Many people feel that smoking seems to relieve their stress, but smoking and vaping actually make your stress levels worse. Understanding the way that smoking impacts on our stress levels – and our overall mental health – can help when it comes to making the decision to quit.
This is also the case with vaping – since both cigarettes and vapes contain nicotine, both can lead to an increase in stress, rather than a decrease.
If you’re thinking of quitting but you’re worried you won’t be able to manage stress without smokes or vapes, know that it is possible and you will feel better over time. Find links for getting the support you need to quit at the end of this page.
Why does smoking seem to relieve stress?
When you smoke, the nicotine in the cigarette takes about 15 seconds to reach your brain. This releases a chemical called dopamine that makes you feel calm and relaxed – but not for long.
After that initial feeling of calm, your body begins to crave that feeling again and again. This puts your body under a lot of stress, as you go into nicotine withdrawal. Your blood pressure and heart rate increase, and less oxygen is available to the brain and body. This is why you begin to feel tense and uncomfortable when you haven’t had a smoke for a while.
Your next cigarette immediately gets rid of those uncomfortable feelings. However, it doesn’t get rid of any pre-existing stress. It briefly relieves the feeling of stress caused by nicotine withdrawal in the first place. These big ups and downs of mood change happen every day for smokers and vapers.
Quitting will break this cycle. It will lower stress levels, improves your mental health, and can make you feel much happier and more content.
So with that in mind, let’s have a look at some real ways we can keep our stress at a bearable level. There are healthier, cheaper, better ways of fighting stress than smoking.
12 ways to manage stress without smoking or vaping
Try these ways to reduce your stress levels while you’re in the process of quitting smoking.
1. Be prepared
If possible, before you quit smoking, you should experiment with different smoke-free stress reduction techniques, and figure out which ones are right for you. That way, when the cravings kick in, you’ll know exactly what to do about it.
2. Take care of yourself
Especially right after quitting smoking‚ you should make extra efforts to look after your health. This includes basic things like eating a balanced diet, drinking loads of water, and getting plenty of sleep. Trying to keep your day structured around these things and get into a routine can also help to keep your mind focused.
3. Be good to yourself
Quitting smoking is tough, and you should be really proud of yourself for doing well. Treat yourself right and take the time to do little things you enjoy. This can mean taking the time for some self care or practicing some self compassion – this is especially important on the days you’re finding things more difficult, or if you have a slip-up.
4. Take a break
When it’s all getting a bit too much, just take a deep breath and stop what you’re doing. Close your eyes for a few minutes. Walk around the room and stretch, or take a lie down. Keep this up for a few minutes.
5. Breath deep
Take a few slow, deep breaths. You can also do some guided breathing meditations that can be found for free online. These can help you to calm down and feel better.
6. Write it down
Write down your stress, or keep a journal. Or paint it. Or sing about it. Or dance about it. Expressing your stress creatively is a great way to get it out of your system, and it can also help you to make sense of your feelings. This can also be a good way to keep track of your progress and see how far you’ve come over time.
7. Take one small action to get rid of stress
Do you have a million and one nagging little things on your to-do list that are piling up and starting to affect your stress levels? Instead of trying to ignore it or reaching for cigarettes or a vape, pick one easy item on that list, and just get it done right now. This will be energising and empowering and can improve your mood in a big way.
8. Get some exercise
This is an amazing way to use up some of the nervous energy that builds up when you’re quitting smoking and is hugely beneficial to your stress levels in the short-term and the long-term. Here are some ways to work exercise into your day.
9. Rant if you need to
Get how you are feeling off your chest. Find someone you trust and talk to them about what has been going on for you. Letting the people around you know that you’re trying to quit and you will need their support means you know you’ll have someone to turn to. If they are smokers, ask that they don’t smoke around you.
10. Get offline for a few hours
Social media can be a great tool for keeping in touch and learning new things, but it can also get a bit stressful sometimes. Just take some time to turn your phone off and be with yourself or those around you.
11. Cut down on caffeine
Too much coffee and tea can make you feel jittery, especially when you’re quitting smoking. Limit your intake when possible, restrict it to morning times, and maybe try decaf.
12. Focus on the here and now
Some of the most stressful things out there are the things that have already happened in the past, or things that might happen in the future that you’re worried about. But when you’re in a vulnerable place, try to limit the amount of time you spend thinking about things you can’t change, and try just focusing on what is happening right now. Take things one step at a time and cross those bridges when you get to them.
Find out more about mindfulness.
Get help and support to QUIT smoking
- Talk to your GP or pharmacist about NRT.
- Visit Quit.ie for tips on how to stop smoking.
- Call the Quitline on Freephone 1800 201 203 to talk to someone who understands and can help you quit.
- Head to the Quit.ie Facebook page to read stories from others who have quit smoking and to share your own.
- Find more information on quitting smoking at spunout.ie/quit
Disclaimer: There is more than one way to quit smoking. You may need to try a few different things to find what is right for you. For advice and support on quitting, visit spunout.ie/QUIT.