Dealing with stress and quitting smoking

Stress and smoking are linked - but not in the way you might think. Lots of people feel like smoking helps them deal with stress. But in reality, it makes you more stressed. Find out why this is, and how to quit smoking if you suffer from stress.

Does smoking help with stress?

Smoking does not help with stress. It might feel like it does, but it’s just the relief of getting a hit of nicotine. That feeling doesn't last and before long, you feel stressed again and want another cigarette.

Cigarettes cause all the signs of stress in your body. When you smoke your:

  • heart beats faster
  • muscles tense up
  • blood pressure goes up
  • blood vessels get narrower
  • brain gets less oxygen

When all these things happen, you will feel stressed.

Being addicted to smoking can be stressful too. Smoking is always in the back of your mind, nagging away at you.

Lots of people say they feel free when they quit, because they're not always thinking about smoking. And studies show that people who quit have lower levels of depression, anxiety and stress.

How to deal with stress when you quit

Smoking to deal with stress can feel like being stuck in a trap: you smoke because you feel stressed, that makes you more stressed, so you want to smoke even more. But there are things you can do to break the cycle and start your smoke free journey.

  • Use stop smoking products. You can use things like patches, gum and vapes so you still get the nicotine hit without the unhealthy smoke. You reduce the amount you use over time until you don’t need it anymore.
  • Do more exercise. Exercise boosts your mood, tackles stress and distracts you from smoking. You do not need to run a marathon (unless you want to) - a short walk, dancing in your living room, or a kickabout in the park all do the job.
  • Try deep breathing. Practicing deep breathing or meditation helps to reduce stress. If you smoke to get a quiet minute to yourself to stop and think, you could find this works well for you. Not sure how to do it? Here's an NHS breathing exercise for stress.
  • Be patient and stay positive. After a few weeks you'll notice that you feel much better - happier, healthier, and less stressed. Focus on all the positive things you get from quitting, like feeling healthier, saving money, or making yourself and your family proud.
Photo of 3 boxes of nicotine gum

Stop smoking products

The nicotine in cigarettes is addictive, so when you stop smoking your body misses it. This is called withdrawal, and it's part of what gives you cravings when you stop smoking.

You can use nicotine replacements to stop the cravings. There’s also a medicine you can take called Champix that switches off the cravings.

Find out which stop smoking aid is right for you