Understand nicotine and anxiety

Nicotine and anxiety attacks

Does nicotine worsen anxiety? If you are feeling worried or anxious you may feel that a cigarette will help calm you.

But Nicotine and anxiety are closely related. And so smoking doesn’t relieve these feelings, it actually increases them. You might get an initial sense of relief from the nicotine, but you’ll get stuck in a circle of vicious circle of smoking and anxiety.

Find out more about coping with nicotine withdrawal.

Why does nicotine give you anxiety?

When you are stressed you feel like the only thing that will relieve or prevent an anxiety attack is a cigarette. Sound familiar?

  1. Anxiety – When you feel anxious, you look for ways to relieve this feeling. Smoking a cigarette gives you an immediate sense of relief and relaxation, as the nicotine interacts with your brain.
  2. Associations – You associate feeling better with smoking and start to crave a cigarette as a way to reduce anxiety.
  3. Nicotine withdrawal – If you don’t have a cigarette and your nicotine levels fall, your body gets withdrawal symptoms and you start to feel more and more anxious.
  4. A cycle of craving and withdrawal – When you give in and smoke, the relief in anxiety is only short-lived. It quickly wears off, leaving you feeling anxious once again.

Do you smoke more in any of these situations?

  1. At Work – If you’re finding a particular task at work difficult or your job is making you anxious.
  2. When Dating or meeting people – You might find you feel particularly anxious if you’re going out on a date and meeting new people, causing you to reach for the cigarettes before, during or after.
  3. Big Events – Anxiety can be brought on by nerves, especially if you’re worried about an important event like an exam.
  4. Before Public Performances – Speaking to a crowd, taking part in sporting events or other activities can increase your feelings of anxiety.
  5. When Thinking About Money – When you’re anxious about finance and debt, you probably find you smoke more often to try and relieve some of that worry, despite the cost of cigarettes.

Tips to help you quit smoking and to stay calm in the process

1: Make a stop smoking plan

Call the Stop Smoking London helpline today on 0300 123 1044 for help to create a free, personalised quit plan.

2: Talk to someone

Talk to your family or a friend about your feelings and your plans to stop smoking with your friends and family.

3: Get a good night’s sleep

Sleep disturbances are a common side effect of nicotine withdrawal. Lack of sleep can make everything, including quitting smoking, feel so much harder. Good Thinking have some tips on how to get a good night’s sleep.

4: Exercise

Exercising for 30 minutes a day is a great self-care practice to get endorphins flowing and to boost energy. Download the NHS Couch to 5k to get you started.

5: Learn to meditate

Meditation is a great way to feel calmer. It can not only make you feel relaxed but may help you to make other healthy lifestyle choices. Find a meditation class in London.

6: Focus on the moment

When you start to feel anxious, don’t reach for a cigarette. Download the My Possible Self app to help with stress, anxiety and low mood.

7: Don’t do it alone, ask for help

You’re three times as likely to quit successfully with help from your free local stop smoking service.

8: Reduce caffeine in your diet

Stimulants like caffeine keep you awake, alert and tense. Cut back on your coffee, tea and energy drinks or use caffeine free products instead.

9: Cut back on alcohol

Alcohol can make you feel anxious and increase the likelihood of smoking when drinking. Give up alcohol completely for a few weeks when you first stop smoking or limit your intake of alcoholic drinks.

10: Try yoga

You could try stretching exercises like yoga. As well as stimulating your brain, this will help with breathing and relaxation techniques for whenever you feel anxious.

See more quitting smoking tips to get started.

Smoking and anxiety

Tobacco Dependence Adviser Tracy explains why smoking could actually be making your feelings worse.