Smoking to relieve stress?

Man smoking.

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Is smoking your go-to stress management technique? You are certainly not alone if you use cigarettes as a way to feel less stressed.

Tobacco contains nicotine, a psychoactive or mood altering drug. When you smoke, nicotine reaches the brain in eight seconds and releases dopamine. Dopamine causes feelings of pleasure and relaxation, a sensation the body craves again and again. The irony is that while you may experience temporary relief from stress on a cognitive level, the body is experiencing increased stress. Your blood pressure and heart rate increases, muscles become tense, and less oxygen is available to the body and brain.

Managing stress starts with understanding what causes anxious feelings, and learning how to change the way you react to these events and situations. Make a list of the things that stress you out. Be aware of stressful situations that occur repetitively. For example, if you feel stressed in the morning because you have a difficult time waking up, try getting to bed earlier, prepare your lunch and clothing the night before, and set your alarm clock at a time that allows you wake up and get organized for your day in a relaxed fashion.

Effective Stress Management

While there are many ways to work through stress, it is important to find positive ways to improve your health and well-being. Here are some strategies that can help you find what works for you:

  • Exercise is a great stress reliever. Simply going for a long walk can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, metabolize stress hormones, and help you change your mood.
  • Eat a diet that supports health and well-being. Packaged foods are generally not as healthy for you as whole, fresh foods. Cook your meals at home. You will feel better because of it, and it will save you money as well.
  • Enjoy something that makes you laugh – your favourite comedy show, talk to a friend who you know always makes you laugh, or read a funny book.
  • Use tactical breathing. It helps you pause, focus on your breathing, and shifts your thoughts away from stressful situations
  • Talk to a friend (or a pet – they are great listeners!) about your concerns. Sometimes all we need is someone to talk to about what is stressing us.
  • Have some fun! All work and no play? That’s stressful. Engage in a hobby or activity you enjoy. Some suggestions are gardening, photography, arts and craft, and sports. Volunteer with a cause you are passionate about.
  • Get a good night’s rest. Sleep hygiene is integral to health and wellbeing. Be aware of the impact of caffeine on the quality of your sleep. If you are not sleeping well, discuss this with your doctor.

Managing Stress While Quitting Smoking

You are more likely to be successful in quitting smoking if you use the resources available to you.

  • Reach out to your physician and get a prescription for smoking cessation aids—they are free to you if you are a member of the Canadian Armed Forces.
  • Strengthening the Forces, the Canadian Armed Forces Health Services Health Promotion program, offers a smoking cessation course called Butt Out. They also offer a stress management course called Stress Take Charge, where you will learn specific strategies to both cope with stress and learn strategies to quit and remain a non-smoker.
  • Ask for more extensive help if you need it. We can’t always face challenges on our own. Seeking help and support is important. Be sure to seek out the services that are available to you.
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