Health Guide

Smoking and stress: how to break the cycle

Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in Australia

Written by Medibank
Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in Australia

While Australian smoking rates continue to decline, it’s still the leading cause of preventable death in Australia.

Despite the long-term effects being well-known, many of us still choose to smoke, often citing the habit as a way to cope with depression, anxiety or stress. But is there a link? Read on to find out more.

Smoking statistics

Daily smoking is becoming less of a habit in Australia, with a clear downward trend from 24% of adults in 1991 to 12% in 2016. And while that’s worth celebrating, according to 2014-2015 data, there were still 2.6 million adults lighting up on a daily basis and cigarette smoking is still the leading cause of cancer in Australia.

MORE: How smoking has improved since 2007

Smoking is more common amongst men than women, and tends to be done amongst people in vulnerable groups more, particularly those living with a mental illness. Recent data from a 2016 study shows daily smokers to be more than twice as likely to have high levels of psychological distress or have a mental health condition, compared to people who have never smoked.

Medibank Health Index (MBHI) data from June 2017 - 2018 adds further weight to claims around links to stress showing a clear association between incidence of stress and smoking frequency. In smokers who have two cigarettes a day, 25.4% reported experiencing stress, more than doubling (52.5%) for those who have around half a pack per day. According to the data, smokers are also twice as likely to experience depression (31.7%) and panic attacks (11.6%) than non-smokers.

Does smoking relieve stress?

While smoking may be your go-to tactic for dealing with stress, it’s likely to be having the opposite effect on your body. Nicotine from cigarettes elevates your heart rate and blood pressure, making it harder to relax as your heart works harder. Between cigarettes, withdrawal can cause irritability, poor concentration and cravings, and when you reward those cravings with another smoke, the cycle starts again.

For people experiencing hardship, like those in lower socioeconomic groups, the cost of smoking can intensify financial stress as well as impacting physical health. In the long term, smoking reduces quality of life and can amplify disadvantage in the community

Quitting smoking

With both physical and mental factors influencing smoking, finding ways to shift your thinking can be a powerful tactic. One example of a program that has been gaining popularity amongst those who are keen to quit is Easyway. This program aids smokers by guiding them through a process of reinterpreting their own smoking experience and removing the desire to smoke by understanding there are no benefits.

Natalie Clays, Director and Therapist at Allen Carr’s Easyway, says:

“Once you understand how the smoking trap works and how we’ve been conned into believing there are benefits to smoking, it truly is easy to break free from the addiction. We’re so confident of this that we offer a money back guarantee.”

We’ve also compiled our top tips to help take some of the stress out of quitting:

  1. Get your head around it

Quitting is the best way to break the cycle of smoking and stress. It’s a life-changing decision, so make sure you set yourself up for success and make an informed decision on what might be best for you. Do your research into different methods of quitting, and understand what to expect. Avoid extra stress by being well prepared.

  1. Trust your gut

Ask yourself why you started smoking. What benefit do you get out of it? What impact is it having on your life and those around you. Be honest with yourself and note any warning signs.

  1. Ask for help

If being in a cycle of stress and bad habits like smoking has you feeling anxious or isolated and you don’t know where to start, you can always ask for help. Start with your GP, call the free Quitline or explore apps and online programs, such as Easyway and apps.

MORE: How to quit smoking

  1. Look on the bright side

Flipping your attitude to quitting can be a great way to move forward and change your life. Reframe your approach from deciding to quit to deciding to escape, and take back control.

  1. Find strength in numbers

Your best supporters will be the people who care about you, so surround yourself with them and share your experiences throughout your quitting journey.

  1. Deal yourself a reward

Health factors aside, smoking is expensive. Work out how much you spend on cigarettes, work out a savings goal and redirect those savings into something you’ve always wanted.

There are so many reasons to quit smoking, and just as many ways to approach quitting so work out what’s best for you.

For more advice on how to establish and maintain healthy habits, visit our page here.

Written by Medibank

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