Many smokers report that they use smoking to cope with stress. It’s important to plan for stressful situations when you’re quitting.
If you're stressed right now, see managing stress for a quick relaxation exercise.
Smoking actually causes stress.
If you have not had a cigarette for a while, it is common to gradually feel tense and irritable, and to crave a cigarette. These are symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. Your next cigarette immediately relieves these unpleasant feelings. This shows that your addiction to nicotine makes you moody. You feel stressed and irritable between cigarettes and smoking allows you to feel normal again. This up-and-down pattern of mood change, throughout the day, is common among smokers. Quitting breaks this vicious cycle.
Nicotine causes a spike in your heart rate and blood pressure making your heart work harder. The cigarette appears to relax you because the nicotine removes the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms caused by smoking, and causes a brief hit of a brain-reward chemical called dopamine.
But because of this spike in heart rate and blood pressure it’s difficult to achieve the level of relaxation and stress relief of a non-smoker.
For a few weeks you will experience cravings and irritability but over time these nicotine withdrawal symptoms disappear. After a few months ex-smokers report feeling less stressed and depressed than when they were smokers.
Many smokers associate taking a break with having a cigarette.
There are many relaxing aspects to taking a break – deep breathing (even when taking in cigarette smoke) can be physiologically relaxing, as is sitting back, socialising, or having a warm drink. These pleasant things get strongly associated with the effect of the cigarette itself.
Quitting offers the opportunity to change your breaks so that you get genuine stress relief you need, without the harmful effects of the cigarette.