Many people using tobacco hear this advice from family and friends, but sometimes also hear this advice from a healthcare provider. It seems very odd that a healthcare provider would ever advise a smoker to continue smoking, but in fact it happens more often than you would think. For example, most people, including healthcare providers, believe that when someone quits smoking their stress levels increase dramatically. For health conditions where high stress is viewed as contributing to poor outcomes, think of someone who has just had a heart attack, healthcare providers wrongly believe that they should continue to smoke and quit at a time when their serious health condition is under better control. Many mental health providers believe the same thing about helping someone quit smoking when they are also dealing with a mental health disorder. I have personally spoken with cancer specialists who have advised patients not to quit smoking shortly after a lung cancer diagnosis because they felt that this would create too much stress for the individual who had just received such bad news.
All of these people and all of this advice is given for the best of reasons, but it is wrong. Scientific studies consistently show that smokers compared with nonsmokers have greater feelings of stress, anxiety, depression and lower quality of life. Although the smoking cessation process can be stressful in itself because of withdrawal symptoms and anxiety about how to deal with urges and cravings, after only a few days stress levels subside substantially. Virtually every scientific study shows that when someone successfully quits smoking they see a substantial decline in feelings of anxiety, depression, and general psychological distress and note an improved quality of life. The longer someone stays quit the better quality of life and the lower psychological distress they experience. Studies also suggest depression and anxiety decrease to the same extent as if treated with an anti-depressant medication; and blood pressure decreases, breathing improves, healing after surgery improves, your body receives more oxygen, and the list goes on.
So here is the truth… stopping smoking is the best thing you can do for your physical health and for your mental health. Well-intentioned people, including healthcare providers, may provide different advice, but now you know the truth. So, don’t stress out about it, make a plan to quit!