Monday, March 5, 2018

Quitting Smoking and Stress

Quitting smoking may lower your feelings of stress.

Smoking is a serious health concern because it is the single largest cause of premature death and disability in the United States.  Despite the health risks associated with smoking, many people smoke as a way of coping with stress.  When these smokers attempt to quit, they often experience a short-term increase in their stress level and resume smoking.  On the one hand, this relationship between quitting and stress seems to suggest that people who successfully quit smoking will continue to experience higher levels of stress as time goes on.  On the other hand, successful quitters may actually lower their stress level because they no longer have the stigma associated with smoking or suffer stressful cravings between cigarettes.  To explore how quitting smoking affected a person's stress level, researchers from Arizona State University and Indiana University conducted a study.

What was the research about?

The study followed a group of 3,077 participants over a six-year time period between 1993 and 1999.  In 1993 and 1999 participants completed a series of questionnaires that measured the degree of stress they experienced in the past year, how positive and negative their mood had been in the past month, and their beliefs about how smoking affected their stress level and their health.

To analyze the results, the researchers first divided participants into four different groups: stable nonsmokers; participants who had never smoked or only tried smoking once or twice, successful quitters; participants who were regular cigarette smokers in 1993 but had quit by 1999, relapsers; participants who were ex-smokers in 1993 but had returned to regular cigarette smoking in 1999, and stable smokers; participants who smoked at least monthly in 1993 and 1999.

The results showed that successful quitters actually decreased their stress levels over time.  In fact, in 1999 the successful quitters' stress levels were identical to those of the stable nonsmokers.  Another important finding was that participants who tried to quit and failed (the relapsers) did not increase their stress levels over time, and had identical stress levels as stable smokers in 1999.  This is an important result because it shows that trying to quit and failing does not endanger a smoker by increasing his or her stress level.

Why should it matter to me?

Quitting smoking is a very difficult thing to do, so people need all the encouragement they can get.  In fact many people fail a number of times before they successfully quit smoking.  This study provides evidence, however, that repeatedly trying to quit is worth the effort because successful quitters lowered their stress levels.  Even more important is that those who failed to quit did not suffer from more stress, which provides encouragement to keep trying in the face of adversity.  Of course it is important to keep in mind that this study was correlational, meaning the researchers only found a relationship between how much people smoked and their stress.  Other factors besides smoking may also have affected the results; however, these results do provide some hope for those who continue to struggle with their habit.

Source: Chassin, Laurie, Presson, Clark C., Sherman, Steven J., & Kim, Kyung (2002). Long term psychological sequelae of smoking cessation and relapse. Health Psychology, 21, 438-443.