Fact-check: Smoking increases stress 

Fact-check: Smoking increases stress 

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The effect of the feel-good chemicals released by the brain is short-lived, though the damage can be lifelong.

By Toibah Kirmani

Are you feeling stressed and reaching out for a cigarette? Don’t! Here’s an eye-opener: Most smokers - nearly one-in-four adults worldwide smoke tobacco - believe that smoking helps them cope better with stress. However, the fact is quite the opposite. Scientific data shows that smoking makes people more tense and anxious. Compared to non-smokers, smokers are more likely to be depressed.

That initial feeling of relaxation when you take a puff of a cigarette is because of nicotine, a stimulant, entering your bloodstream. The effect of the feel-good chemicals released by the brain is short-lived, though the damage the hard-to-kick habit causes the body can be lifelong.

“Smoking depresses various brain centers. It not only causes cardiovascular diseases, but is also an etiological factor for malignancy in almost every organ, including the lungs, aerodigestive tract, and urinary tract,” says Dr Abdul Wahid Mir, Professor of Surgical Oncology at Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), India. 

Studies have well established the effects of carcinogens (substances that cause cancer) in cigarette smoke. The carcinogenic hazard is not limited to smokers; it also affects passive smokers or those exposed to secondhand smoke. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 8 million individuals die from smoking-related causes each year. Globally, it is one of the major causes of premature death.

What makes quitting tobacco, in any form, so challenging is the nicotine-induced withdrawal symptoms. Smokers become anxious and irritable when they haven’t smoked a cigarette in a while. The urge for a smoke can be very compelling. 

An interesting study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, followed 491 smokers attending National Health Service (NHS) smoking cessation clinics in England, to assess whether successful smoking cessation is associated with changes in anxiety. Researchers found that stopping smoking reduces anxiety and the effect is probably larger in those who have a psychiatric disorder and who smoke to cope with stress.

There are effective prescription medications and therapeutic interventions available for those who wish to quit smoking. Stress is not a good excuse to light a cigarette!