Smoking and Anxiety: How Cutting Out Nicotine will help your mental health
Smoking is bad for our health, we all know that, but for many, it provides immediate relaxation.
Smoker’s may rely on cigarettes to soothe their nerves, but did you know that smoking could actually be causing anxiety? Studies also suggest that those who smoke are more likely to develop depression. You may be wondering how, but it’s all to do with how nicotine interacts with the brain and how addicted we can become to it.
How does it work?
When you smoke, nicotine enters your bloodstream and travels straight to the brain. It then stimulates the production of dopamine, the chemical you have to thank for feeling pleasure. It then stimulates your adrenal glands (which sit on top of your kidneys) which produce adrenaline.
Not only are you now feeling happy but you’re also feeling focussed. These might sound like good things but the smoker tends to become reliant on that hit. Nicotine is highly addictive and part of the reason why it can be so difficult to stop.
Quitting smoking not only improves your overall physical wellbeing, but also has a marked effect on mental health. In one study, people who quit smoking found a notable difference in their anxiety levels1. The drug that they once thought controlled their anxiety for so long was potentially causing it.
For many smokers, the difficulty in quitting comes with the fact that they see cigarettes as their way of treating anxiety. This rings particularly true for smokers who suffer from social anxiety and find that smoking helps alleviate the nerves and insecurities around being with strangers. A recent study found that avoidant behaviours such as smoking to alleviate stress actually prevent smokers from ever giving up2. They also become reliant to the extent that they feel uncomfortable without a cigarette in their hand. The social aspects of smoking make those who have social anxiety even more difficult but these short term solutions don’t actually address the real cause of anxiety. The smoker is then in a perpetual limbo of needing more to get through the day - a very slippery slope to be on.
For those who quit smoking, mental health outcomes are far better than in those who continue. A BMJ study found that people who quit smoking saw their anxiety, depression and stress decrease3. Dependency on a drug to control mood can be dangerous because withdrawal symptoms can be even more severe.
The more addicted you are to a drug, the more intense these symptoms are and mental health inevitably suffers as a result. For people who have long since quit, they no longer experience those recurring withdrawal symptoms. People in the study noted that not having regular withdrawal symptoms actually improved their mental health considerably.
It’s widely supported by research that those who smoke are more likely to have been affected by poor mental health at some point. Adults who smoke are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression and people with schizophrenia are three times as likely to smoke. There is a complicated relationship between the two so it can’t be said that smoking causes mental illness or vice versa. It may be that people look to smoking to alleviate the symptoms of poor mental health.
What we do know, however, is that prolonged use of any drug will cause reliance. This reliance makes it harder to quit and the withdrawal symptoms more intense. As a result, people who smoke tend to have poorer mental health as a result of these withdrawal symptoms, much worse compared to their non-smoking counterparts.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a lot of stress understandably for many people. Public Health England found that 38% of smokers reported having high anxiety during the pandemic which was 4% more than non-smokers (34%).
In a review published earlier this year, researchers found that people who had stopped smoking noted having less anxiety and depression than their smoking counterparts4. They also found that they had greater mental wellbeing and fewer symptoms of stress. Some of the benefits were seen as early as 6 months after quitting and the effects were even noted as being as powerful as taking antidepressants. Smoking is a vice and a crutch that many use to cope with problems in the short-term but the long term benefits of smoking cessation are life-changing.
How to Quit
There are a number of ways in which you can stop smoking. As you’ll be well aware, the hardest part is making that first step. With determination and patience, you can join the millions who have quit already. Aside from the usual options such as nicotine replacement patches and gum, a healthcare professional can also offer tailored advice and medication to help you through.
If you’re keen not to rely on medication, there are great talking therapies available. Self-hypnosis is another popular option for those who have exhausted most of their options. The key is to take things gently. Don’t expect to put down the cigarette today and feel immediately better tomorrow, withdrawal symptoms will be tough and it’ll be very tempting to pick up a cigarette again.
Self-hypnosis can help lead you through the process of quitting. With a dedicated guide, you’ll be supported and motivated each step of the way. Hypnosis puts you into a relaxed state and alleviates anxiety. With a calm and focussed mind , you should be able to achieve your goal of quitting sooner.
Leading a Healthier Life
We are more aware of our mental wellbeing than our parents' generation and their parents before them. We also know how toxic and dangerous smoking can be. By establishing a clear connection, we learn that there are many other ways to treat and maintain mental wellbeing.
Numerous studies make a clear connection between anxiety and smoking. What you may initially think of as a treatment is creating more harm than good. Smoking, like alcohol, has never been the solution to any problem. It’s instant gratification in the short-term. By learning techniques to help you overcome your addiction, you can create a better outlook in the long-term.
If you are looking at beating your smoking addiction and would like to do so without battling with your cravings, Click the link below to read more about the audio therapy that has helped thousands of people around the world quit smoking.
1) McDermott MS, Marteau TM, Hollands GJ, Hankins M, Aveyard P. 2013. Change in anxiety following successful and unsuccessful attempts at smoking cessation: cohort study. Br. J. Psychiatry 202:62–67
2) Julia D. Buckner, Paige E. Morris, Cristina N. Abarno, Nina I. Glover, Elizabeth M. Lewis. (2021) Biopsychosocial Model Social Anxiety and Substance Use Revised. Current Psychiatry Reports 23:6.
3) Taylor G, McNeill A, Girling A, Farley A, Lindson-Hawley N, Aveyard P et al. Change in mental health after smoking cessation: systematic review and meta-analysis BMJ 2014; 348 :g1151
4) Taylor GMJ, Lindson N, Farley A, Leinberger-Jabari A, Sawyer K, te Water Naudé R, Theodoulou A, King N, Burke C, Aveyard P. Smoking cessation for improving mental health. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2021, Issue 3.