Many smokers think that lighting up helps them relax. They’re fooling themselves, experts say.
“Nicotine withdrawal makes people feel jittery and anxious, which smokers often confuse with feeling stressed,” says Steven Schroeder, MD, director of the Smoking Cessation Leadership Center at the University of California, San Francisco. “Lighting up makes them feel better, not because that cigarette eases stress but because it’s delivering the next dose of nicotine.”
In active tobacco users, a lack of nicotine produces a wide range of withdrawal symptoms, including any or all of the following:
Constipation or diarrhea
Falling heart rate and blood pressure
Fatigue, drowsiness, and insomnia
Increased hunger and caloric intake
Increased desire for the taste of sweets
Breaking free of nicotine addiction can be stressful, of course. Stress is one of the leading reasons why people falter in their efforts to quit. “Stress releases a brain chemical called epinephrine, which interferes with the ability to focus and think clearly,” says Bruce S. Rabin, MD, PhD, medical director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Healthy Lifestyle Program and an expert on stress. “When you’re trying to quit smoking, that can make it hard to stay focused on the goal.”
Fortunately, a wide range of strategies can help you get through the tough times without being overwhelmed by stress. Here are 10 ways to reduce stress while you quit smoking.
1. Cut yourself plenty of slack.
Don’t be hard on yourself while you’re quitting. Kicking the habit is tough enough. Recognize in advance that you’ll experience stress. Understand that your temper may be short and that you may feel discouraged and even depressed. Try not to be critical of yourself or others. Remember: quitting is your most important goal. Try to have an optimistic, “can-do” attitude. “Optimism turns out to be one of the most important determinants of success,” says Rabin. “If people are convinced they can do it, they stand a much better chance of succeeding. If you’ve tried and failed before, don’t let that discourage you. Most smokers have to try several times before they succeed.
2. Resolve short-term problems in advance.
If you can easily resolve any nagging short-term stresses, do it before you quit. Fix that leaky faucet. Clean up the clutter that’s been bugging you. Clear away as many stressful issues as possible.