Quitting smoking makes you happier and more relaxed

Posted by DrMendelsohn on 21 February, 2014


A recent study has confirmed that people who quit smoking have a significant drop in anxiety, depression and stress. This will be a surprise to many smokers who believe that smoking helps them relax or relieves stress.

The analysis published in the British Medical Journal looked at 26 published studies into the mental health of smokers. All studies assessed people's mental health before and at least 6 weeks after quitting smoking.

Those who succeeded in quitting reported  reduced anxiety and stress  compared with those who continued smoking. They also had improved mood and  a more positive outlook on life. The improvement in mental  health was equal to or greater than the effect of taking an antidepressants.

According to the lead author Gemma Taylor, "It's a common myth that smoking actually is good for your mental health - 'smoking relieves stress,' 'smoking helps you relax,' 'smoking helps you enjoy things' - and that common myth is really hard to overcome,"

But actually, the study showed that "when you stop smoking and you break the nicotine withdrawal cycle, your mental health improves".

The short-lived sense of calm or wellbeing from a cigarette is followed soon afterwards by symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, such as irritability, restlessness and loss of concentration. When another cigarette relieves these symptoms, it is no surprise that smokers think that the cigarette is relaxing them. In fact, it is simply fixing the problem it created.

After a smoker has quit, they no longer experience these  repeated episodes of nicotine withdrawal during the day, and their stress levels reduce.

The improvement was the same for both smokers with and without mental health disorders (such as depression, anxiety and schizophrenia). These findings counter the myth that smokers with mental illness may deteriorate after they quit. In fact, the opposite is the case - quitting smoking improves mental health.

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Taylor G. Change in mental health after smoking cessation. Systematic review and meta-analysis. British Medical Journal 2014


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