Despite all the really bad known consequences of smoking, there's one aspect of the act of smoking that may actually be beneficial. It's been shown that it takes about 1-2 minutes for nicotine to go through the bloodstream and reach your brain which gives you that "relaxed" feeling. But what most smokers will tell you is that they feel better after the first 1-2 deep inhalations. This tells us that there's something else besides nicotine that causing the relaxed feeling. Plus, since nicotine is a stimulant, how can it make you feel more relaxed?
I sometimes joke with my patients that in the typical workplace, the only people that get regular breaks are the smokers. Modern society has gotten rid of all the natural, built-in breaks. So smokers, by going out of their stressful environments every few hours, are taking grown-up time-outs. Not only are they taking these "breaks," as they puff in the cigarette smoke, they are actually performing deep breathing meditation exercises. They've associated the good feeling that they get with the physical act of smoking, which also happens to make you take in some slow deep breaths. This is the concept that George Wissing describes in his fascinating new book, Stop Smoking For The Last Time.
It's interesting to note that the act of inhalation is controlled by your sympathetic nervous system, which is the stress half of your involuntary nervous system. Exhalation is activated by the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the relaxation half. So by taking in a deep breath and releasing very slowly, you're spending more time activating your parasympathetic nervous system. This leads to a relaxing response. This is similar to what I described in my other article on singing. The relaxing breath that's taught in yoga is the same thing, where you're spending relatively more time in slow exhalation. This is why people feel so good after a yoga session.
By no means am I recommending that everyone who's stressed go out and start smoking. But by using these concepts, you can get the same benefits of smoking without inhaling the toxic chemicals from cigarettes. There are other various resources for learning deep-breathing exercises, such as Tai Chi or yoga. You can also buy CDs or videos that you can learn from and practice these techniques at home. Another great tip is to take short breaks every few hours, in between major activities and do 4 or 5 deep breathing cycles. Not only will you feel more relaxed, you'll be more focused and more productive for the activities at hand.
Steven Y. Park, M.D., author of Sleep, Interrupted: A physician reveals the #1 reason why so many of us are sick and tired. Endorsed by New York Times best-selling authors Dr. Christiane Northrup, Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. Mark Liponis, and Mary Shomon.