Does smoking cause anxiety?
Why people smoke is debatable, however, people often report the need to smoke because they are anxious. However, the truth is that is that smoking doesn’t help with anxiety at all and can actually make it progressively worse. According to the NHS, smoking increases anxiety and tension1, and the vicious circle of nicotine addiction can feel you leaving trapped and exacerbate existing anxiety.
The bottom line is, it is much healthier and more effective for an individual to find better ways of managing anxiety without consuming a cigarette. Quitting today may be exactly the thing you need to help you overcome those anxious feelings while also work towards healthier habits in for the future.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a feeling of uneasiness that may also lead to a sense of dread or fear depending on how severe the symptoms are. If not monitored and treated, anxiety can also cause depression. Anxiety can present itself in different ways such as:
- Racing thoughts
- Feelings of dread or panic (panic attacks can often occur)
- Problems with sleep
- Changes in appetite
Many people in today’s modern age suffer from anxiety and rely on habits which seem to make them feel less anxious, but in the long run, they are doing more harm than good. Smoking falls into this category. In fact, some reports suggest that smokers are also more likely to develop depression over time than non-smokers1.
Additionally, for those suffering from anxiety either while smoking or when trying to quit, there is help available, including:
- Psychological therapies such as CBT
- Self-help and self-management
- Group support sessions
- Medication – ask your GP
- NHS treatment GAD
What is the relationship between smoking and anxiety?
There are many ways in which smoking may increase your anxiety but first of all, we must understand why smoking is harmful to the body.
Smoking impacts our bodies both internally and externally, by:
- Increasing heart rate and blood pressure
- Restricting oxygen and blood flow to vital organs
- Causing mood swings and withdrawal symptoms from nicotine
- Increasing the risk of eye diseases
- Increasing the risk of tuberculosis
- Lowering the immune system (resulting in rheumatoid arthritis)
- Increasing the risk chronic bronchitis
- Increasing the risk heart disease
- Increasing the risk infertility and impotence
There are many more side effects and illnesses caused by smoking and all of them can contribute to an increase in anxiety. The complex relationship between smoking and anxiety is no doubt disputable but it is definitely toxic. The nicotine only pretends to serve the brain and your body in a positive way.
Nicotine and anxiety
Nicotine plays a big role in promoting anxiety within smokers.
When an individual consumes a cigarette, the nicotine only takes 10 seconds to reach the brain, creating an instant feeling of pleasure, relaxation, and even suppresses the appetite. This is because nicotine causes a release of dopamine within the brain. This particular feeling is very addictive, especially among people who are naturally anxious and find it difficult to relax.
However, over a period of time nicotine causes changes to the brain that lead to nicotine withdrawal. This is one of the reasons why smoking extremely addictive. If you are someone who struggles with anxiety and depression already, smoking these chemical changes may impact your condition further, and the myriad withdrawal symptoms associated with nicotine leave you fighting a losing battle.
Most of the time, a smoker will continue to smoke in order to deal with their withdrawal symptoms, forming a toxic repetitive relationship with cigarettes. Withdrawal symptoms or cravings from nicotine addiction include:
- Mood swings
- Poor concentration
- Lack of sleep
- Increase of appetite
Some of these symptoms are directly related to nicotine but others, such as the coughing, are due to your body getting rid of all the nasty deposits and debris from within your lungs. However, there is no need to panic, and according to the NHS, withdrawal symptoms will start to improve after 2-3 weeks after you put out your last cigarette.
Quitting smoking to relieve anxiety
There is a lot of help available both locally and online if you want to give up smoking for good.
Firstly, contact your local GP or pharmacy and ask to book in with a support smoking advisor. Your meeting will include some questions about your history of smoking and current situation.
You can also contact your local Stop Smoking Service or the national Smokefree helpline. In the beginning, your anxiety may increase as your body fights cravings, however, over time, with the right help and support, you will gradually become less dependent on nicotine for as long as you continue on your stop smoking journey.
All in all, can smoking cause anxiety?
It is safe to say that, yes, smoking could cause anxiety. The harmful chemicals within a cigarette combined with the nicotine place an extra burden on your body and mind, which may in turn lead to anxiety. Quitting today and examining the core reasons why you are anxious may help you stay smoke free in the future.