■ Although there is much evidence smoking is harmful to people’s health, many smokers claim it is good for releasing stress and improving concentration. Is that true?
__Research into smoking and stress has shown that instead of helping people to relax, smoking actually increases anxiety and tension over the long run. Nicotine does create an immediate sense of relaxation, so smokers believe it is reducing their stress and anxiety. But this feeling of relaxation is temporary and soon is replaced by withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Smoking another cigarette will reduce nicotine withdrawal symptoms, which are similar to the symptoms of anxiety, but it does not reduce anxiety or deal with the underlying causes.
__Also, smoking is closely linked to many mental disorders. People with depression are twice as likely to smoke than other people. People with schizophrenia are three times more likely to smoke, and they tend to smoke more heavily.
__There is also some evidence that smoking directly kills brain cells. French researchers led by Pier-Vincenzo Piazza and Djoher Nora Abrous, at the National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM) gave nicotine to rodents and found that rodents that took medium and high doses suffered a 50% loss in the production of new brain cells when compared to a non-nicotine control group. They also experienced a significantly higher rate of brain cell death.
__Finally, there are the effects of secondhand smoke. If someone is exposed to indirect smoking from a family member, not only does the risk of cancer increase, but cognitive function can decrease. Children who are greatly exposed to indirect smoking suffer reduced scores in reading and mathematics.
__To benefit your brain and your loved ones, instead of smoking to relax you could get in the habit of taking short stretching breaks during work, or sharing a shoulder massage when at home. If you choose it, your brain will create it. [bw]