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How nicotine worsens stress

We all get stressed and we all have different ways of dealing with it. If you smoke or vape, it's tempting to reach for a cigarette or vape when things are tough. But in reality, smoking or vaping can worsen the feeling of stress. Try these strategies next time you're stressed out and craving a smoke or vape.

Nicotine makes stress worse

  • Nicotine causes your heart rate and blood pressure to spike. Your heart has to work harder making it difficult to fully relax.

  • When you haven’t smoked or vaped for a while, you start having feelings of nicotine withdrawal. A big part of nicotine withdrawal is feeling stressed and irritable.  

  • Then when you do smoke or vape, the nicotine relieves those cravings and gives you a brief hit of dopamine, a brain-reward chemical. 

  • But then the cycle begins again as your heart rate and blood pressure spike. 

Quitting is the best way to break this cycle of smoking and/or vaping and stress. After feelings of nicotine withdrawal are gone, most people who quit smoking, for instance, say their mood is better and they feel less stressed than when they smoked. 

If you're worried about how you'll manage stressful situations without cigarettes or vapes, try the exercise below:

3-step exercise to manage stress without smoking or vaping

Step 1: List the feelings and situations that make you crave a smoke or vape. Do you get an urge when you’re: 

  • stuck in traffic? 

  • stressed about work or study? 

  • concerned about money? 

  • upset with your partner? 

  • frustrated by the family? 

Step 2: Think of how you could handle these situations without a cigarette or vape

  • If you’re at home, you could watch an episode of your favourite show, read a magazine or even take a few minutes of time out in your bedroom. 

  • If you’re at work, go for a walk around or make yourself a snack or cup of tea.  Anything you can do to remove yourself from the situation that’s making you want a smoke or vape is helpful. 

  • If you’re in traffic, play some music, radio or a podcast – something different to what you usually listen to – or have a mint ready to pop in your mouth.

Pair these new strategies with the triggers you listed in Step 1. Visit our tips & tactics section to get more ideas on how to best deal with triggers.

Step 3: Chat with Quitline for free, bonus support

Our friendly Quitline counsellors are qualified and experienced at providing practical tips and strategies to help you manage stress and stay quit. People who call the Quitline are more likely to succeed at quitting. You don't have to start with a call - you can reach out to Quitline any number of ways, including SMS, WhatsApp or webchat, or book a callback:

Request a callback

Tips for dealing with stress without smoking or vaping

If you’re worried about how you’ll handle stressful situations without cigarettes or vapes, check out these ideas – which would work for you? 

  • Make time to do things you enjoy It might be curling up on the couch and binge watching your favourite show, playing with your pet, or spending time outdoors in a park or garden. Whatever you enjoy, make time to do it. 

  • Get physical Doing something active every day is good for your physical and mental health and you don’t have to bust a gut to get the benefits – even getting out and going for a walk is great for relieving tension and pushing through a craving. 

  • Learn to say ‘no’ to others Saying ‘yes’ to help out is a natural response, but sometimes you can over commit yourself, and then it becomes stressful to fit everything in. Work out what’s actually possible and then cull the rest. It will free up time to do the things you really enjoy. 

  • Breathing exercises and meditation You might find breathing exercises and meditation useful - you won’t know until you try. Something like this short deep breathing exercise may help.

  • Speak to someone Sometimes just venting with a friend is enough to make you feel less stressed, but you could also try talking to a doctor or a professional counsellor. Remember, Quitline counsellors are qualified counsellors who can provide you with more ways to deal with stress and anxiety.

Please note, this information is for general use only.  Please consult your health professional for further advice.

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Last update February 2024

Dealing with stress
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