Stop smoking and reduce your anxiety
As the smoke clears it is now becoming clear that cigarette smoke may be clouding our beliefs over its efficacy as a stress reliever. New research coming out of the United Kingdom is revealing that smokers who have successfully quit smoking and broken the habit have significantly reduced their anxiety levels. This finding is a result of research conducted by King's College London in collaboration with the universities of Southampton, Oxford and Cambridge. Their findings were recently published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.
Ask any smoker why they smoke, and many will answer that they do it because it helps relieve stress, and one reason why they can't quit is that whenever they stop smoking they feel more 'on edge'. The conclusions reached as a result of this research, however, directly contradict this common myth. 'The commonly held belief that smoking helps relieve stress is almost certainly wrong. Smokers need to understand how their experience of smoking affects them, and that in many people, smoking actually increases levels of anxiety,' explains Dr Máirtín McDermott, lead author of the study from King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry's Health Psychology section. He is also currently a researcher at the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery at King's College London.
These findings are important news for Europe where an estimated 700,000 people are killed as a result of smoking. And it doesn't stop there. Millions more suffer from illnesses associated with smoking, such as cancer and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. As a result of this, the EU will be introducing new measures to make smoking less attractive and, more importantly, discourage smoking among the youth.
The study concluded that people who were able to quit experienced a 'marked reduction in anxiety'. However, in direct contrast smokers who were unsuccessful in their attempts to quit smoking found their anxiety levels experienced 'a modest increase in the long term'. What this appears to suggest is that 'failure of a quit attempt may generate anxiety'.
The sample size of the study was 491 smokers who attended NHS smoking cessation clinics in England. All participants were given a nicotine patch and attended eight weekly appointments.
Of the 491 smokers, 106 people (21.6 %) had a diagnosed mental health problem, primarily mood and anxiety disorders. It should also be noted that all participants were assessed for their anxiety levels at the start of the research. They were then asked as to their motives for smoking, with answers including 'mainly for pleasure', 'mainly to cope' and 'about equal'. Six months after the start of the trial, 68 of the smokers (14 %) had managed to quit smoking - 10 of these had a current psychiatric disorder.
The researchers also discovered a significant difference in anxiety between those who had successfully quit and those who had relapsed.
All of those who had quit smoking showed a decrease in anxiety. People who had previously smoked to cope showed a more significant decrease in anxiety compared to those who had previously smoked for pleasure. Among the smokers who relapsed, those smoking for enjoyment showed no change in anxiety, but those who smoked to cope and those with a diagnosed mental health problem showed an increase in anxiety.
In interpreting their findings, the researchers state that those who smoked to cope were more likely to have a cigarette soon after waking up - which indicates behaviour intended to stave off withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety. By quitting, they removed these repeated episodes of anxiety and felt less anxious as a result. Among those who relapsed and showed an increase in anxiety, the researchers said that there was no obvious causal mechanism other than those who relapsed may feel concerned about the continuing health risks of smoking.
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Data Source Provider: King's College London; British Journal of Psychiatry
Document Reference: McDermott, M.S. et al., 'Change in anxiety following successful and unsuccessful attempts at smoking cessation: cohort study', British Journal of Psychiatry, 2013. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.112.114389
Subject Index: Coordination, Cooperation; Life Sciences; Medicine, Health; Scientific Research