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Smoking and Stress

Smoking & Stress

Smoking and stress

By former Tobacco Talk Coordinator Colin Maloney

Stress! It’s certainly not the case for everyone, but many people feel that smoking helps them manage their stress. I can relate to this experience as I used to find myself smoking more during my undergraduate program whenever midterms or finals came around. I also remember that during my earliest days smoking, I would smoke during breaks at work. Looking back on that time, however, I think I have a different understanding of what was happening.

When I was working in restaurants and coffee shops, smoking was pretty much the only way anyone got a break. If someone was “just standing around,” they’d be told to get to work. But if someone said that they needed to go have a cigarette, then leaving the floor was permissible and even encouraged. That setup certainly didn’t help foster any desire to stop smoking. I found a similar situation when I stopped working food service and started working behind a desk that there was also an unspoken rule that allowed people who smoked to take breaks from time to time.

The school smoking was a little different, but I think had a similar use. I think many people have had the experience of spending too much time working on a piece of writing or a project for school or work. In addition to helping to alleviate the problem of nicotine withdrawal (which typically is noticeable at 2 hours or so since the last cigarette, but may start earlier), stepping away from the computer to smoke provided a much needed break. It also allowed me to collect my thoughts while I got some fresh air. Taking a break without “doing something,” especially when there was work to do, seemed a little weird.

So, what’s the answer to the issue of stress and smoking? Does stopping smoking mean that you never get to take a break? Fortunately, the answer is no. Even if you’re not dealing with nicotine withdrawal, taking breaks is important. It’s actually true that taking regular breaks can actually improve one’s productivity. It can be hard to set a new pattern of ways to manage stress when one is accustomed to smoking, but it’s definitely doable.

What’s the takeaway?

  • Much of what’s thought of as stress relief in smoking comes from managing the unpleasant symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.
  • Some of the relief that does become associated with smoking comes from being able to take a break or in getting away from a stressful situation.
  • These elements are important to be mindful of when quitting smoking. If you never take a break, your stress level is certainly going to go up.
  • Deep breathing, scheduled breaks, drinking water, and light physical activity (like walking around the block or walking up and down stairs) can help manage withdrawal symptoms.
  • In the long-term, you may find that you have less stress after quitting smoking.

Contact the Tobacco Talk program at (206) 616-8476 or