Why smoking doesn’t really relieve stress
Irritable, wound up, grumpy? Reaching for a cigarette can feel like just the thing you need when you are stressed. But does smoking actually reduce your stress levels? Or can it make these feelings worse in the long run?
The simple answer is that smoking doesn’t help you deal with tension and stressful feelings. In fact, a nicotine addiction can increase your stress levels. So, what can you do about it? If you want to stop stress smoking, the key is to find other ways to unwind.
If you’re smoking more when you are stressed, this is how it is affecting your body:
Increased heart rate
Nicotine increases your heart rate and your blood pressure. Your heart will be working harder and pumping faster as it pushes the nicotine up to your brain quickly, actually increasing stress in your body.
Dopamine levels decrease quickly
Dopamine is a chemical made in the brain that is released in response to an achievement or something ‘good’. When you feel pleasure or motivation, that’s dopamine.
When you smoke, you will get an initial surge of enjoyment. But that release you feel when you smoke in response to stress, is short lived. This leaves your body looking for it’s next ‘hit’.
If dopamine is responsible for that great feeling you get when you achieve something, could you be missing out on that feeling of satisfaction from achieving your stopping smoking goals?
Cravings cause withdrawal stress
Ever feel like you finish one cigarette and pretty soon you’re craving another? The stress you feel is actually caused by the dopamine response you had to the cigarette you just finished!
When the feel-good factor caused by dopamine drops away, your nicotine cravings get to work. The result is that quickly you feel worse than before you had the cigarette.
Less oxygen to your body and brain
Smoking restricts oxygen to the body and brain. This is because every puff contains carbon monoxide. This binds to the haemoglobin in your red blood cells, preventing oxygen from doing so. This puts additional strain on your lungs, heart and brain, stopping them from working as well as they should. This increases not just stress but also the risks of illness like stroke or developing dementia.
High blood pressure
Smoking doesn’t directly cause high blood pressure but if you smoke and have high blood pressure, your arteries will narrow much more quickly, resulting in an increased risk from heart and lung disease in the future.
You’re caught in a repetitive, negative cycle of stress and craving
So, a big part of why you feel stressed is because of nicotine cravings caused by smoking. While you get some relief when you do smoke, you crave another shortly afterwards and so start feeling stressed again. This cycle is what makes you crave another one almost immediately.
While nicotine is responsible for these feelings and cravings around smoking, it is relatively harmless. It is the carbon monoxide, tar and toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke that are seriously damaging your health. Understanding the relationship between smoking and stress can help you take the first step to stopping smoking.