This article has been medically approved by Pharmacist Sumaiya Patel - GPhC Reg No: 2215078
Some people smoke when they feel stressed, using cigarettes as a way to cope with unpleasant feelings. Although this may make you feel better in the short term, the long-term impacts on your health aren’t worth it. Understanding the reasons why you smoke can help you to stop.
Smoking to relieve stress
Many people who smoke say they do so to relieve stress, or they smoke more when they are stressed. As well as this, people who have quit smoking often say that stress can cause them to relapse.
Stress is a normal, if unwelcome, part of life. There is no way to completely avoid stress, but you can focus on how you work through stressful events, situations, or emotions. Stress comes in many different forms and is relative to each person.
While there is no one way to deal with stress, there are positive and negative methods. It is important to use positive methods to overcome stress, as these will help to improve your health and wellbeing. However, it may be a bit trial and error to see which methods work for you.
Cigarettes contain nicotine, a mood-altering drug. When you smoke, nicotine in the brain causes a release of dopamine. This dopamine then causes feeling of pleasure and relaxation, which is why many people reach for a cigarette when they’re stressed. Despite the release of dopamine making you feel relaxed, your body tells a much different story when you smoke. Blood pressure and heart rate increase, muscles become tense, and less oxygen is available to the body and brain.
In the time it takes you to smoke a cigarette in a stressful situation, you could be doing something more positive to manage your feelings.
It is important to understand what causes you to feel stressed. Being prepared by knowing what causes you to feel stressed and how you will deal with it will help you to become and stay smoke-free. You might like to try making a list of situations that make you feel stressed.
Some activities that can help to relieve stress are:
- Stretch - Muscle tension is often a sign of stress. Take some time to stand, stretch your legs, your neck, and your entire body.
- Laugh - Enjoy something that makes you laugh, like your favourite comedy show, talking to your funny friend, or reading a funny book.
- Take a break - Go for a walk or do another physical activity you enjoy.
- Meditation or breathing exercises.
- Talk to a friend (or a pet – they are great listeners!). Sometimes all we need is someone to talk to about what is stressful to us.
- Have some fun! Engage in a hobby or activity you enjoy. Some suggestions are gardening, photography, crafts, colouring, sports or volunteer with a cause you are passionate about.
- Get a good night’s rest.
- Ask for help - We can’t always face challenges on our own so seeking help and support is important.
Going cold turkey is the least effective way to quit. You’re more likely to successfully stop if you plan ahead, have support, and choose the right time to try. If you’re feeling unstable, experiencing a crisis, or undergoing significant changes n your life, it may not be the best time to start trying to quit smoking.
Avoid smoking triggers
Many smokers are accustomed to smoking at certain times, like at the pub or after a meal. Try to identify your trigger situations and, if possible, avoid them. This will help to lower your chances of relapse.
Be prepared for withdrawal
When quitting, you might experience withdrawal symptoms. These include headaches, nausea, irritability, anxiety, craving cigarettes, feeling miserable, difficulty in concentrating, increased appetite and drowsiness. Drinking fresh fruit juice or water, eating high fibre foods, and reducing your caffeine and refined sugar intake can all help some people cope with withdrawal symptoms.
Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) & medication
Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT), anti-depressants, and other medications have been shown to be helpful for those without mental health problems when quitting smoking. NRT appears to be more successful when combined with talking therapy.
Individual, group, or telephone counselling can help you to change your behaviour by thinking and acting more positively. Many of these programmes use techniques like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and social skills development. CBT has been shown to be particularly useful for smokers, whether or not they have mental health problems.
Further help and support
NHS Smoking Helplines
- England & Wales: 0800 16 9 016 9
- Northern Ireland: 0800 85 85 85
- Scotland: 0800 84 84 84
NHS Asian Tobacco Helplines
(Lines open 1pm-9pm on Tuesdays)
- Urdu: 0800 16 9 0881
- Punjabi: 0800 16 9 0882
- Hindi: 0800 16 9 0883
- Gujarati: 0800 16 9 0884
- Bengali: 0800 16 9 0885
Action on Smoking and Health
Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) is a public health charity that works to eliminate the harm caused by tobacco. For more information, visit their website here.
Quit aim to significantly reduce unnecessary suffering and death from smoking related diseases and aim towards a smoke free UK future. They provide practical help, advice, and support by trained counsellors to all smokers who want to stop. For more information, visit their website here.