LiveSmart: Stress and Smoking in the Age of COVID-19

[This story was written by Anne Lawton, RN, a Butt Stops Here facilitator and community outreach nurse, St. Peter’s Health Partners.]

People deal with stress in a variety of ways but, for some, smoking a cigarette provides the fastest way to ease stress and anxiety. We have a lot to feel stressed about right now with the COVID-19 pandemic, high levels of unemployment, the reopening of schools, flu season approaching and a national election. Now more than ever, examining the relationship between tobacco use, stress and health is vital.

Tobacco users report one of the main reasons they smoke is that it helps them feel less stressed and it is true; smoking does ease stress, initially. Simply put, when you inhale tobacco smoke, nicotine rapidly travels to the brain and releases dopamine, which provides temporary pleasure, relaxation and improved concentration.

When dopamine levels drop and the pleasurable feelings subside, however, the urge to smoke to relieve the withdrawal symptoms of stress and irritability return. In fact, smokers are then in a situation where they are fighting both the physical need to smoke, alongside the already existing feelings of stress. This is the Nicotine Dependence Cycle and breaking that cycle successfully is hard. It can be done, however, with support and education.

COVID-19 has made the need to quit smoking an even bigger priority. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that smoking increases the risk of developing serious infections from the coronavirus and the best thing you can do to reduce that risk is to stop smoking. Additionally, smoking increases your risk for cancer, breathing problems, heart disease, stroke and other serious health conditions.

Smoking is an addiction and recognized as a Tobacco Use Disorder by the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). People who are most successful quitting use a combination of resources: counseling, physician support, education, support groups and medication.

The best place to start is with your primary care physician either in person or virtually. Next contact the NYS QUITLINE at or by calling 1-866-NY-QUITS for more information and qualify for three months of free nicotine replacement gum.

Finally, register for an educational and supportive class with others fighting the same addiction. The Butt Stops Here classes have gone virtual, making it a safe and easy place to continue your quest to be smoke free. Taught by a certified tobacco specialist, these free classes can be accessed from your workplace or the comfort of your home. Click HERE to register for classes starting TOMORROW (August 27) and September 16.

St. Peter’s Health Partners is dedicated to helping the community become smoke free. If you have further questions or concerns, please call Anne Lawton at 518-525-1827.

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