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Managing your stress – Alternatives to smoking

By PSP Ottawa Health Promotion and Canadian Forces Health Services

Is smoking your go-to stress management technique? You are certainly not alone if you use cigarettes as a way to feel less stressed. Tobacco contains nicotine, a psychoactive or mood altering drug.  When you smoke, nicotine reaches the brain in eight seconds and releases dopamine.  Dopamine causes feelings of pleasure and relaxation, a sensation the body craves again and again.  The irony is that while you may experience temporary relief from stress on a cognitive level, the body is experiencing increased stress.  Your blood pressure and heart rate increases, muscles become tense, and less oxygen is available to the body and brain.

The most effective way to manage your stress is to identify what it is that causes anxious feelings and learn how to change the way you react to these events and situations.

So, here’s what you can do.  Make a list of the things that stress you out. Be aware of stressful situations that occur repetitively.  For example, if you feel stressed in the morning because you have a difficult time waking up,  try getting to bed earlier, prepare your lunch and clothing the night before and set your alarm clock at a time that allows you wake up and get organized for your day in a relaxed fashion.

Effective Stress Management

While there is no one right way to work through stress, there are negative ones (smoking) and positive methods (exercise) to overcoming stress.  It is important to find positive ways to improve your health and well-being and to find what works for you when faced with stressful situations:

  • Exercise is a great stress reliever. Simply going for a long walk can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, metabolize stress hormones, and help you change your mood.
  • Eat a diet that supports health and well-being. Packaged foods are generally not as healthy for you as whole, fresh foods. Cook your meals at home… you will feel better because of it and it will save you money as well.
  • Enjoy something that makes you laugh – your favourite comedy show, talk to a friend who you know always makes you laugh, or read a funny book.
  • Use tactical breathing. It helps you pause, focus on your breathing, and shifts your thoughts away from stressful situations
  • Talk to a friend (or a pet – they are great listeners!) about your concerns. Sometimes all we need is someone to talk to about what is stressing us.
  • Have some fun! All work and no play? That’s stressful.  Engage in a hobby or activity you enjoy. Some suggestions are gardening, photography, arts and craft, and sports.   Volunteer with cause you are passionate about.
  • Let go.
  • Get a good night’s rest. Sleep hygiene is integral to health and wellbeing. Be aware of the impact of caffeine on the quality of your sleep. If you are not sleeping well, discuss this with your doctor.


Managing Stress While Quitting Smoking

You are more likely to be successful in quitting smoking if you use the resources available to you.

  • Reach out to your physician and get a prescription for smoking cessation aids—they are free to you if you are a member of the Canadian Armed Forces.
  • Strengthening the Forces, the Canadian Armed Forces Health Promotion program, offers a Tobacco Cessation Program called Butt Out, which gives you specific guidance to help change behaviors associated with tobacco use and provides essential support for individuals who want to quit using tobacco. They also offer a stress management course called Stress: Take Charge, where you will learn specific strategies to cope with stress.
  • Ask for more extensive help if you need it. We can’t always face challenges on our own. Seeking help and support is important.  Be sure to seek out the services that are available to you.

To register for Butt Out, Stress: Take Charge, or information on other workshops, challenges and campaigns visit the CFSU(O) Health Promotion website.

For questions contact us at 613-996-4315, or via email.



This post is also available in: Français (French)

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