Cigarettes and Anxiety

Nicotine cigarettes are a very dangerous and unhealthy stimulant. So why do people smoke them and why are they so hard to quit? Image


They are highly addictive because of the soothing effects of the nicotine inside the cigarettes. Smokers develop a dependence on nicotine especially those who are depressed or have high anxiety. According to the text Understanding Psychology, stimulants are drugs that have an arousal effect on the central nervous system, causing a rise in heart rate, blood pressure, and muscular tension. Nicotine fuels the release of the chemical dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s prize and pleasure centers. So for a smoker, a cigarette is a reward.

            People who are depressed or have high anxiety tend to have low dopamine. Most smokers use cigarettes to briefly increase their dopamine supply. Cigarettes motivate the brain to turn off its own instrument for making dopamine, which stimulates people to smoke more. It is unknown if smoking leads to depression or if depression leads to smoking but there is a relationship.

            Assistant Professor Darlene Brunzell and her colleagues did a study at the Virginia Commonwealth University where they observed that low doses of nicotine and nicotinic receptor blocker had similar effects to reduce anxiety-like behavior in an animal model. They discovered that “inactivation of beta2, specific sub-class of nicotine receptors that bind nicotine, appears to reduce anxiety.”


Credit: Image courtesy of Darlene Brunzell, Ph.D./VCU

            “This work is unique because it suggests that nicotine may be acting through inactivation, rather than activation, of the high affinity nicotinic receptors,” said Darlene Brunzell. “Nicotine acts like a key that unlocks nicotine receptors in the brain. Usually that key opens the receptor, but at other times nicotine is like a key that has gotten broken inside of the lock. Our findings suggest that los-dose nicotine may block a specific subtype of receptor from opening that is important for regulating anxiety behavior.”

            Brunzell and her colleagues are continuously studying the subject and hope to classify which brain parts control the anxiolytic effects of nicotine. It will be a very significant finding if blocking beta2 subunit containing nicotinic receptors helps anxiety smokers. These discoveries could one day lead to helping smokers quit without feeling anxious.

            Megan Piper, a psychologist of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention (UW-CTRI) wanted to define why smokers are hooked. Megan Piper and her colleagues studied 1,504 subjects who had enrolled in a voluntary UW-CTRI smoking termination program. About one-third of the subjects met the standards for an anxiety diagnosis currently or in the past at the time of the study, which is almost twice the number of incidences of anxiety in the whole generalized population.

            Megan Piper thinks that nicotine acts like a patch that covers the underlying anxiety condition, which is why it is so difficult for smokers to quit. Nicotine supplements will only please the chemical part of the addiction, not the emotional component. According to Piper, many smokers will start to have withdrawal symptoms before they actually quit, which doesn’t help with anxiety what so ever. Piper recommends that those anxious smokers, who are trying to quit, when visiting their doctors for a treatment, should also be assessed for anxiety and should consider therapy.

            Even if cigarettes can possibly benefit the symptoms of mental health problems, it is definitely outweighed by the health problems that are smoke-related such as lung cancer or heart disease.

            This topic of psychology relates to me because I, myself, am a cigarette smoker and I do have high anxiety to the point where I have been prescribed an antidepressant. This information confirms for me what I often wondered about, which is whether there is a biological or scientific correlation between people who have anxiety and tend to be smokers.






There was a point in my life when I felt very lonely. The seizures I was having at the time ate me up and consumed me. I felt so isolated from the world around me. My parents didn’t understand what depression was or how I was feeling. My friends made me feel like an outcast because they couldn’t relate. I felt almost demonized by them because they were afraid of what was happening to me. I had no one to talk to; I had no support system.

On a whim, I looked up “depression” on a Google search. And what I found amazed me. A lot of people had written stories about their own depressions online; there were so many, it seemed almost endless. I read about other people’s stories. I experienced their sorrows and empathized with their pain. And I learned about their recoveries and was so emotionally invested that it was almost terrifying. But I was also stunned by how many people could verbally express how I was feeling. It was amazing to me how anyone could take such intense feelings—feelings that I couldn’t even comprehend at the time—and turn them into words.

So I kind of went online on a whim, but what I found had become my support system. Learning that other people were in similar situations, and that it wasn’t just me that felt that way made me feel relieved; I didn’t feel alone anymore. I had people to relate to. I had people that I could talk to. Having gone online inspired me, and it definitely helped me. So I want to share my story, in hopes of helping someone one day, too.


I had a lot of seizures. So many that eventually my body couldn’t keep up and I lost a lot of strength. Opening doors became a struggle, and I barely made it to a single class. The school I went to saw me as a liability. Teachers dreaded me, students feared me, and the number of friendships I possessed dwindled quickly to only one. I can’t really tell you when the depression started; it sort of crept up on me in an ugly way. I was naïve. I remember starting off only afraid of my seizures. Of maybe falling unexpectedly and hitting my head. Of waking up one day, drowning in my shower. I was only afraid of my seizures and what they possessed; I didn’t realize yet I also needed to be afraid of the people I loved, too. I trusted my friends. When I think about the pedestal I had placed them on, I almost hurt. The seizures didn’t just take away my friends, they took away my naivety, too.

I still remember the pain I caused my parents. I still remember my guilt. I remember thinking, “How will this ever get fixed?” and then deciding that it probably won’t. My parents didn’t understand: What is depression? Why are you hurt? But I didn’t understand why they didn’t understand. I was wrapped in a bubble, a tight bubble of dark clouds filled with loneliness, guilt, and anger. And no one could really get me out of it.

I remember losing my independence. I couldn’t open up doors, couldn’t pick up my dog. I couldn’t lock my bathroom and I couldn’t drive. I was never alone—I couldn’t be. I couldn’t go out, couldn’t hang with friends. My options decreased to only one: get better. I was allowed nothing else. It wasn’t even acceptable to try to be myself. I wasn’t Bisaan anymore; I was the seizures. And that hurt me more than anything else.

I remember trying to escape. I couldn’t do this anymore! My school, my friends, my family. Even my own parents. Everyone had deserted me. Who was I? Why did I exist? What was the purpose of all of that? I just wanted it to stop. Please just stop. Only my clouds grew in response.

Running away had been a form of escape, a result of feeling pushed over the edge. Suicide was a daily thought, a daily struggle. I remember it wasn’t anything but fear that really prevented it, and it made me feel weak. Why wouldn’t I just die?

But I didn’t. And I still haven’t.

There are only a number of guesses as to why I didn’t, most of which probably only make sense to me. At some point, my depression had hit rock bottom, which at the time was horrible. I saw nothing but my clouds; my vision was only black, and I could feel myself drowning in a sea of darkness and loneliness that devoured me so thoroughly, I thought I couldn’t resurface. But I did. Somehow I did. And I almost destroyed everything in the process. But when I look back at it now, I’m really thankful for it. I had finally hit rock bottom. And from there, I could only go up.

My memories of my third year of high school are only filled with struggles.

I don’t know… but the following memories are only filled with pride. Pride for myself for overcoming one of the hardest struggles of my life—of anyone’s life. Depression is not an easy beast to battle, and it’s definitely not a fun one. But I fought it. I fought depression, and I won.

I refuse to ever let it beat me again.


Depression is not a weakness. It’s a constant struggle. It takes strength to keep going. Please seek out help if you or anyone you know is going through depression. It may not seem like it now, but you deserve more. Everyone deserves more. Stay strong, and keep going. It’ll all be worth it in the end.


The National Suicide Prevention Line:


Please call it if you need help.

Behind the Human Exterior

Image Photography by Jess Husband

On campus, college students pass by each other without a single thought of each other. Eyes are glued to their IPhones. Ears are stuffed with earphones, diverting hearing. Attentiveness seems to have lost its place in society.

If my teachers ask me to color the world, I would color it gray. Gray, because it seems humans have lost their connection to other beings. Why are we moving pass each other without a thought?

Examining Human Emotions

The video, Empathy: The Human Connection to Patient Care created by Cleveland Clinic showcases the silent, inner stories of humans inside. As the title suggests, medical environments are the only locations shown. The video begins with a quote from Henry David Thoreau, “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” There are individuals walking, working a shift or waiting patiently for their medical exam. Messages of the person’s story, as indicated by her exterior feelings (Facial expressions, etc.), are explicitly shown. An example in the video is when a woman looking very worried is seemingly awaiting her appointment. A caption appears and states, “They saw something in her mammography,” suggesting she could have cancer. Another one is when a man is pushing a cart full of medical supplies, working his shift.  He seems tired and frustrated, followed by “Haven’t had a vacation in six months.”  One more is a woman cherishing her birth-defected infant’s hand under special care, followed by “hoping to hold her today.” The video concludes with, “Hear what they hear, see what they see, feel what they feel, would you treat them differently?” Has any individuals turned to observe and think about what the other person’s circumstances are like?

Empathy is not just directed in the doctor field, but to every human. The grey-scale photography foreshadows the absence of human empathy. It seems individuals are disassociate from each other, marking a change in society’s social dynamic. When did listening become obsolete since the rise of digital contexts like networking sites? Why all of a sudden, in the universe’s hair of time, have humans begun to disassociate with others?

And I repeat again, why are we moving pass each other without a thought?

Communities have been created in response to this disturbing trend. There is a hotline service I’ve known and have used that opened its doors in 1970. It was founded due to an individual’s suicidal fate because this individual’s interaction with others was unheeded. Neglected, filled with apathy from others, the individual proceed to stopped living and proceeded to end a precious life. Since the tragedy of the individual who committed suicide, all from the passing of students giving not a care on campus and presumably any public streets, Agora was founded to bring back the concept of empathy. Students, professors, elders, parents and anyone else who need to speak out can dial these services, the National Suicide Hotline included, to have a volunteer to reach out to. The topic can be anything, including but not limited to recalling PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) events and death in the family. Communities formed combat the isolation behind these fences society has created today.

I have used these services, wishing I could have these same connections with any individuals out there freely. I call in to talk about college and having no break in between, how careless individuals have impacted my self-esteem and even simple topics of how anxious I am about my exam done last week. Family problems are ranked quite high in a graph based on what callers have talked about. Other callers, including myself, miss having a special and intimate connection with another human being that public is failing to provide.

As I set foot on campus, I observe the people. Something seems unsettled and unfulfilled behind these brilliant, individuals’ mind and heart. There were scars…battle scars to represent every traumatic and impending traumatic event in our road maps. They’ve already been marked historically: Cancer, child abuse, friendship betrayal. I ask that we all treat each other as we are meeting for the first and last time, with passion and care. Don’t let apathy take that common heart in all away from us.

The Voices Are Quiet Now

Thus far in life, I am yet to encounter anything more complex, twisted, and beautiful than that of the schizophrenic mind.  Fifteen of my eighteen years were spent living with my grandmother who lived with us.  My mother became her legal guardian before I was even born, so I grew up sharing a residence with my grandmother who spent her life in constant communication with judges, professional athletes, British royalty, famous actors, and musicians all due to her crippling schizophrenia.

Born in Adrienne, West Virginia in May of 1941, JoAnn Morrison came into this world and lived a relatively normal life until her early twenties.  As a teenager she was loved by all her peers and teachers because she was so cordial and beautiful.  Living in the small Cumberland Gap town of Middlesboro, Kentucky at the age of 17, my grandmother won a statewide beauty pageant and the title Black Diamond Coal Queen.  A few short years after graduating, she was married to her high school sweetheart (my grandfather).  The two were somewhat regarded as small-town royalty, she the beauty queen, and he the two-sport collegiate athlete who was also extremely intelligent, earning a business degree with honors.  They coexisted in a fairytale romance until things began to crumble after my grandmother’s first pregnancy.

Although everyone revered my grandmother’s beauty and benevolence while growing up, those closest to her always detected a slight mental difference.  After her first pregnancy, that difference turned into crazy.  I have read that sometimes there can be a connection between the onset of schizophrenia and large life-altering or traumatic events; i.e. grief, divorce, rape, bankruptcy, pregnancy, etc.  I believe in my grandmother’s case, possibly her first pregnancy created chemical changes during a developmental time in her early twenties.  These changes might have been enough to open the flood gates to a full-blown mental illness.  My grandfather can recall times where they would be lying in bed and he would wake up to her screaming and being completely inconsolable. Shortly after she became increasingly delusional, frequently making false accusations about him that supported her ever-growing irrational need for a divorce.  My grandfather tried to hang on, but the union, once so perfect, was now inexplicably doomed.

As a child my mother can more or less remember raising herself (probably more than less) because my grandmother was so detached, distracted, and overburdened by the demanding voices of constant invisible visitors. Although my grandmother was not maternal to her own children, she was nurturing in her own ways in her own pursuits.  As a result, she created immense beauty with her artistic talent and personal passions.  She was an avid gardener and loved giving life to flowers that were as beautiful as she had been in her youth.  She was a talented painter and poet as well. She also had an immense love for all animals: cats, birds, dogs, insects, anything with a pulse, so long as it was not her own blood it seemed.  My mother can remember a time where my grandmother spent a whole day nursing a baby robin back to health, giving it her undivided attention from sunrise to sundown.  As a child, my mother remembers thinking, Why doesn’t she care about me like that?  My grandmother had very little money toward the end of her life, but she was innovative and resourceful.  She would use scraps, trash,,second-hand anything and create gorgeous recycled art for her garden, for her walls, for gifts.  She could see beauty where the rest of us only saw garbage.

I grew up with three adults in my house: mom, dad, and grandma.  I can remember from about four years old, standing outside my grandma’s door listening to her have very interesting conversations with the radio.  She also talked to the birds, her cat, and her flowers.  When she wasn’t gardening or feeding the birds, she was writing in her composition notebooks.  Her writings were scattered thoughts that were physically scattered across the pages as well, written at all different angles in every vacant space of the paper.  When I was nine my grandmother enlisted my help in making her a bedframe out of stacks of her fully written notebooks.  She had filled enough to make a frame and put a mattress  – a full-size bed – on top.

My grandma died my freshman year of high school.  She died of multiple physical health issues, but these would have never existed had she not been in bad mental health. She was creative, gifted, beautiful, and constantly misunderstood.  I’m happy I got to spend fourteen years of my life with her.  I love and miss you Grandma.  “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” (Fredrich Nietzche).