How Quitting Smoking Affects Mental Health

Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on September 09, 2023
4 min read

The health benefits of quitting smoking are quite well known. Public health campaigns have taught us all about how tobacco use hurts our hearts and lungs and increases our risk of many cancers. Quitting smoking improves your physical health and helps you live a longer life. 

Did you know that giving up cigarettes can also help your mental health?

Scientists have found that quitting smoking improves symptoms of some mental health conditions, including depression. People find that their mood improves after they quit smoking. They also have a more positive outlook.

Learn more about why quitting smoking might improve your mental health and how.

People who smoke say they enjoy the feeling they get from the chemicals in cigarettes. They report that a cigarette helps them focus and gives them energy. Some people report a calming effect from cigarette use. 

Stimulants. The ingredients in cigarettes are actually stimulants. They provide a quick boost of energy and help with attention. But the effects are short-lived. The chemical high of a cigarette wears off in a few minutes. After that, a smoker might begin to feel withdrawal and crave another cigarette. The cravings might make you feel restless, anxious, or upset until you can get smoke again. 

Mental illness. People with diagnosed mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia may use cigarettes to offset the side effects of psychiatric medications. People with anxiety sometimes mistake withdrawal symptoms for the symptoms of a panic attack. A cigarette can mask these feelings, so the person might come to believe that smoking helps with their anxiety symptoms. 

People with mental illness are more likely to smoke than people who don’t have the same concerns. Sometimes, they would like to quit but worry that giving up smoking will make it harder for them to treat their mental illness.

Research has found that smokers can quit without affecting their treatment for mental illness. Keep in mind that the chemicals in cigarettes make some medications less effective. As a result, some people are able to reduce their doses once they stop smoking.

Symptoms of anxiety and depression often decrease after giving up cigarettes. Some people feel calmer and more relaxed when they aren’t dependent on smoking anymore. Others say their quality of life is better.

Quitting smoking might also give you a sense of personal satisfaction. You can take pride in knowing that you did something good for yourself. If people close to you scold you about smoking, you won't have that type of negative commentary coming at you anymore.

You also won’t have to leave gatherings to go outdoors to smoke, so you may feel more included in social events. All of these things can improve your mood, self-esteem, and health. 

Whether you have a diagnosed mental health condition or not, quitting smoking is good for your overall well-being. Quitting smoking will improve your health, save you money, and possibly boost your mood. 

Talk to your doctor. Before you make a plan to quit, discuss this with your doctor. You should ask about what changes you might need with your prescription medicines. You should also talk about any other health issues you have. They might be affected by cutting out cigarettes.

Once you’re ready to quit, try some of these tactics to make it easier:

  • Tell friends and family your plans and ask them for their support.
  • Get rid of your smoking supplies in your home, office, and car.
  • Decide if you want to use nicotine replacement products and make sure to have enough.
  • Practice saying that you don’t smoke.
  • Ask people not to use tobacco around you.
  • Avoid situations where you want to smoke.
  • Buy oral substitutes like toothpicks, gum, or hard candy. 
  • Find a support group for quitting tobacco.

Be ready for withdrawal. Once you quit smoking, you might notice an increase of symptoms that feel like mental health conditions. This is a result of nicotine withdrawal and not necessarily an indication that your mental health is getting worse. Some of the feelings you may notice include:

  • Depression, sadness, or sense of loss
  • Impatience
  • Irritability
  • Anger or frustration
  • Anxiety
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Restlessness or boredom

You may have physical symptoms as well, including: 

  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Problems sleeping
  • Constipation or gas
  • Sore throat, cough, tight chest, or postnasal drip

All of these symptoms are common for people who are trying to quit smoking. They are usually the worst during the first few days after your last cigarette. Symptoms fade within a few weeks, if not sooner. If you are concerned about any symptoms, call your doctor to talk about them.

Get healthier now. Tobacco products are very addictive. You might find using them pleasurable. However, the adverse effects on your physical and mental health are serious problems. Giving up tobacco is one way to get healthier right away. Talk to your doctor if you want more tips on how to quit smoking.