It is yet another reason to keep that New Year’s resolution about giving up smoking.
Contrary to popular perception, smoking does not relieve stress. But quitting does.
British researchers measured anxiety levels in almost 500 smokers – before and after they tried to give up.
Less stress: The study found that smokers who quit were less anxious than before
One in five said they smoked to help them deal with stress. Nationally, the figure is as high as one in two.
All took part in an NHS smoking cessation programme, which involved being given nicotine patches and attending two-monthly appointments.
Six months after signing up for the course, 68 of the 491 were still abstaining – and they were less anxious than before.
However, those who tried to give up and failed were more stressed than in the beginning, the British Journal of Psychiatry reports.
The researchers, from Oxford University and King’s College London, said: ‘The belief that smoking is stress-relieving is pervasive but almost certainly wrong.
‘The reverse is true: smoking probably causes anxiety and smokers deserve to know this and understand how their own experience may be misleading.’
Researchers believe the confusion has arisen because one of the withdrawal effects of nicotine is edginess.
Smokers in need of a top-up will repeatedly suffer this feeling throughout the day and find it eases when they have a cigarette. But while smoking may take the edge off stress related to lack of nicotine, it probably does nothing to ease the pressures of everyday life.
The researchers are less sure why stress levels rose in those who failed to quit. But it may be that their failure – and thoughts of the damage their habit was doing to their health – made them worry more.
This increase in stress levels was particularly high in those with depression and other psychiatric problems and the researchers said doctors should be aware of this.