Although there is overwhelming evidence smoking is harmful to people’s health, many smokers claim that it is helping for releasing stress and improving concentration. Can that be 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 associated with many mental health conditions. 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. Researchers led by Drs. Pier-Vincenzo Piazza and Djoher Nora Abrous, at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, 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 to make this change, your brain will benefit in ways that you can’t see until those smoke clouds have cleared away.
This article is updated from its initial publication in Brain World Magazine’s print edition.