Coping with stress

Most smokers are surprised to find out that smoking actually increases stress! 

When the nicotine level in your body falls between cigarettes, you start to feel anxious and restless (nicotine withdrawal). These feelings occur repeatedly throughout the day and are relieved by having another cigarette. It is easy to see why smokers feel that cigarettes relax them, when their smoking habit has actually created the problem in the first place!


Adapted from: Gould, G. Give Up The Smokes Aboriginal Quit Café
A new concept in intensive quit smoking support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, 2012. Blood Nicotine Level Diagram, p35.

Over time, smokers learn to use smoking to cope with other types of stress as well.

Some of the relaxation from smoking is due to having a break or having a few deep breaths, not the cigarette itself.

Many people feel guilty or ashamed of smoking and worry about the damage to health from smoking and this also creates stress.

Nicotine does have a temporary calming effect, but it is also a stimulant, releasing adrenaline and other chemicals that quicken the pulse, raise the blood pressure and increase arousal.

Quitting can cause stress in the short term, however anti-smoking medications can usually relieve that. More importantly, studies show that former smokers often feel less stressed after quitting. Click here to learn more.

The bottom line is that smoking is not an effective way to cope with stress and only makes things worse. 


There are much healthier and more effective ways to relax, such as:

  • Physical activity and exercise
  • A relaxation technique:
    • Deep breathing. Click here to download a slow breathing exercise.
    • Progressive muscular relaxation. Click here to download a muscle relaxation exercise.
    • Meditation. Click here to learn more about meditation 
  • Reading, socialising, music
  • Talking to a close friend or family member about your problems
  • Getting professional help such as counselling, CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy); mindfulness; problem solving; assertiveness training; conflict resolution

Think about what relaxation method would work for you and commit yourself to starting a new strategy before you quit, so you are prepared.


Last Modified: 31-05-2017