Stress and tobacco: it truly is a frightening duo
It is not uncommon for individuals who use tobacco to describe their use as being attributed to stress.
Stress can also be a main reason for individuals to be apprehensive about quitting their tobacco use, yet many tobacco users comment that their tobacco use makes them stressed. Quite the back and forth, right?
Why do people who use tobacco crave it when they are stressed or use tobacco to relieve stress? This can be for a few reasons: a person could be experiencing withdrawal symptoms that make them uncomfortable, and if they use a form of tobacco the nicotine makes them quickly feel better. Or think about what happens during a smoke break, either at work or at home - if something stressful is happening, you leave the situation to go have a cigarette or smokeless tobacco. By removing yourself from what you have indicated to yourself as a stressful situation, you are distracting yourself from your stressor with tobacco. So, how can we better manage our stress to decrease or eliminate the use of tobacco and not have this as a frightening duo?
Firstly, it is important to recognize your personal stress – are you aware of how stress affects you? What does your body tell you? Is your heart rate increased, does your breathing increase, do you sweat more? These physical reactions of our bodies telling us we are stressed can look different for everyone, so what does it look like for you? Next, recognize what is your emotional response to stress, do you cry, are you angry, do you have negative self-talk? Again, these can look different for everyone. Being able to recognize the specific responses your body and mind have towards stress can give you a better idea of how to manage it more effectively, without using tobacco to cope.
Once you recognize when you are stressed, being able to commit to doing something about it is the next step, but that is easier said than done, I know. However if you can, change the situation, change your thinking, and change your reactions, you might thank yourself for the way that you feel.
What does that all mean? Changing the situation involves: problem solving, assertive communication/negotiation, learning to say “no,” time management, and avoiding the situation if possible. Then if you can change your thinking by: getting more information, asking others opinions, thinking about something else, and rational analysis of the situation (i.e., does it make sense for me to use tobacco when I know it harms me?).
You can further change your reactions, meaning: taking time to relax, taking time for yourself, expressing your feelings, getting emotional support, having a sense of humor, and being your own best friend. These processes take time to make the change.It helps when you utilize coping strategies that bring happiness and joy.
Coping strategies could look like: physical activity and healthy eating, getting organized, spending time outside in nature each day, making time for things you like to do, and practice relaxation exercises each day, and many more.
Chloe McNamee is a Health Promotion Facilitator with Alberta Health Services, and can be reached by e-mail, Chloe.McNamee@ahs.ca