For smokers, lighting up is a part of their daily routine. Quit smoking? Easier said than done. Quitting, with its withdrawal symptoms and cravings is a challenge but if you struggle from time to time with mental health issues, it can be particularly vexed.
After initially quitting, many smokers start experiencing cravings for a cigarette. Those are usually followed by a raft of withdrawal symptoms ranging from irritability to feeling on edge. Having a smoke may relieve those initial cravings, leading smokers to think smoking is relieving their stress.
Quitting smoking leads to improved well-being
However, studies show that quitting smoking was associated with improvements in mental health. Moreover, this held for both former smokers who experienced mental health problems and those who didn’t.
This throws the spotlight on a rarely examined side effect of smoking. The physical toll smoking takes is often commented on, yet the mental health effects have received less scrutiny.
Connecting the dots between smoking and mental health
While the cause and effect aspect of smoking and mental health if easy to get confused, as to whether people develop mental health issues due to smoking or whether they start smoking because they have underlying mental health problems, there does appear to be a clear link between smoking and mental health problems.
Research consistently shows that smoking is more prevalent among people with mental health conditions. Moreover, the more severe the problem, the higher the incidence of smoking. According to one set of statistics, while 18.7% of the general population smoke, by comparison, 33 per cent of people with a mental health condition smoke.
Similarly, smoking rates are about twice as high among adults suffering from depression, and among schizophrenia sufferers, smoking rates are around three times higher. Research also indicates people with mental health conditions suffer worse withdrawal symptoms and appear to be at greater risk of smoking-related harm than their non-smoking peers.
Mental and physical health benefits of quitting smoking
Typically, the greater the mental health problems, the more likely people are to be smokers and to smoke more heavily. Happily, research indicates smokers with mental health problems are just as keen to quit smoking as those without an underlying mental condition.
This is unsurprising as data from the World Health Organization shows that within a year of giving up cigarettes, the associated risk of heart disease drops to around half that of a smoker’s.
Within 15 years that risk drops to the level of someone who has never smoked. If you stop smoking for good at around 30, your life expectancy will be 10 years higher than a smoker’s. Clearly, the benefits of quitting are tangible.
Initially, you’ll benefit from improved lung function, increased energy levels, a more robust immune system and improved taste and smell. Importantly, in addition to these physical benefits, decreased instances of depression and anxiety are associated with quitting smoking.
When you give up smoking, your body can begin to detox and heal. While this process can take some time, it is possible to regain your previous level of health quality of life.
Quality of life benefits
There are a lot of benefits associated with being a non-smoker. If you need any more motivation to stop smoking, here is a shortlist of six of the most tangible ways your life will improve after you quit smoking.
You’ll save money
Cigarette smoking is an increasingly expensive habit. Add up your annual tobacco spend on a pack-a-day habit and odds are, you could save enough to take a well-earned holiday. When you thinking about all the things you could do with all that extra cash, smoking seems like an expensive indulgence.
Your well-being will improve as your stress levels decline
While smokers frequently credit cigarettes with keeping their stress in check, the smokes can increase the levels of the hormones linked to stress. Nicotine’s stress-reducing properties are only effective short-term. Once you quit smoking you’ll discover your stress levels decline, leading to feelings of enhanced well-being.
Boosted energy levels
While the nicotine in cigarettes does act as a stimulant, its toxins also depress your energy levels, impair your circulation and compromising your lung capacity, leaving you often feeling listless and washed out. Cigarettes constrain your metabolism making it hard for your body to generate good energy levels.
Enjoy a brain boost
Research indicates quitting smoking can improve your cognition and memory function. Researchers refer to the outer section of the human brain as the cortex. Our cortex is the area of the brain where information is initially processed, and memories are formed. As we age our cortex becomes thinner. Smoking can accelerate this natural process causing the cortex to thin faster than normal. This leads to impaired information processing and weakened memory.
This process is halted then reversed over time after you stop smoking. While your cortex may not be that of a non-smoker, you’ll enjoy an improved cognitive function and better memory.
You’ll smell fresher
When you smoke, you don’t notice let alone think about the lingering smell of cigarette smoke. However, that cigarette smoke smell lingers between cigarettes. It gets into your hair, permeates your clothes, and even seems to cling grimly to your skin, particularly your fingers.
This lingering odour can be very off-putting to friends and family as well as your work colleagues. And it does nothing for your prospects on the romantic front! After you stop smoking, you’ll be able to pick out a smoker a mile away. Thankfully, that isn’t you, smelling like a chimney anymore!
The scientific evidence attesting to the benefits to your wellbeing once you stop smoking is irrefutable. There are a lot of techniques available now that can help you quit permanently. Whether its hypnotherapy, nicotine replacement or behavioural therapy, find the combination that sticks and works for you. Try meditation and exercise to help you get through the withdrawal symptoms and those cravings. Supercharge your wellbeing and stop smoking. You’ll find its worth the struggle.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.
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