Does a cigarette really relax you?  The facts are the opposite.  A cigarette actually causes more stress!

The heart of a smoker works so much harder, beating up to 10 000 extra beats every day as it struggles to pump the blood around the body because the arteries become blocked, restricted and clogged. Are you suffering from cold feet? It is because it does not receive enough blood.  This is why smokers have high blood pressure and increased risk of blood clots – because the heart has to work so hard to get the thickened blood through the veins and arteries. The effect overall is an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

The heart is working much more harder because of nicotine, and that means that smoking does not relax you.  In fact: when cigarette smoke is introduced into your body, your system reacts to being poisoned in the same way as it would if subjected to danger (Allen, 1997; Cross & Hopwood, 2006).  The automatic defence system becomes activated and your whole body goes into what is known a ‘fight or flight mode’.  When this happens, your body is instantly prepared to use maximum strength and effort to either run from perceived danger or stop and fight.  Our heart beats faster, and respiration increases to pump blood to the major muscles and to the brain.    Adrenaline and noradrenalin course through our system, to maximise muscle power.  The brain needs additional oxygen to heighten its ability to rationalise the situation and to react in the manner, which best serves the need to survive the crisis.

The digestive system is hardly necessary when you are preparing to battle or run from danger within the next few seconds – so it shuts down, and the ability to digest food and absorb the nutrients from it are dispensed with.

If you continue to smoke, your body is under constant assault, and the perception of danger is constant and unrelenting.  The ‘fight or flight’ state that we have identified is still at a heightened state of readiness with all of those power diversions in operation, now suppressing the immune system.  If you continue to smoke, the enzymes produced are not used in their intended fashion but remain in the tissues as toxins.

Smoking keeps your pulse rate artificially high.  It will be worthwhile to check your pulse rate before and after a cigarette.

Within one to two hours of smoking their last cigarette, smokers will begin to experience physical symptoms attributable to the absence of nicotine.   Their heart rate decreases, they feel anxious and stressed, and they experience “cravings” for more nicotine, which are relieved when they light the next cigarette (Paul, 2005).

The bottom line is that a cigarette only relieves the stress caused by the previous cigarette by triggering the release of adrenaline, the stress hormone. (Allen, 2004; Carr, 1985).

Tobacco does not relieve stress.  It causes stress

Ironically, the relaxation in smoking is in the deep breath that a smoker takes.  And all you have to do is to do deep breathing without a cigarette.

The cycle works like this :

Feel stress → Smoke cigarette → Signal endorphin release →
Feel temporary relaxation →  Exhaust endorphin production →
Feel increased stress

It is a wholly negative pleasure (McKenna, 2007).

When you think about the massive assault your body is experiencing with every single cigarette you smoke, it gives you a renewed admiration for the abilities of your body, as well as the ability of the body to repair itself when you become free from smoking.

About Steve Gardiner

Stephen Gardiner originates from Rhodesia, (Zimbabwe) then working around the globe before finally settling in Brisbane Australia. As a scientist, Steve always had an interest in human development, especially Mind Plastisicity and how we cope with stress, anxiety and addictive behaviours. Over the past 15 years Steve has assisted many clients to transform their lives by resolving the obstacles holding them back.

Entries by Steve Gardiner