Ask Floridians why they still smoke and you often hear that cigarette smoking “relieves stress.” While most people know the serious health risks of smoking and the benefits of quitting, giving up cigarettes as a way to cope with stress can be really tough.
But Here’s the Truth About Smoking and Stress
Tobacco use is a serious addiction, and nicotine is the primary drug in tobacco that causes addiction. It only takes 10 seconds for the nicotine from one puff of a cigarette to reach your brain. This fast delivery of nicotine from the lungs to the brain is one of the reasons cigarettes are so addictive. And once it gets there, nicotine causes cells in the brain to release dopamine. One of the effects of dopamine is to create a heightened sense of alertness and contentment. Dopamine controls the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. Over time, your brain cells are changed to expect the regular bursts of extra dopamine that result from smoking. When you try to quit, or even between cigarette breaks, these brain changes cause strong cravings for more nicotine.1
You may feel calmer and less stressed during and right after a cigarette. But smoking isn’t actually relieving the stress in your life. It’s just relieving your craving for nicotine. In fact, your body is experiencing quite the opposite. Smoking increases your blood pressure and heart rate, tenses your muscles, contracts blood vessels, and reduces your blood oxygen level.2 Basically, smoking increases the stress level of your body.
Dealing with Stress
Stress is part of life, from major life events to daily hassles. Even happy moments, like holidays or parties, can be stressful. So if you’re trying to quit smoking, it’s important to find ways to handle stress and take care of yourself without cigarettes.
Below are some tips. Try them out. And come up with your own ideas. If something doesn’t work for you‚ no big deal. Just try something else. Keep looking for healthy ways to deal with stress, which will make quitting smoking easier.
- Take a break. Even if it’s just for a few minutes. Take a break from what you’re doing whether you’re at home or at work.
- Deep breathing. Instead of inhaling toxic smoke, try fresh air. Take slow deep breaths. Close your eyes and then breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- Exercise. Get moving to increase endorphins, the body’s feel-good chemicals, which naturally boost your mood. Exercise also decreases stress hormones. Even going for a walk can help.
- Take care of yourself. Especially during stressful times of the year, it’s important to take good care of yourself. Eat healthy balanced meals, drink lots of water, and get enough sleep.
- Make time for yourself. Sometimes it’s difficult to follow the tips above when you have a lot going on. So try to keep your days organized, and schedule time for yourself.
Ready to quit smoking? We have free tools and services that can help. Go to tobaccofreeflorida.com/quityourway.
1 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking: 50 Years of Progress. A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2014. Printed with corrections, January 2014.
2 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: The Biology and Behavioral Basis for Smoking-Attributable Disease: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2010.