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Stress and smoking

If you're stressed right now, see managing stress for a quick relaxation exercise.

The smoking stress-cycle

Smoking actually causes stress.

If you have not had a cigarette for a while, it is common to gradually feel tense and irritable. These are symptoms of nicotine withdrawal . Your next cigarette immediately relieves these unpleasant feelings. This shows that your addiction to nicotine makes you moody . You feel stressed and irritable between cigarettes and smoking allows you to feel normal again. This up-and-down pattern of mood change, throughout the day, is common among smokers. Quitting breaks this vicious cycle.

Does nicotine calm you?

Nicotine causes a spike in your heart rate and blood pressure making your heart work harder. The cigarette appears to relax you because the nicotine removes the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms caused by smoking, and gives you a brief hit from the brain-reward chemical called dopamine.

But because of this spike in heart rate and blood pressure it’s difficult to achieve the level of relaxation and stress relief of a nonsmoker.

What happens when I quit?

For a few weeks you will experience cravings and irritability but over time these nicotine withdrawal symptoms disappear. After a few months ex-smokers report feeling less stressed and depressed than when they were smokers.

Smoking, stress and taking a break

Many smokers associate taking a break with having a cigarette.

There are many relaxing aspects to taking a break – deep breathing (even when taking in cigarette smoke) can be physiologically relaxing, as is socialising, or having a warm drink. These pleasant things get strongly associated with the effect of the cigarette itself.

Quitting offers the opportunity to change your breaks so that you get the genuine stress relief you need, without the harmful effects of the cigarette.

Plan for something else you enjoy:

  • Consider your interests and hobbies
    • What relaxes you? Do you have a hobby or two that you could use to replace the cigarettes? E.g. a magazine, a sketchbook, a craft or a tool shed?
  • Exercise
    • Exercising is a great way to deal with stress and is a positive, lifestyle change. Regular exercise will help you clear out your lungs and increase your fitness. However, don’t overdo it. You’ll need energy to resist the temptations to smoke.  
  • Explore the range of non-caffeinated beverages
    • Turn this into a new ritual. Spend money on this with the money you’ll save from not smoking.
  • Try something new
    • Learn a new language, take up a new sport or pastime. Invest more time on your passions.
  • Try Quit’s 10 Good Ways to Relax audio (below), meditation, relaxation classes, yoga or pilates.


Download the mp3 

  • Set up a relaxing zone, your new time-out zone, in the house
    • Listen to music, read, do some stretches, put some moisturiser on your hands. Do something you enjoy. You’ll have more money to spend when you quit – treat yourself to an item for your time-out zone

Quitting product selection guide

Patches Nicotine replacement product

The patch is worn on the skin and your body absorbs nicotine from it continuously, either during the day only (15mg, 16 hr patch) or over 24 hours (21mg, 24 hr patch).

The patch typcially comes in three strengths for weaning off nicotine over 12 or so weeks: Step 1 (21mg), Step 2 (14mg) and Step 3 (7mg). Some smokers benefit from just using Step 1, others from stepping down through all three strengths. Since May 2013, a 25mg (step 1) 16 hr patch has also been available, which goes with a 15mg (step 2) and 10mg (step 3) patch.

There is also an option of a pre-quit patch (21mg, 24 hrs) for use in the two weeks prior to quitting. The pre-quit patch is for smokers who struggle to quit completely the first day they start the patches.

Patches are available at a more affordable subsidised cost on prescription from a GP. Using the patches can help to reduce withdrawal symptoms such as cravings, irritability, and restlessness. Patches nearly double your chance of quitting.

Gum Nicotine replacement product

Nicotine gum is chewed for a short while and releases nicotine while you rest it in the side of your mouth. The gum comes in two strenghts: 2mg and 4mg.

Take the gum at regular times during the day to help prevent cravings or just before entering situations where you expect cravings.

Gum is useful if: you want to control how much nicotine you take, you have bad morning cravings or if you get most of your cravings in particular situations.

Gum is not suitable if you have dentures or some types of dental work.

Gum nearly doubles your chance of quitting.

Lozenge Nicotine replacement product

Nicotine lozenges and mini lozenges are tablets that dissolve in your mouth. They are available in standard (2mg/1.5mg) strength and extra (4mg) strength.

Take the lozenge at regular times during the day to help prevent cravings or just before entering situations where you expect cravings.

Take more than one or extra strength varieties when you expect strong cravings.

You can also use lozenges while cutting down the number of cigarettes you smoke before you stop smoking.

The lozenge nearly doubles your chance of quitting.

Mouth spray Nicotine replacement product

The mouth spray works by replacing some of the nicotine you would normally inhale from cigarettes, providing comfort by lessening withdrawal symptoms and helping your body wean off nicotine over a number of weeks.

To release the nicotine, you spray on the inside of your cheek, or under your tongue, once or twice. A benefit of this product is the speed of the nicotine’s absorption into your system compared to other oral nicotine products.

Using the mouth spray can help to reduce withdrawal symptoms when you quit, such as cravings, irritability, and restlessness. Mouth spray nearly doubles your chance of quitting.

Inhalator Nicotine replacement product

The inhalator works by replacing some of the nicotine you would normally inhale from cigarettes, providing comfort by lessening withdrawal symptoms and helping your body wean off nicotine over a number of weeks.

You insert a cartridge into the inhalator and draw the vapor into your mouth. You can puff on it as long as you would a cigarette – after around 80 puffs, or 15 minutes or so, the cartridge will be empty. A benefit of the inhalator is that it mimics the hand-to-mouth action of smoking.

Using the mouth spray can help to reduce withdrawal symptoms such as cravings, irritability, and restlessness. The inhalator nearly doubles your chance of quitting.

Champix Quitting medication

Champix is a medication developed to help people quit smoking and is available on prescription from your GP. It works by reducing withdrawal symptoms and by blunting the satisfying effects of smoking. Using Champix can help reduce withdrawal symptoms when you quit, such as cravings, irritability and restlessness.

Champix is a 12-week course. The advice is to continue to smoke in the first week and to set a quit date for some time in the second week. As the dose builds up, cigarettes will start to be less desirable, and it will be easier to cut down before your quit date. It’s important to take Champix for the full 12 weeks, even if you’re feeling confident, to help prevent relapse.

Champix more than doubles your chance of quitting.

Zyban Quitting medication

Zyban is an anti-craving medication that is available on prescription to help people stop smoking. Using Zyban can help to reduce withdrawal symptoms when you quit, such as cravings, irritability and restlessness. Zyban can also make smoking feel less rewarding.

Zyban is a 9-week course. You slowly build the dose up in the first week. The advice is to continue to smoke in the first week of Zyban, and set a quit date for some time in the second week. It’s important to take Zyban for the full nine weeks, even if you’re feeling confident, as even after regular cravings have faded, staying on Zyban can help prevent relapse.

Zyban nearly doubles your chance of quitting.

 

Real life stories

Here We Go!

I've just returned from getting my prescription for patches. I've smoked heavily for nearly 10 years and I've never tried to stop before for fear of failure. I'm apprehensive and have been reading...

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