Quit smoking and reduce stress, say researchers

Monday 21st June, 2010

A new study has revealed that chronic stress levels go down when smokers kick the habit.

Researchers studied 469 smokers who attempted to quit after being admitted to hospital for heart disease. Those who stayed off the nicotine reported a reduction in perceived stress while stress levels for those who continued to smoke remained the same.

Researchers from the Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry reported in the journal ‘Addiction’ that for some people smoking actually contributes to stress rather than being a way to cope with it.

‘Smokers often see cigarettes as a tool to manage stress, and ex-smokers sometimes return to smoking in the belief that this will help them cope with a stressful life event,’ wrote researcher Peter Hajek.

Previous studies have shown that non-smokers report less stress than smokers. While the reasons remain unclear, there is a suggestion that people who are vulnerable to stress are more likely to take up smoking although smoking itself could be attributed to generating chronic stress with the action of smoking only offering temporary relief.

The study found at the beginning that 85 per cent of participants said that smoking helped them cope with stress to some extent with half claiming it “very much” helped them cope.

One year on, 41 per cent had not returned to smoking again and 20 per cent reported a reduction in stress levels.

Abstaining and reduced stress levels were linked when factors such as age, education, stress scores before the study and how heavily the person smoked before giving up were accounted for.

‘When dependent smokers cannot smoke, as the period without cigarettes lengthens they tend to feel more and more edgy, irritable and uncomfortable,’ said lead researcher Peter Hajek.

‘A cigarette relieves this stressful state, and this is probably the main reason smokers think that smoking relieves stress.’

‘Someone who smokes 20 cigarettes per day, for example, essentially goes through 20 bouts of stress each day, as the levels of nicotine in the body decline.

‘Once that person quits – and gets over the initial period of withdrawal – he will have 20 fewer periods of stress each day.’



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