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Smoking and mental health

Smoking affects your physical health, mental health and wellbeing.

Stopping smoking can improve your mood and help relieve stress, anxiety and depression.

We can help you quit.

Smoking, anxiety and mood

Smoking does not help relieve stress, anxiety or improve mood. This is a common misunderstanding.

Smoking does the opposite. The nicotine in cigarettes can cause symptoms similar to anxiety.

Smoking can negatively affect:

  • your mood
  • sleep quality
  • how you feel about yourself
  • your sense of being in control of your life

This increases the risk of smokers developing problems such as stress, anxiety and depression.

Smoking is expensive. This can add to money worries.

Why it feels like smoking helps us relax

Most smokers say they want to stop. But some continue because smoking seems to relieve stress and anxiety.

The nicotine in cigarettes is very addictive. Smoking may feel relaxing because it relieves symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.

When smokers have not had a cigarette for a while, the craving for nicotine makes them feel irritable and anxious. These feelings can be temporarily relieved by smoking. Smokers then connect the improved mood and stress release with smoking.

This common misunderstanding can be a barrier to people trying to quit. Quitting has been clearly shown to improve mental health.

Nicotine levels rise and fall in your body throughout the day. For example, nicotine levels drop overnight while you are sleeping. This is why cravings for a cigarette in the morning are strong.

The mental health benefits of quitting smoking

Cutting out smoking improves mood and reduces anxiety.

When people stop smoking, they:

  • reduce levels of anxiety, depression and stress
  • feel better about themselves
  • feel more in control
  • can get better quality sleep

Stopping smoking can help reduce symptoms of anxiety disorder and depression by as much as treatment with antidepressants.

Smokers with mental health issues

People with mental health issues such as depression are more likely to smoke than other people. They also tend to smoke more.

It is part of the reason why people who experience mental health problems die on average 10 to 20 years earlier than others.

Smoking has negative effects on mood. But it also interferes with the way some antipsychotic medicines and antidepressants work - smokers may need higher doses.

Most smokers with mental health problems want to give up.

After quitting, smokers with mental health issues:

  • are likely to feel much calmer and more positive
  • may need a lower dosage of some medicines

Prepare to quit

Talk to your GP or psychiatrist before you try to quit.

If you take antipsychotic medicines or antidepressants, they may need to change the amount you take.

Get the support you need to stop smoking

When you sign up to the Quit Plan, you get free, personalised support.

It includes:

  • 1-to-1 help from a trained stop smoking advisor
  • daily texts and emails if you want them

Stop smoking clinics provide 1-to-1 and group support. You can also get help from your mental health support team, GP, public health nurse (PHN) or psychiatrist.

Find your local stop smoking clinic

You can talk to your stop smoking advisor about:

Dealing with difficult feelings

You may feel angry, low or anxious after you quit smoking. These feelings can happen to anyone trying to quit smoking.

It can help to find ways of coping that work for you.

You could try to:

  • distract yourself - for example, with a book, music or television
  • go for a walk or do another form of physical activity
  • call or meet a friend
  • turn negative thoughts into positive ones
  • focus on what's good about you and your life
  • talk to someone who understands you

Lots of people smoke to deal with stressful situations. You can find other ways to cope.

How to cope when you want to smoke

Stress - tips and self-help

Most people find that difficult feelings get easier over time. Talk to your GP if things do not get easier for you.

Information and support for your mental health and wellbeing

Page last reviewed: 5 October 2022
Next review due: 5 October 2025