A new study shows that cigarette smokers have a 70 percent greater risk for anxiety and depression than do non-smokers and ex-smokers, refuting the commonly held notion that smoking helps relieve stress.
The temporary relief from anxiety that smokers experience is only a brief release from feelings of withdrawal and cravings, but the withdrawals and cravings (hence the anxiety) wouldn’t exist without the smoking, say the researchers.
“There is a belief from many smokers that smoking reduces anxiety and stress, which is in turn causing many smokers to put off quitting,” said Dr. Mike Knapton, British Heart Foundation’s associate medical director.
“Yet, instead of aiding people to relax, smoking increases anxiety and tension. When smokers light up, the feeling of reduced stress or relaxation is temporary and is soon replaced by withdrawal symptoms and cravings. While smoking temporarily reduces these cravings and feelings of withdrawal — which are similar to feeling anxious or stressed — it does not reduce or treat the underlying causes of stress.”
The study, which involved nearly 6,500 people over the age of 40, found that 18.3 percent of smokers reported suffering depression and anxiety compared with 10 percent of non-smokers and 11.3 percent of ex-smokers.
“Dispelling the myth that smoking is a stress reliever should be another motivating reason to finally kick the habit this No Smoking Day. We’re asking smokers to mark Wednesday 11 March on their calendars and join the nearly one million people who are expected to use the day to quit,” said Knapton.
Even further, the findings showed that long-term ex-smokers had pretty much the same risk of depression and anxiety as lifelong non-smokers. showing that the emotional damage can be completely reversed. In fact, participants who had quit smoking for at least a year were almost indistinguishable from non-smokers, according to the findings.
“Our study found that long-term ex-smokers have similar prevalence of anxiety and depression to non-smokers and considerably lower levels than smokers,” said lead researcher Robert West, Ph.D., professor of health psychology at the University College London.
“Quitting smoking could be the key to improving not only your physical health, but your mental health too.”
Although previous studies have established links between smoking and anxiety, this study is said to be the first of its kind to compare smoking to anxiety and depression prevalence with such a large-scale study group of smokers, non-smokers, and long-term ex-smokers (smokers who have quit for longer than a year).
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) report was released in advance of the U.K.’s No Smoking Day on March 11.
Source: British Heart Foundation