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How Does Smoking Cigarettes Reduce Stress?
It is said that cigarettes help to reduce stress and help people relax, a fact smokers regularly produce when asked why they can’t quit smoking. “I can’t quit I’m too stressed out.” Is a common sentence uttered by many a smoker every day. And when in a tough, problematic, critical and anxious situation a smoker will more than likely ‘need’ a cigarette to calm his nerves.
And smokers also get several other benefits from smoking including increased concentration, an added energy ‘boost’ mental ‘strength’ to deal with tough situations, curing boredom and relaxation.
These aspects can be condensed into two main beneficial areas of smoking. Firstly that, smoking is calming and relaxing, and secondly, it helps smokers concentrate and think clearly.
So on the Calming and Relaxing side – cigarettes take the stress out of life (relaxation) and help relive tension and stress. The benefits of smoking are to help smokers calm down and reduce anxiety and stress. When you visualise or think of relaxing what comes to your mind? It’s usually a slumping of the shoulders effect, that aaaaaahhhhhhhhh… slip into your arm chair and letting go feeling – you are relaxing.
On the Strength and Boost side – smoking is uplifting, helps with concentration, keeps smokers on their toes and gives them mental strength. The other benefit of smoking is that it lifts smokers up a level – their senses are awakened. When you visualise or think of yourself concentrating and being uplifted what comes to mind? Generally it’s a head up, on our feet, eyes open, chest out, shoulders back and an alert state of mind and effect – it gives you that I’m ready, let’s do it and let’s go feeling.
So cigarettes can have two effects – at times cigarettes can make you feel more relaxed and calmer – a general feeling of tranquillity or peacefulness. AND cigarettes can make you feel more confident, more capable, better equipped to deal with tough situations and they can give you increased concentration – a general energetic and empowered feeling.
But how is it that this same product or substance can do both of these things? Two different things that are complete opposites?
Smokers have been told, and believe that cigarettes not only help to lower stress levels but they also help to keep you on your toes – two completely different effects. Relaxation is a suppressing feeling while concentration is an uplifting feeling.
How can the same substance or product make the body feel up and raring to go and also make it relaxed and increase inner tranquillity?
The truth is that cigarettes can’t make or help smokers do both, or either – it’s impossible. You’ve also been told that cigarettes can cure boredom, help you enjoy your coffee and tea and meals and also sex more.
But again, how can cigarettes do all of these things? Yes nicotine does have a stimulating effect, (as it releases dopamine, the body’s natural pleasure drug, into the brain) but how the hell does it make you feel up, down and everything in between?
Basically we have been told that cigarettes can pretty much do whatever you want them to, depending on the circumstances surrounding you while you smoke. So if you need some mental energy or strength – have a cigarette and if you want to relax and forget about your problems then you should have a cigarette too! How can the same cigarette make you feel how you want to feel, depending on your choosing?
The truth is that despite nicotine releasing dopamine into the brain, all the other substances in a cigarette actually put a huge strain on your brain and body – they make you feel more tense, more anxious, more stressed and more on edge. No matter how much you argue against this it’s the cold hard truth!
Look at the undeniable stressful effects of smoking on you and your body below.
1. When carbon monoxide and nicotine enter your body they reduce the amount and supply of oxygen to your brain. Without this oxygen (the fuel of the brain), your brain struggles to function properly, think clearly and concentrate.
It is a fact that nicotine and carbon monoxide reduce oxygen levels in a smoker’s body and it is also a fact that the body needs oxygen to concentrate, not even the doctors and scientists can deny that!
Essentially oxygen is the basis of all activity in the body – any effort the body makes (from thinking to running), is harder with less oxygen. The carbon monoxide and nicotine in cigarettes prevent oxygen from reaching the brain and the other organs in the body – this simply cannot help you relax or concentrate. It’s impossible!
The nicotine may give you a little pick me up, but it and cigarettes simply cannot do all of the things that millions of smokers, just like you have been led to believe and continue telling yourself.
2. Nicotine is a vaso-constrictor – it shrinks your veins and arteries in size, meaning that your heart is forced to work harder to pump the same amount of blood around your body, but through a smaller space. Add to that, the fact that tar and the other chemicals in cigarettes are being deposited in your veins reducing blood flow even more.
The result is that your beats 35,000 times more per day than a non-smoker and your blood pressure is also ten to twenty points higher than it should be, under this added workload.
3. The effect that nicotine has on the insulin in your blood puts your body under constant stress. Every forty five minutes or so, when you smoke, the nicotine in your body blocks the release of insulin (this is the appetite suppressant effect).
Once this nicotine has worn off your insulin is re-released, and forty five minutes to an hour or two later you have another cigarette.
This stop start process puts a huge strain on your body – a non-smoker’s body will only reduce the flow of insulin when he really needs it – when he hasn’t eaten in a while. But smokers make their body’s stop-start this process twenty times more, or more a day than a non-smoker. This is an added stressful workload on your body.
4. The several thousand chemicals, poisons, toxins and carcinogens in a cigarette force the body into a state of shock.
When you inhale the smoke from a cigarette your body has to adapt to the presence of harmful chemicals. Each of which are deposited in your veins, lungs, heart, arteries and other organs in your body, then when you stop smoking for a few hours (e.g. at night) your body does it’s best to clear out the foreign substances.
You will also experience this process through a ‘smoker’s cough’ in the day and also in the morning, when yours body has had eight hours or so to start the cleansing process, and you cough up a lot of mucus.
Both of these attempts at cleaning out the toxins puts your body through a strenuous cleansing regime
process every time you stop smoking, every day of your smoking life. A non-smoker will only experience this cleansing process, as extensively as a smoker when he has a virus or infection or if they smoke a cigarette.
The truth is that smoking is only an ‘effective’ stress relief tool because you believe cigarettes and nicotine can help you. And that is the key – you believe.
It all comes back to what you think. Because you tell yourself that cigarettes calm you, you think they do. Because you tell yourself that they help you concentrate, you think they do (despite the fact that you are putting a huge strain on your system – your heart beats an extra 35,000 times per day due to the reduction in vein size making your blood pressure higher).
So even though cigarettes and nicotine are having a harmful and weakening effect on your body, which you have always known, you believe that they make you stronger and more capable of dealing with life. It is a clever trick that the tobacco companies have played on you!
They have shown you on films, on TV and in commercials that cigarettes help you concentrate, relive stress, beat problems, enjoy sex more and that they make men more manly and women more sexy.
You have to give them credit because it has worked and it is still working! But once you take a step back and look at the overall picture, you can see that advertising and your beliefs have led you to believe that you need cigarettes and nicotine, and that they bring you many benefits. When in fact that is all in your head!
But it can’t just be the placebo effect (believing that something will happen, makes it happen) that makes you concentrate and relax can it? The truth is no, but only to an extent.
So yes when you smoke you may feel slightly relaxed – this is down to the way you breathe when you smoke. Have you noticed any difference in the way you breathe when you smoke? Take a minute and put your fingers to your lips and pretend you are smoking, or better yet – light up a cigarette!
Have you noticed anything different in comparison to your normal breathing patterns? You should have noticed the two following patterns.
Firstly, your in-breath was much stronger when smoking. Try it again, inhale as if you were smoking a cigarette. This deeper in-breath sucks in a lot more air than normal breathing because you are sucking air in from the bottom of your stomach (your diaphragm). With this extra air also comes more oxygen – your brain and body’s fuel, up to 20% more oxygen in fact than when you breathe normally.
The second thing you should have noticed is the way you exhale. Your out-breath was also much stronger and deeper, when smoking. Try it again, breathe out deeply without cigarette smoke, do it several times.
How do you feel? You feel relaxed and calm don’t you! Exhaling feels good, especially when it is done strongly. Have you noticed that when you laugh and when you sigh you exhale and breathe out strongly? Breathing out has a calming and positive effect on the body. So even though the smoke puts a strain on your system, when you breathe out strongly you feel good.
So basically when you smoke you are just practicing deep breathing exercises. The deep breaths provide your body and organs with more oxygen, which helps you to relax and release stress to a degree. I say to a degree because that extra oxygen is not enough to compensate for the strain that the chemicals in a cigarette put on your body.
So smoking itself doesn’t actually reduce stress, or help you concentrate in any way – it’s the way you breathe that does that for you. Have you ever wondered why people tell you to take deep breaths when you feel a craving or withdrawal symptoms? It’s because the deep breathing mimics the way you breathe when you smoke.
Every time you have a cigarette you put your body under stress. Then your body tries to clean out the chemicals, which again makes you feel uncomfortable, and puts you under stress. And you do this every day going round and round in circles, no wonder you a re so stressed!
Then when your body realises it has extremely low blood sugar (no nicotine to block insulin which releases your sugar stores) you get pangs and cravings because your body needs sugar – it becomes stressed. You then have a cigarette to relieve that stress. Then after forty five minutes or so the process starts all over again! You are just going around in one huge destructive and pointless circle.
People say smoking reduces stress, when in fact – the stress is caused by the last cigarette – when nicotine and the chemicals enter your body you put it under a huge strain. Then when the nicotine leaves your body it becomes stressed – because there is no nicotine to release sugar into the blood.
Tobacco increases stress and then relieves it (artificially by playing with your blood sugar levels) when you smoke. So smoking is basically like hitting yourself over the head with a hammer because it feels really good when you stop!
A major reason why people say they can’t or won’t stop smoking is – they feel they would be giving up a very effective stress management technique. But once you stop smoking for a short period of time, you will become calmer, even under stress, than when you were a smoker.
Another smoking myths is that it ‘cures boredom.’ This argument is so pointless that it hardly merits much attention. Yes some people believe that it cures boredom, but so does banging your head against a wall and stabbing yourself with a fork. That doesn’t mean it’s either good for you, effective, productive or an adequate way to deal with the situation.
Again if you rely on cigarettes to cure boredom, all you are doing is telling yourself – ‘I am not good enough to deal with this situation on my own. My cigarettes will take care of it.’
If you smoke due to boredom, you need to pay particular attention to changing your habits so that you have adequate new methods to keep yourself entertained.
Smoking as a stress relief mechanism is just and excuse. Many smokers know this but continue to lie to themselves because it prevents them from admitting that they cannot stop smoking.
Finding new ways to deal with stress is essential if you are going to make your stop smoking attempt a success.
My Complete Step By Step Guide To Quitting Smoking explains how to beat the stresses of everyday life when you quit smoking and it shows you how to break any and all your associations to smoking, so you can become completely smoke free in 3-4 weeks.
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