What is stress?
The term “stress” can have many different meanings and can relate to many different things. At times it is used to refer to environmental events that trigger a bodily reaction. At other times it is used to describe that reaction itself. Following the lead of pioneer stress researcher Dr. Hans Selye and others, stress is defined as a bodily state rather than an event in the environment (which is called a “stressor” or “stress trigger”).
Stress is the body’s natural response to demands. It is usually felt as an urgency or tension. Stress is a natural and, indeed, a necessary part of life. Positive stress can feel exciting and helps you meet your challenges. But prolonged stress can lead to damaging stress reactions that result in psychological and emotional disorders, psychosomatic disorders (a physical disorder whose cause is linked to an emotional state), and even life-threatening diseases.
Smoking and stress
Although most people understand that smoking harms a person’s health, many smokers believe it helps them cope with stress. Since nicotine is a psychoactive (mood altering) drug, tobacco use does seem to make the subjective effects of stress (such as feelings of frustration, anger, and anxiety) less severe. But smoking is a cruel illusion; while people may feel calmer and less stressed when they smoke, their body is experiencing just the opposite reactions. Blood pressure rises, heart rate increases, muscles become tense, blood vessels constrict, and less oxygen is available to the brain and body to facilitate healthy coping. In short, smoking increases the stress level on the body.