Smoking and mental health

Updated 12 Oct 2018.


The impact of mental health on a person's health and wellbeing is often overlooked. Good mental health means the ability to maintain relationships, cope with stress, contribute to the community and enjoy life.

Mental health is influenced by a complex mix of factors, so not everyone will experience good mental health all the time. In fact, one in five Australians will experience some form of mental illness each year, and of these three out of ten will be seriously affected.

Smoking is a highly addictive behaviour that can have a negative impact on your mental health. People who smoke are twice as likely to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression compared to non-smokers.

Quitting smoking is associated with a number of mental health benefits, including:

  • Significant reduction in depression, anxiety and stress
  • Improvement in positive mood and psychological quality of life
  • Enhanced capacity to cope with life stressors
  • Ability to socialise anywhere - not just where smoking is permitted

Does smoking relieve stress?

It's a myth that smoking relieves stress. Smoking actually causes feelings of anxiety and stress as the body experiences nicotine withdrawals. The feeling of relief you might experience while smoking is actually because your nicotine cravings have been temporarily satisfied. But these cravings will return when your nicotine levels decrease, and you find yourself reaching for another cigarette.

Nicotine cravings and associated withdrawal symptoms such as stress can become more noticeable when you begin trying to quit. However, these feelings will disappear over time as your body adjusts to life without nicotine.

In the video below Clinical Psychiatrist Dr Peter Wynn Owen shares advice on how to get through nicotine withdrawal when quitting smoking.


Another reason people think smoking relieves stress is because they remove themselves from stressful situations to have a cigarette e.g. going outside to take a break.

This gives the impression that the act of smoking is helping to reduce stress levels, when in reality this could be achieved by simply going outside for a walk.

The inhaling action of smoking a cigarette is similar to deep breathing, and can also be perceived as de-stressing. However, the same stress relief can be found without cigarettes by practising deep breathing exercises.


Looking for more information? 

For more information visit our Make Smoking HIstory website.

For information on staying mentally healthy please visit Act-Belong-Commit or Beyondblue

If you or anyone you know needs crisis assistance, call:

  • Lifeline on 13 11 14
  • Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
  • Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467

Found in:  News - 2018 | View all news