Are you feeling down, nervous, anxious, or stressed out? Is your first reaction to light up a cigarette? Maybe you’re one of those hard-working, deadline-driven people who smoke cigarettes to calm down. If this sounds like you, you may be a stress smoker.
Many smokers are more likely to increase their cigarette use when they’re under pressure. Certain events, such as holidays, job changes, and life transitions, can trigger certain habits, including smoking. The following can increase the pressure you feel:
- new circumstances
- heightened expectations
- financial obligations
- lengthened lists of things to do
Your first reaction may be to reach for a pack and a lighter, but smoking can leave you feeling more stressed.
How Smoking Causes Stress
Many people who smoke do so because they believe it calms them down. This is because nicotine is a mood-altering drug and it seems to smolder feelings of frustration, anger, and anxiety when it’s inhaled.
However, the Cleveland Clinic explains that while smoking may make you think you feel calmer, it actually increases the level of stress in your body and causes the following negative reactions:
- an increase in blood pressure
- an increased in heart rate
- tensed muscles
- constricted blood vessels
- a decrease in oxygen available to the brain and body to facilitate healthy coping skills
When you smoke, nicotine enters your bloodstream and travels to your brain, where it releases several neurotransmitters including dopamine, the primary reward chemical in the brain. The positive feelings you experience when dopamine is released are short-lived. Once the dopamine levels decrease, you’ll feel worse than before you lit up.
In addition, smoking ultimately causes more stress. It takes a toll on your respiratory system and contributes to serious illness. These physical ailments may compound your feelings of stress.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute reports that nicotine damages blood vessels, causing your skin to wrinkle and appear lifeless. It also causes oxygen starvation, which makes your lungs function poorly. Plaque buildup in your arteries has been linked to nicotine, which leads to heart disease. Nicotine may increase lung and breast tumor growth, and the more cigarettes you smoke, the more harmful effects you’ll experience.
Healthy Ways to Cope
The more often you employ natural methods to fight stress, the fewer cigarettes you’ll smoke and the better you’ll feel. With a proper coping plan in place, you’ll find you don’t have to light up to cool down.
One of the best strategies is to substitute smoking with an effective form of relaxation and to practice it often. The key is finding something you enjoy. As soon as you feel the urge to light up, try one of these methods instead:
Practice deep breathing and meditation.
You can do this several times until you feel relaxed:
- Find a quiet place
- Sit down.
- Close your eyes.
- Control your breathing.
- Place a hand over your stomach.
- Slowly inhale to feel your stomach rise.
- Exhale to feel your stomach contract.
Visualization can instantly relieve tension and anxiety. Take a few moments to sit in a chair or lie down in a quiet room and close your eyes. Imagine yourself in pleasant, calm surroundings. Imagine the sounds of water, the warmth of the sun, and the smell of sand, grass, or fresh air, or another calming scenario.
Take a walk.
Taking a walk can provide you with similar relaxation. Sometimes, walking helps you to organize your thoughts or do some problem-solving. Other times, it’s best to forget your problems momentarily and focus on your surroundings.
Practice yoga or tai chi.
If you’re going through long periods of stress, try regular practice of relaxation exercises like yoga or tai chi. Yoga is said to rid you of anxiety by releasing mental stresses imprinted in your body. Tai chi helps achieve balance in your body through movement.
Regular daily exercise can be as simple as brisk walking, bike riding, or swimming. The American Heart Association recommends exercising for at least 30 minutes per day, five days per week. Physical activity boosts your endorphins, which are the neurotransmitters that make you feel good. This boost in endorphins is what runners refer to as a “runner’s high.” Walking or a more vigorous workout, like running or another sport you enjoy, can lift your spirits tremendously. The problems that stress you out will feel so much easier to conquer afterward.
Stepping away from a stressful situation, even for a few minutes, can be enough to restore your peace and equilibrium. Part of what you’re seeking with a smoking break is a chance to have a few minutes to yourself. You can still take a break, but ditch the cigarettes. Give yourself some quiet time, and as you do so, adjust your mindset to modify unrealistic expectations or other harmful thinking patterns. If you feel the need for more structure to your break, have some tea or a healthy snack.
Talk to someone you trust.
If you’re used to smoking with others, there’s no need to have an all-or-nothing attitude when it comes to creating healthier habits. Keep what’s good about your time together, such as the talking, and discard the smoking. Talking to a trusted friend about what’s bothering you can be helpful and can help you put stressful situations into a proper perspective.
Take care of yourself.
Unhealthy behaviors often occur together. If you don’t take proper care of yourself by getting enough sleep, eating right, and exercising regularly, you’re more likely want to smoke again. Instead, be sure to put extra emphasis on taking care of yourself physically and mentally during stressful times. When you’re well-rested, active, and fueled with healthy foods, you’ll be less likely to let unhealthy habits flare up.
Stress is a normal part of life. You’re in control of how you deal with it. Smoking is a false security blanket for your body that provides little comfort in reality. The more aware you are of your smoking triggers, the less you’ll smoke and the fewer hurdles you’ll have when quitting.