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.”
Withdrawal from nicotine, an addictive drug found in tobacco, is characterized by symptoms that include headaches, anxiety, nausea, and cravings for more tobacco. Nicotine creates a chemical dependency so that the body develops a need for a certain level of nicotine at all times. Unless that level is maintained -- by smoking or chewing tobacco -- your body will begin to go through withdrawal.
For tobacco users trying to quit, symptoms of withdrawal from nicotine are unpleasant and stressful -- but...
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.
3. Set long-term worries aside for now.
The first few weeks of quitting are the hardest. During that period, don’t burden yourself unnecessarily by worrying about long-term problems. Make a deal with yourself that you’ll worry about them later, after you’ve made it through the first few weeks. Focus on the here and now.
4. Learn to recognize signs of stress.
The sooner you deal with stress, the less likely it will be to derail your efforts to quit. Signs of stress include a feeling of being overwhelmed and unable to cope, anxiety, restlessness, headaches, sleeplessness, depression, agitation, and anger. As soon as you feel yourself under stress, act fast.