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Smoking and Stress

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In a moment of unprecedented social, economic and health circumstances, many individuals are dealing with increased stress levels given the uncertainty that's associated with COVID-19. For many, this means turning to stress smoking. Especially because smokers and tobacco users are likely to be more vulnerable to COVID-19, it’s more important than ever to explore the connection between smoking and stress. According to the WHO, smokers are more vulnerable to COVID-19 as the act of smoking means that fingers (and possibly contaminated cigarettes) are in contact with lips, which increases the possibility of transmission of the virus from hand to mouth. Further, smokers may already have lung disease or reduced lung capacity which would greatly increase the risk of serious illness. i Because of these and the general increased risks of smoking, it is important to explore how people can avoid stress as a trigger for smoking.

Why Do People Smoke When They’re Stressed?

It’s common for people to turn to cigarettes and stress smoking as a way to cope when they’re feeling stressed out.ii This is caused by the body’s addiction to nicotine, which can cause a person to experience stressful feelings due to nicotine craving. When the body is craving nicotine, it’s going through a withdrawal that is quelled by more nicotine, and therefore smoking.iii

When you smoke a cigarette, your brain releases powerful chemicals that temporarily alter your brain chemistry, leading you to experience decreased anxiety, enhanced pleasure and alert relaxation, making you feel less aware of the stressful feelings you were previously experiencing.iv However, smoking is a temporary fix—stress smoking will not fix whatever is at the source of your stress.v It can become a habit that's hard to break.

Managing Stress in a Different Way

If you’re feeling stressed out, try another way to deal with your negative feelings. Helpful ways to manage stress include:

  • Take a few deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Imagine you’re exhaling the stress out of your body.
  • Work up a sweat. Go for a run, take a bike ride or do any kind of workout that will help you channel your pent-up energy into something active.
  • Talk it out. Share your feelings with someone you love.
  • Try yoga or meditation as a way to relax and establish routine.

When you learn to manage stress with other methods, you will gradually improve your ability to handle stress without needing to turn to stress smoking.vi

Quitting Smoking for Improved Mental Health

Not only is quitting smoking beneficial to your physical health, it also improves your mental health. Smoking can cause anxiety and tension and smokers are more likely to develop depression than non-smokers.vii Studies have shown that when people stop smoking, their levels of stress, anxiety and depression tend to decrease while their positive moods and quality of life tend to improveviii.

If you’re ready to quit smoking, visit Quit.com to Plan Your Quit today.