes life worth living, after all. But until your body and brain adjust to the new situation, it can be a little overwhelming, as you’ve experienced.
To get to where you want to go, attack the problem from several angles.
The first line of attack is your doc or other trusted medical advisor:
Ask him or her about managing the physiological aspects of menopause. I’m no expert on that topic, so I’ll refrain from offering specific advice in that arena. However, there are a variety of options out there, so explore them to see what might be right for you.
The second part of the strategy is managing the grief process:
One of the interesting things about the grief process is that we tend to experience it for any loss, even when the gain outweighs the loss. For instance, people will experience aspects of the grief process even when something good happens, like a promotion at work – because they are ‘losing’ some things that are familiar to them, such as specific job duties, or a aspects of their relationships with colleagues, as the dynamic of those relationships change.
The same thing is true with regard to the ‘loss’ associated with quitting smoking. The gains are so much more significant than the loss it’s not even funny, but we still suffer through the feelings of loss.
One of the ways to speed up the grief process is to focus on the gains rather than the loss. I don’t mean deny the sense of loss, or any real aspects of it – you may recognize denial as the initial stage of the grief process, and you don’t want to go back there! So when it comes up for you acknowledge what you’ll miss, but then pull your focus back to what you are gaining. In this way you can minimize your sense of loss without denying it, and move through the grief process more quickly.
By the way, if you feel that you may be experiencing a sense of loss or grieving related to menopause, you may want to try a similar technique. Do some research on the web, find an online support group or a local one for women moving through menopause, and actively work your way through it.
Finally, when you quit smoking, you’ll need a new strategy for dealing with emotions.
Since you’ll no longer be dampening your emotions with cigarettes, they may seem overwhelming at first, so developing strategies for dealing with them is critical. You may even want to consider a strategy for each emotion type: a strategy for dealing with stress, a strategy for ‘rewarding’ yourself, a strategy for dealing with anger, and sadness, and fear.
While there’s not time to go into a strategy for each of these, I do have some general advice for you:
First, think about ways to process intense emotions that might work for you. (By “process,” I mean experience the emotions and move through them, rather than trying to find ways to suppress them or escape from them.)
Some things that have worked for other people: talking to a trusted friend, writing in a journal, exercise/physical movement, consulting with a therapist or trusted advisor, learning to meditate, pounding on pillows or taking a kick-boxing class, etc.
For sadness/crying, I’m going to advise something that is probably very counterintuitive: physical movement. I know it’s the last thing you want to do, but it is probably the one thing that can help you the most, initially. Here’s why:
Our bodies and brains ‘feed’ off of each other in what is called an emotional feedback loop. Using facial muscles that are designed for smiling actually improves mood; slumping over has been proven to make people feel more depressed. Stillness is associated with sadness and depression, and physical movement with more upbeat emotions.
So move. Take a short walk. Get up from the chair or couch (or bed or floor) and take one slow step after another. Tell yourself you only have to move for 60 seconds if that’s what it takes to convince yourself to get up. Then, after 60 seconds if you feel like you could go a little longer, you can choose to do it. If not, not.
My advice? Don’t worry about being perfect.
But be persistent.
How about the rest of you – have you experienced intense emotions after quitting smoking? What strategies have you developed to deal with them? What do you think you want to try next? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.