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People who smoke often say that they use smoking to cope with stress. It’s important to plan for stressful situations when you are quitting.

See managing stress for a quick relaxation exercise.

The smoking stress-cycle

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.

Does nicotine calm you?

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.

What happens when I quit?

For a few weeks you will experience cravings and withdrawal symptoms like 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.

Smoking, stress and taking a break

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 the genuine stress relief you need, without the harmful effects of cigarettes.

Plan for something else you enjoy

  • Consider your interests and hobbies
    • What relaxes you? Do you have a hobby or two that you could use to replace the cigarettes? E.g. a magazine, a sketchbook, a craft or a tool shed?
  • Exercise
    • Exercising is a great way to deal with stress and is a positive, overall lifestyle change - a symbol of your new nonsmoking life. Regular exercise will help you clear out your lungs and increase your fitness. 
  • Explore the range of non-caffeinated beverages
    • Turn this into a new ritual. Spend money on this with the money you’ll save from not smoking.
  • Try something new
    • Learn a new language, take up a new sport or pastime. Invest more time on your passions.
  • Try meditation, relaxation classes, yoga or pilates.
  • Set up a relaxing zone, your new time-out zone, in the house
    • Listen to music, read, do some stretches, put some moisturiser on your hands. Do something you enjoy. You’ll have more money to spend when you quit – treat yourself to an item for your time-out zone