Stress and to­bacco: The fright­en­ing duo

Medicine Hat News - - LIFESTYLES - Chloe McNamee

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 such 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 as a cop­ing mech­a­nism.

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 hu­mour, and be­ing your own best friend. Th­ese pro­cesses take time to make the change and it helps when you uti­lize cop­ing strate­gies that bring you 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.

Can you think of ways you can re­place your to­bacco use to cope with your stress?

Chloe McNamee is a health pro­mo­tion fa­cil­i­ta­tor with Al­berta Health Ser­vices, and can be reached by email at

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