You probably know that quitting smoking reduces your risk for lung cancer, emphysema, and other physical ailments. However, you might be surprised to learn how smoking affects your mental health.
A recent review of research to date found that giving up the tobacco habit promotes positive feelings and mental wellbeing. More specifically, the study found a 24% lower risk of developing anxiety and depression and a 44% reduced risk of developing anxiety alone.
These psychological benefits are another compelling reason to say goodbye to cigarettes. Find out more about how smoking affects your brain and tips for how to quit.
How Smoking Affects Your Mental Health
Adults with mental disorders are 2 to 4 times more likely to smoke. For some, it may be a way of self-medicating. Nicotine can make you feel happier and more relaxed. However, the effects wear off quickly and usually leave you feeling worse than when you started.
Consider these facts:
- Fight depression. While nicotine temporarily boosts dopamine levels, it also causes your brain to produce less of this chemical known as the happiness hormone. Some studies show that quitting smoking can be as effective as taking antidepressants.
- Reduce anxiety. Smoking also increases anxiety and tension. Find healthier strategies for managing stress. Exercise regularly and develop daily relaxation practices.
- Stay social. Are you concerned about how quitting smoking will affect your relationships? Your family, friends, and coworkers will probably like you even more without any second-hand smoke around.
How to Quit Smoking for Your Mental Wellbeing
Giving up tobacco may be more difficult when you’re dealing with mental health issues or a stressful lifestyle. You can still succeed with some effort and planning.
These strategies can help you leave nicotine behind:
- Consider your history. Adults with depression or similar conditions tend to smoke more cigarettes over a longer time than the average user. Your treatment plan will need to take these factors into account.
- Treat withdrawal symptoms. Conditions like depression also make you more vulnerable to addiction. Be prepared for symptoms including headaches, nausea, and irritability while you’re weaning yourself off nicotine.
- Try NRT. On the bright side, nicotine replacement devices rarely interfere with antidepressants and other commonly prescribed drugs. Gum and patches could make your first weeks without cigarettes much more comfortable.
- Monitor medications. Talk with your doctor about your smoking cessation plans. You may be able to take lower doses of many drugs after you quit.
- Control food cravings. What about weight gain? Nicotine suppresses appetite, and you may find yourself snacking more as you look for something to do with your empty hands. Keep extra pounds off by drinking water and eating foods rich in fiber that will fill you up with fewer calories.
- Consider counseling. While smoking may have given you some relief when you were feeling down or tense, the underlying issues went unresolved. Talk therapy could help you make your life happier and more meaningful for the long term.
- Seek support. It may also help to talk with others who share your experiences and goals. Contact your local health department or hospitals to find out more about support groups and other resources in your area.
- Plan for relapses. Successful ex-smokers usually make multiple attempts before they quit completely. Give yourself credit for starting the journey and keep experimenting until you find the approach that works for you.
Giving up cigarettes is one of the most important things you can do for your overall wellbeing, and some of the health benefits start to appear in a few weeks or even sooner. You’ll be protecting your mind, as well as your heart and lungs, when you become tobacco free.