The Cigarette Relaxation Myth —By Fred H. Kelley

Chances are you smoke to relax. But you are falling prey to one of the cigarette’s most duplicitous “benefits.”

The addictive chemical in cigarettes is nicotine. Nicotine is both a stimulant and a sedative to the nervous system. It’s an addictive drug just like cocaine or heroin, and has very similar effects on the brain, in terms of the “reward” or “pleasure” circuits. The addiction makes you want to use nicotine more and more, and the addiction also causes unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

You say you smoke to relax, but having a smoke is more like scratching a persistent itch. If you have ever had poison ivy, or some other skin rash, you know how good it felt to scratch the itch. But guess what? Your scratching didn’t make the rash go away. In fact it may have made the problem worse, spreading the rash further.

Yes, you felt relief when you scratched, but the itch remained. What you were truly seeking was a body without any itching and no rash whatsoever! It felt good to scratch the rash, but having the rash definitely did not improve the quality of your life.

When you get your hit of nicotine, you scratch the itch, but your addiction remains. You only feel relaxed, or temporary relief from your addiction, not relief from the stress in your life. Nicotine stimulates your central nervous system and unleashes a host of chemical reactions in your body. Many of these are perceived as pleasurable and positive.

In fact, research indicates that nicotine may have positive uses in people with Parkinson’s disease or children with attention deficit hyperactive disorder. The problem is that nicotine is delivered to your body along with hundreds of other chemicals, many of which are known to cause cancer, heart disease and other life-threatening ailments.

The stimulating “kick” you get from nicotine masks itself as relaxation because you are scratching the gnawing itch that the addiction itself creates. In fact, this stimulating effect is often followed by depression, fatigue and more stress, leading you to seek more nicotine.

For you, the important thing to understand is that smoking and nicotine do not truly help you relax. After people quit smoking, and have been smoke-free for an extended period they report that their stress levels are lower than when they were smoking. If you think back to when you first started smoking, you may remember that your stress level actually went up, rather than down after you had a cigarette. You perceived smoking for its true effects.

So, what can you do to overcome the endless circle of nicotine addiction? If you are smoking to relieve stress, first understand that the stress-relieving properties of cigarettes are a lie. Then seek out ways to relieve your stress without smoking. Exercise is one of the best ways to kill stress. Do something, anything, that gets your body moving and your blood pumping. Choose an exercise or sport that you enjoy.

Next, look for other ways to relieve stress. Isolate the stressors in your life and attack stress at the root. This may be as radical as changing jobs or as simple as choosing to not watch your nightly news program.

Stress has many sources, but it also has a variety of effects on you, depending on your response to a stressful event or circumstance. Is something stressful or not? That depends on what you do. Rather than reacting to stress, try responding instead. What’s the difference? Reacting implies that you have no choice. Responding means that you evaluate the situation, then make a choice about what you do in relation to the situation. You are in control, and that will probably reduce your stress level.

Finally, consider nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). The nicotine patch or nicotine gum can help you to reduce your dependence on cigarettes by continuing to deliver nicotine to your body through a much safer medium.

The next time you feel stressed, reach for your running shoes rather than a cigarette. It’s up to you to short-circuit nicotine’s power over your life.


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