Is the thought that smoking really helps in alleviating stress true? Or is the relaxing effect of smoking a psychological addiction? This WellnessKeen write-up clears the air on this.
Did You Know?
Studies have reported that lighting up a cigarette causes long-term stress levels to increase, rather than decrease. For regular smokers, the stress levels are alleviated only in the interval between two cigarettes.
Does smoking really relieve stress? In times of stress and pressure, will smoking a cigarette help you stay calm? Smokers will answer this question in the affirmative, as they feel that smoking alleviates stress, anxiety, and other negative emotions. Smokers say they experience a ‘high’ after smoking, and an amazing sense of calmness and satisfaction takes over. It feels as if you are on cloud nine, and the stressors no longer affect you. This feeling of tranquility is what draws people to smoking. I am sure many of you will agree with this. Yes, stress symptoms are kept at bay after smoking a cigarette. However, it is just a momentary effect of nicotine on the body.
Immediate Effects of Smoking
✦ Nicotine in cigarettes reaches your brain in less than 10 seconds. The stress-relieving effect after smoking a cigarette is because of the release of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a pleasure chemical in the human body that soothes your nerves and helps you relax. It gives you a high and produces many positive effects on the body that improves your mood, enhances your concentration, and relaxes your muscles.
✦ You breathe in and out when you smoke. This is an effective way of relaxing the body. Taking a deep breath helps in inhalation of more oxygen, which helps you relax and calm down.
✦ You tend to go out for a smoke, which gives you a break from your mundane tasks and helps you relieve stress.
✦ So yes, if you consider the immediate effects of smoking on the body, they help you relax and rejuvenate. Smokers continue smoking to experience the pleasurable effects which they think help relieve stress and calm them.
According to scientists at the University of East London, the calming effect of cigarettes is just a psychological addiction. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms are inhibited by regular smoking. They create a psychological link between cigarette and stress relief.
✦ Nicotine changes the brain chemistry by affecting the neurotransmitters. This changes the way in which brain cells work. Once a smoker stops using nicotine, the changes last for a while, after which it returns to the normal state. So, once the nicotine effects wear off, your mood worsens, and you need another puff of smoke to restore the levels of nicotine and your mood per se.
✦ Thus, instead of decreasing stress, you constantly keep on pumping nicotine in your blood, which has hazardous effects on your overall health and well-being.
✦ A cigarette contains many other hazardous chemicals, which include toxins and potential carcinogens that have disastrous effects on the body.
✦ Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known to man, and when combined with carbon monoxide in cigarettes, it increases your heart rate and blood pressure. It puts a strain on the heart and blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart diseases and strokes. This deadly duo reduces the oxygen levels in the body of smokers. They prevent flow of oxygen to the brain, which impairs your ability to concentrate and focus.
✦ Nicotine constricts the blood vessels, forcing your heart to work harder to circulate blood to all parts of the body. The heart rate and blood pressure of a smoker are always on the higher side than that of a non-smoker. These effects on the heart and blood vessels put a smoker at a greater risk of heart attacks and cerebrovascular diseases.
✦ Smoking stains the teeth, increases bad breath, lowers immunity, and produces wrinkles on the skin. The risk of developing neurological disorders and spinal problems is high in smokers.
✦ Smoking affects the bones and joints in the body, making smokers more susceptible to osteoporosis and other bone-related maladies.
✦ The most important negative impact which smoking has is mentioned on the cigarette packet itself―Smoking Kills. It is known to be the main cause of cancer to various parts of the human body that include the mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, bladder, stomach, pancreas, liver, kidney, and of course, the lungs. It does extensive damage to the lungs, causing chronic bronchitis and emphysema which impairs the airways in the lungs.
✦ Smoking affects fertility in both the sexes and may cause impotence in men. It increases the risk of complications during pregnancy, like miscarriage, stillbirth, or premature birth.
The Opposite is True
Considering the harmful effects of smoking, the overall health of a smoker is far from good. In fact, smoking puts him at a higher risk to all the above-mentioned conditions and diseases. So, what good does smoking do to relieve stress? In reality, a long-term increase in the stress levels is what smoking does to the body. Smoking hides your problems by giving you temporary relief. In essence, it’s a placebo effect.
This is what researchers from the Oxford and Cambridge Universities and Kings College London had to say: “The belief that smoking is stress relieving is pervasive, but almost certainly wrong. … The reverse is true: smoking is probably anxiogenic [causes anxiety] and smokers deserve to know this and understand how their own experience may be misleading.”
These researchers followed 491 subjects as a part of their study. In the initial stages, it was found that 21.6% smokers had mood or anxiety disorders. Six months later, 24% subjects managed to quit smoking, and with that, they even experienced a drop in anxiety levels. They further said, “Stopping smoking probably reduces anxiety and the effect is probably larger in those who have a psychiatric disorder and who smoke to cope with stress.”
Another research study suggested that smokers who quit smoking experienced a reduction in their stress levels. These people found new techniques, like reading, exercise, meditation, deep breathing etc., to cope with stress. They are far happier and stress-free now.
Smoking your problems away will only make them worse. Instead, stay away from this addiction, and your problems of stress, anxiety, and depression will be kept at bay.