Smoking, with its pervasive influence on health, remains a global concern. The toll it takes on physical health, from respiratory diseases to cardiovascular problems, is well-documented. Its effects on mental health can be equally debilitating. Happiest Health delves into the relationship between smoking and mental health, shedding light on the often-overlooked mental health benefits of kicking the habit.
While smoking is often associated with stress relief, research shows that smoking can increase feelings of anxiety and stress. Nicotine is a stimulant, and while it may provide temporary relief from anxiety, it ultimately worsens the symptoms of anxiety.
A 2021 research study conducted by Dr Gemma MJ Taylor of University of Bath, and other researchers found that quitting smoking can lead to a reduction in anxiety levels over time. While nicotine withdrawal can initially cause an increase in anxiety, over time, as the body adjusts to being nicotine-free, anxiety levels tend to decrease.
Many smokers report that they use cigarettes as a way to cope with negative emotions. However, according to Shreya Gupta, Gurugram-based counselling psychologist, “Smoking is not an effective long-term solution and can lead to mood swings and irritability.” She adds that quitting smoking may lead to stabilising one’s mood and overall improvement in one’s psychological well-being.
Smoking and sleep
Sleep is an integral part of good mental health. Kicking this habit can lead to better sleep and improve overall mental well-being. Smoking can disrupt sleep patterns, making it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Researchers Sohrab Amiri from Baqiyatallah University of Medical Sciences, Iran, and Sepideh Behnezhad from Kharazmi University, Iran, conducted a study that demonstrated an association between smoking and sleep-related issues, indicating that nicotine can induce poor sleep quality.
Greater sense of control
Overcoming an addiction like smoking can instil a sense of control over one’s life. This can positively affect one’s mental health. Gupta says quitting nicotine can often be difficult, and like any addiction, make one feel powerless and helpless. “But when someone actually manages to overcome this addiction, they may feel like they have regained a sense of control in their lives. This may motivate them further to make other positive changes,” says Gupta.
Improved stress management
Smoking can sometimes serve as a temporary band-aid to feelings of stress and anxiety. Dependence on smoking may lead to using smoking as a coping mechanism for stressful situations. However, Gupta adds, this means that people may miss out on developing other healthy coping mechanisms because they resort to smoking when they are stressed. “Once someone quits smoking, it can help them develop and cultivate other healthier ways of coping and dealing with stress and anxiety,” she says.
Of course, quitting might not be easy at all. The initial withdrawal period after quitting smoking can be challenging, and some people may experience temporary mood disturbances. However, the long-term benefits of quitting smoking for mental health are well worth the effort. Not only does it improve physical health, but also mental well-being.