To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, we’ve taken a look at how smoking affects your state of mind and why quitting could improve your mental health and well being.
😨 Smoking and stress
It’s a common misconception that smoking helps to relieve feelings of stress and anxiety. Many smokers will automatically reach for a cigarette when the going gets tough. And while it’s true that puffing on a cigarette will bring a feeling of instant relaxation, in the long term, smoking becomes the cause not the cure for stress.
Once gripped by nicotine addiction, smokers quickly find themselves in a never-ending cycle of smoking to relieve nicotine withdrawal symptoms, experiencing the warmth of a nicotine hit, before the withdrawal symptoms kick in once again. These withdrawal symptoms and cigarette cravings then become the cause of anxiety symptoms which can only be relieved by smoking another cigarette, and so the cycle goes on.
🙍 Smoking and depression
It is unclear whether smoking leads to depression or vice versa however, according to the Mental Health Foundation, smoking rates in the UK, are around twice as high among adults with depression as among the general population. It can be more challenging for people suffering from depression to give up smoking. Nicotine stimulates the release of dopamine in the brain which is the chemical responsible for triggering positive feelings. Those with depression often have low levels of dopamine. As a result, some people use cigarettes to temporarily increase their levels of dopamine. Regular smoking leads the brain to switch off its own mechanism for making dopamine, meaning that in the long-term supplies decrease, encouraging people to smoke even more.
Smoking can make prescribed medication for some mental illnesses less effective. This means the smoker would have to take higher doses of their medication in order for it to work effectively. Smoking is known to interfere in particular with the way some antipsychotic medication and antidepressants work.
💐 The benefits of quitting for mental health
According to the NHS quitting smoking can be as effective as antidepressants when it comes to treating anxiety and depression. Although coping with cigarette cravings can be tough, those with mental health problems who successfully quit the habit are likely to feel calmer, more positive and have a better quality of life. Quitting means escaping the cycle of nicotine cravings but also the pressure to fund a habit that costs on average £56 a week and £243 a month for a 20-day smoker.
🚭 How to quit
All smokers are different and there is not one quit method or smoking cessation services that suits everybody. To help you find the quit smoking support that is best for you contact Help Me Quit, NHS Wales’ free smoking cessation service. To get in touch text HMQ to 80818, call 0800 085 2219 or click here to visit the Help Me Quit website.