Smokers Use Cigarettes to Cope with Stress

Smokers are poorly equipped to deal with distress without resorting to cigarettes because of their implicit belief that smoking helps them to deal with difficult feelings, a conference for psychologists was told yesterday.

Nigel Vahey of NUI Maynooth said research had found that a key psychological component of tobacco-dependence involved the implicit belief that smoking was an effective way of regulating unpalatable feelings.

“In other words, to the degree that smokers implicitly believe that smoking can enhance their enjoyment and reduce their stress levels, then they are more likely to engage in smoking as a means of controlling and coping with fluctuating feelings throughout the day,” he said.

Smoking was used as a way to avoid dealing with painful thoughts and emotions but this was unproductive as it did not make those feelings go away permanently.

Young Smoker“Such people who smoke to regulate their feelings, whether consciously or unconsciously, become very poorly equipped to cope with distress of any sort without recourse to smoking,” Mr Vahey said. This made quitting even more difficult. “Smokers must not only cope with biological cravings for nicotine, but must also learn to cope with distressing feelings in more productive ways.” He said treatment that dealt with this issue was more successful long term than nicotine replacement therapy or other medications.

Mr Vahey was speaking at the Psychological Society of Ireland’s annual conference which ended yesterday in Tullow, Co Carlow. Earlier, the conference heard a call for proper training for juries in cyber-crime cases.

This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times, LISON HEALY

3 thoughts on “Smokers Use Cigarettes to Cope with Stress

  1. Kirk VandenBerghe

    And if the belief that smoking helps to deal with stress/distress is present, it can feedforward into creating a placebo effect that smoking *does* help. In fact, smoking adds stress since it radically degrades health.

  2. kerrie

    ive been along term smoker 20 plus years at 20ish per day. i have chainsmoked when feeling sad angry or confused. and many other emotions. (excitement and others). i hear alot of smokers say it calms me down but i believe it causes more anxiety in you and you only calm down because you replace the nicotine you are withdrawing from. so it dont realy calm you it gives your fix so to speak.

    im definatly a calmer person since quiting (yes after the first hard week) im six weeks quit now and im feeling calmer the cravings are less often but they can still be intense so yeh the triggers remain so emotions for me are my triggers more than anything else so i will try prepare for that in my life.

    im enjoying spending more often the money im saving on smokes.

  3. Access Hypnotherapy

    The interesting thing about smoking is that when you started smoking first, I bet you didn’t say “I think I’ll have one of these because it might reduce my stress or relax me”. Of course you didn’t. You may have started because of peer pressure or to appear more adult or whatever your own reason was at the time.
    Compare that with why you think you smoke now. Most people who come to see me tell me they smoke because it relaxes them, or it’s just a habit, or they enjoy it. Rubbish. The reason I say “Rubbish” is that these excuses are just that. Excuses. Excuses that you have come to believe at a subconscious level. There are so many false associations that you have built up over the years that chain you to the habit of cigarette smoking. And it really, genuinely is so easy to quit using hypnotherapy. I know. I used to smoke 50 a day up until I went to see a hypnotherapist myself nine years ago. I haven’t smoked since and I had no cravings at all. Not even one.


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