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Smoking and stress in the time of COVID19

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The world is in a very strange place at the moment and we have all had to make changes to the way we live our lives. We are being updated daily with harrowing news reports around Covid-19 and many people will be experiencing more stress than usual. In times of great stress or trauma it’s very common turn to things that we are led to believe will alleviate our stress. For smokers this can often mean smoking more than they usually would. Smokers often feel that smoking more will help them to cope with the stress they are experiencing.

However, there are some issues with using cigarettes as a tool for stress management. In addition to the longer-term health risks, smoking can actually increase stress. Those that are used to smoking more when stressed may find this hard to believe, but there is a reason as to why smoking more normally increases stress levels instead of decreasing stress.

From the moment a smoker puffs on their first cigarette their body becomes addicted to the nicotine it contains. Initially the addiction is so mild they don’t notice, they just start to have a cigarette with a drink or when socialising. In the longer term however, smokers will be familiar with the frequent craving and hunger for nicotine even when their rational mind is telling them that it is an unhealthy and unattractive habit.

The reason for this craving is that the body is experiencing nicotine withdrawal in which the smoker’s levels of dopamine (a brain chemical that signals a reward) drop. When you smoke a pack of cigarettes a day you go through frequent periods throughout the day where your body is craving nicotine. You get a temporary relief when smoking only to get the same craving come back soon after smoking the cigarette.

This withdrawal and craving can increase stress and anxiety. Most smokers will know the panic of smoking their last cigarette only to realise that the shops are shut, and they can’t get more cigarettes until the next day. Smokers may also try to cut down how much they smoke only to find in certain social situations that they can’t stop thinking about smoking and are badly craving a cigarette.

The good news is that when you stop smoking, after a few weeks in which your body is recovering it gets over the addiction and you will have less and less of these cravings. Your body starts to get back to the way it functioned before it became addicted to nicotine. You soon find that you can handle social situations and stressful times without needing nicotine to power you through.

Therefore just because you are feeling stressed from the Covid-19 situation this doesn’t mean that you need to postpone stopping smoking. After a few weeks of stopping you will notice that you are able to handle stress without a cigarette. Being at home more is a good time to start looking at healthy ways to manage stress. Incorporating exercise, meditation, breathing techniques, yoga or even a daily crossword can be great for keeping your stress levels down and the pressures of life in perspective. There are some more good ideas and suggestions on how to handle stress on the Every Mind Matters Stress page

If you are interested in taking this opportunity to finally become smokefree contact us for access to a free support programme in which we can see you through this important journey. An advisor will conduct weekly sessions over the telephone or via video call and be there to answer any questions you have. We will see you through a course of stop smoking medication, encourage you through the process and see you on the way to becoming smokefree for life!

Call us on 020 8973 3530, e-mail us at oneyou.hounslow@nhs.net or visit our Stop Smoking page

Jessica Cox
Stop Smoking Specialist

Hand crushing cigarettes