What cigarette smokers can teach us about mental health

You don’t have to give up all of your habits associated with cigarette smoking. In fact, you should keep some of them.

As a group of people who partake in socially accepted addictive behaviors, smokers tend to be the pariahs among the out right public addictions, such as overeating or drinking alcohol. Many a person who would casually drink a glass of wine over a business dinner would feign horror at the thought of smoking a cigarette. Yet, cultural and business policies begrudgingly tolerate and accommodate smokers. Legal consequences used as a deterrent to eradicate other types of addictions, such as narcotics or pornography, are non-existent for smokers. Even alcohol has a legal consequence if indulged while driving. Smoke and drive all you want without the police harassing you. In fact, the police officer passing you on the Interstate is possibly a smoker him or herself.

Instead, “if you can’t beat ’em join ’em” approach seems to be the antidote to the futile prohibition of smoking during business hours despite everyone’s acknowledged acceptance of how damaging smoking is to an individual’s health and to the health of those who ingest the chemical second hand. Even smokers joke about their “cancer sticks.”

Consequently, cigarette smokers are considered our culture’s socially accepted addiction pariahs.  And they are the most blatantly public in their addiction. After all, who stands outside their work place with their company attire partaking in other drugs? Overeaters and drinkers don’t stand in a huddle outside on their breaks to anesthetize their stress with sugar donuts and glasses of wine. Company policies are written to accommodate nicotine addictions. Other drug-related policies are written to fire you from your job if you are caught indulging on company time.

But there’s a lot to learn from a cigarette smoker as far as strategies to manage stress. Ask any smoker and they will tell you they believe it calms their nerves.  And some substances contained within cigarettes do provide a mental boost. The downside is the cost eventually outweighs the benefit. The cost is your life and it’s a slow, painful one once it’s past the stress reduction threshold. Smoking-related illnesses cost businesses about $156 billion in lost productivity and smokers $170 billion in direct related medical care.

So, what about the non-smokers? I know you’ve done the mental math. Have you worked with a smoker and wondered how long they spent on their smoke break? On average, smoke breaks for one person tally up to about 6 days out of the year, depending on the industry a smoker works in. The higher the stress of a particular career field the more smoke breaks people take.  What can we learn from people whose addiction is so powerful that complete areas outside of businesses and hospitals are set aside for them to indulge?

  • It’s good to take frequent breaks from your work. Sitting is the new smoking, after all. It would be fascinating to see how work environments changed up their stress levels if non-smokers took as many breaks as smokers.
  • Smokers walk more than nonsmokers. That’s obvious. If you work in a high rise building, for example, to take your break you have to go from your cubicle to the elevator or the stairs and walk to your smoking area and, sometimes, it’s across the street from where you work. Walking is good for you.
  • Smokers get outside more and absorb more Vitamin D from the sun. Nature is healing. You hear birds sing, feel the breezy wind, experience sunshine. And smokers are dedicated. They take their smoke breaks no matter the weather–tornadoes, hurricanes and blizzards. That is a nature break discipline the rest of us would do well to develop.
  • Smokers breathe. They also cough after awhile, but smokers know how to belly–or diaphragmatic–breathe. This deep breathing is known to affect the autonomic nervous system and calm it down to reduce symptoms of some types of anxiety, depression and reduce the cortisol–or stress chemical–loads on people. If you’re not a smoker but want to breathe like a smoker, inhale and exhale through a straw a few times.  You will notice the weight of air as it is forced further down to your diaphragm. Keep your straws from your drinks and it’s a double win. You can breathe like a smoker and save the environment.

So, you see, smokers can be a role model for the rest of us. And, maybe if smokers talked to enough non-smokers who used the same strategies for stress reduction, minus the cigarettes–it would encourage them to quit because all of us need friends.

 

 

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Author: newthoughtrightaction

I am the owner of two businesses. New Thought, Right Action Consulting Services is a personal development business which offers career coaching and conflict resolution services. We also offer recruiting/career coaching services for people who work in the healthcare field, specifically nursing. I also own a private counseling company in Texas, where I see people for a number of reasons which impact their mental wellness.

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