Smoking to Relieve Stress? The Surprising Facts

November 4th, 2015 by Smokers' Helpline

Many people who smoke say they smoke to relieve stress, or smoke more when they are experiencing stress.  People who have quit smoking say stress is the number one reason for relapse.  Did you know? –  Smoking does not actually relieve stress. In fact, it may even cause more tension and anxiety.

Stress is a part of life. There’s no way to avoid stress completely, but we can change how we work through stressful events, situations, and emotions. Stress comes in many different forms; it can be an event, something that happens to us or our response to the event or what happens. Not all stress is negative and what is stressful for one person may not be stressful for another.

While there is no one right way to work through stress, there are negative and positive methods to overcome stress. It is important to use positive methods that improve our health and well-being and to find what works for us personally when faced with stress.

Cigarettes contain nicotine, a psychoactive or mood altering drug. When a person smokes, nicotine reaches the brain in eight seconds and causes the release of a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine causes feelings of pleasure and relaxation, a sensation the body craves again and again. However, during these feelings of perceived relaxation, the body is actually experiencing increased stress – blood pressure and heart rate increase, muscles become tense, and less oxygen is available to the body and brain. The feelings of relief described by people who smoke may just be relief from short-term symptoms of withdrawal from nicotine.

At the Smokers’ Helpline, counsellors help clients identify ways to work through stress without smoking so that theyStress - Just Breathe are able to achieve their goal of being smoke-free.

First, it is important to understand what makes you feel stressed. Being prepared by knowing what causes you stress and how you will positively work through that stress is important in sticking to your goal of becoming and staying smoke-free.

  • Make a list of situations that make you feel stress. There are some things that may catch you by surprise, but being ready is important.
  • Make a list of activities you will do when you feel stressed. Remember to use activities that promote your health and well-being and avoid negative coping strategies.

Here are some examples to work through stress:

  • Stretch. Muscle tension is often a sign of stress. Take some time to stand, stretch your legs, your neck, and your entire body.
  • Laugh. Enjoy something that makes you laugh – your favourite comedy show, talk to your funny friend, or read a funny book.
  • Take a break. Go for a walk or do another physical activity you enjoy. Physical activity has been shown to relieve stress and energize the body.
  • Breathe deeply.
  • Talk to a friend (or a pet – they are great listeners!). Sometimes all we need is someone to talk to about what is stressful to us.
  • Have some fun! Engage in a hobby or activity you enjoy. Some suggestions are gardening, photography, crafts, colouring, sports or volunteer with cause you are passionate about.
  • Get a good night’s rest.
  • Ask for help. We can’t always face challenges on our own. Seeking help and support is important.