The effects of smoking on physical health are well documented. In fact, they are so widely accepted that they are printed on every packet of cigarettes. However the effects of smoking on mental health are still a bit nebulous. Most people do not realise how tobacco affects their psychological well-being. A recent study published by the British Journal of Medicine revealed that most people believe smoking helps them cope with anxiety and stress. This is of course a myth: in truth smoking could really be contributing to anxiety and other mental health issues.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a feeling of fear, tension, unease and nervousness. We all suffer from anxiety from time to time; it is just part of the human condition. But when this feeling becomes disproportionate with the situation causing it, or if it is constant, ever present or begins to interfere with your day to day activities, then it has become a problem.
When it comes to smoking, withdrawal symptoms are a common cause of anxiety. The nagging temptation that comes with wanting a cigarette is actually a form of anxiety. In people who smoke regularly this feeling comes multiple times a day. It is a haunting and disturbing sensation that can obstruct completion of their regular activities. In fact, satisfying this craving in order to stave off anxiety can become part of the smoker’s daily routine.
If you are smoking, there is a good chance you are also not breathing properly. Smokers tend to breathe more quickly and less efficiently, and this can lead to hyperventilation and even a panic attack.
Smoking to cope
Many people use smoking as a coping mechanism. Perhaps they already have a serious mental health issue such as generalised anxiety; smoking seems to help them cope with the sensations associated with it. However, smoking is often just masking a bigger health issue and curbing your capability to properly manage emotions perceived as negative. Smoking may mean you are not developing the mental skills required to cope with stress and other emotions. It may also bring more stress upon you, as you deal with nicotine cravings. You may even worry about the physical damage you are doing to your body with every cigarette.
Furthermore, if you have an emotional issue and you are using smoking as a crutch, you are not dealing directly with the issue itself. Worry over an upcoming exam or feeling anxious about your relationship are feelings that are better dealt with openly instead of trying to cover them up with a smoke.
Anxiety when quitting
Quitting smoking is not an easy task, in part because of the feelings of anxiety that come with nicotine cravings. These feelings are one of the main reasons why people who are trying to quit smoking tend to relapse, and why trying to quit “cold turkey” has a very low success rate.
If you are thinking about quitting and feel as though anxiety could be a problem for you, you may want to consider talking to your doctor about a medical solution. Quitting gradually and using medications like nicotine replacement therapies or Champix can help you reduce nicotine cravings and manage the associated anxiety in a healthier and more effective manner.
The benefits of stopping smoking are immense. Your body and your mind will be healthier. A few weeks after your last cigarette you will start feeling better in many aspects of your physical and mental being. Talk to your doctor to develop a plan that is right for you.