Why chilling out to your favorite shows can actually stress you out more

Let’s face it. We can’t get enough entertainment content. Whether we’re just waiting in line somewhere or plopping down on the sofa to chill out, we watch zombie shows, animated series, gritty dramas or whatever it is that gets us going. Streaming our favorite content is good, entertaining fun, no doubt — but according to the latest “While You Were Streaming” report from Truth Initiative(Opens in a new tab), a whopping 60 percent of the 15 most popular TV shows among 15 to 24-year-olds contained depictions of tobacco use in 2021, exposing 25 million young people to smoking and vaping imagery that puts them at risk for nicotine addiction. 

Research shows high exposure to on-screen tobacco imagery — and the glamorization of it — poses a serious public health threat to young people, making them three times more likely(Opens in a new tab) to start vaping nicotine in the first place. With these products being shown all around us, we should be very concerned given that the CDC reported(Opens in a new tab) over 2.5 million middle school and high school students were using e-cigarettes in 2022 with 46 percent of high school students who vape nicotine doing so almost daily. Images have an influence and as it turns out the content we consume to unwind and de-stress the day away may be having detrimental effects on mental health.

The link between nicotine and mental health

While the tobacco industry has advertised its products as stress relievers for decades, truth(Opens in a new tab) — the national youth smoking, vaping, and nicotine prevention and education campaign from Truth Initiative — launched a campaign(Opens in a new tab) last year to expose the connection between vaping nicotine and mental health. truth even created a fake vape company called Depression Stick!(Opens in a new tab) to make their point clearer. The most recent effort from truth, called Breath of Stress Air(Opens in a new tab), further debunks the myth that vaping is a stress reliever. The campaign’s ASMR-styled animations(Opens in a new tab) bring attention to not only how the tobacco industry is making money off the backs of young people, but how it’s messing with their heads. Research shows(Opens in a new tab) that nicotine can amplify feelings of anxiety and depression and increase stress levels. 

In case you need help connecting the dots between vaping and mental health, here’s a quick rundown: Within minutes of using a nicotine vape, you might feel less anxious. That’s because nicotine is stimulating your brain’s release of dopamine(Opens in a new tab), a naturally occurring chemical messenger that’s part of your body’s rewards system — but the good feelings don’t last long(Opens in a new tab). The dopamine wears off fast and the more you vape nicotine, the more you condition your body to crave the release of dopamine from nicotine. Skip vaping for a few hours and you might start spiraling. A quick vape hit might level you out, but skip another few hours and you’re back to spiraling. Essentially, vaping nicotine can turn fresh air into stress air.

Tools to help you quit and stay quit

The human brain is still developing until around the age of 25, making young people more susceptible to nicotine addiction. The trick is to be aware of the facts, and truth has loads of resources, including their This is Quitting(Opens in a new tab) program, to give you tips, strategies, and inspiration to live vape-free. Having science-backed tools at your disposal for quitting is one way that you’re more likely to see success. 

Set a date and find replacement activities 

Every journey begins with a single step and committing to quit is priority number one for many people. It’s also a good idea to plan activities that you can turn to when urges hit, like going for a run, practicing a mindfulness technique, or taking your pup to the park. 

Seek out support 

You’re not alone in quitting and you don’t have to do it solo. Over 560,000 young people have enrolled in This is Quitting(Opens in a new tab), a free text-message quit-vaping program from truth. You can text “DITCHVAPE” to 88709 and get immediate help to quit. You’ll receive messages from peers and quitting experts, and you can also chat 1:1 through This is Quitting’s partnership with Crisis Text Line.  Stories from other “Quitters(Opens in a new tab)” are also easy to access for more inspiration. 

Trade ‘stress air’ for fresh air 

Breathing is a proven method to reduce anxiety and can help curb cravings. This is Quitting and Breathwrk(Opens in a new tab) have partnered to create breathing exercises to help young people reach their quitting goals. Users who used the Breathwrk breathing exercises were 30 percent more likely to succeed in completing the This is Quitting program, so it’s worth checking out.

Celebrate your accomplishments

Your first vape-free day is as much of a victory as your first vape-free month. Be sure to mark your progress and celebrate it. Maybe take yourself out for gelato after one week, nab those sneakers you’ve been eyeballing after one month, and keep the self-love rolling. 

Quitting nicotine is no easy feat, especially when we see smoking and vaping depicted and even glamorized in top-watched shows, music videos, and even on the big screen. Groups like Truth Initiative are working with and calling for entertainment companies, producers, creatives, and celebrities to keep tobacco images off-screen. And also, there are plenty of tools — like those from truth — to help young people quit and stay nicotine-free, to ultimately help take those first steps, stay on track, and play a leading role in changing the picture, both on-screen and in person.

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