|By GEORGE M. KARSA, B.S., M.A.|
This is the third in a series of articles to help smokers quit the habit.
Talk to enough smokers and you'll find that most light up for one or more of the following reasons: stimulation, handling, pleasurable relaxation, tension reduction, psychological dependence and habit.
No doubt, cigarettes do satisfy these needs in one way or another, but not without attendant health risks. So why smoke when there are numerous, effective nonsmoking alternatives that produce a healthier and better quality of life?
Let's consider the "lift" that cigarette smoking seems to give most people. This is likely due to the nicotine "fix" one gets every time you take a drag on a cigarette. If you're the average smoker, that's about 10 puffs (hits) per cigarette or about 200 puffs a day for a one pack-a-day smoker.
Each "hit" of nicotine reaches your brain within seven seconds, about twice as fast as a syringeful of heroin injected into a vein. It affects a variety of brain chemicals that regulate mood, learning, alertness and ability to concentrate. Paradoxically, nicotine also triggers brain chemicals associated with relaxation, endorphins being one of them. These stimulating as well as sedative effects depend on the dosage and time of day one smokes.
However, there's a flip side to nicotine and it's vital that you understand the risks: nicotine causes an increase in one's heart rate and blood pressure (10-15 points for some); at the same time there is a constriction and narrowing of the blood vessels and slowing of peripheral blood circulation; there appears to be a tendency for nicotine to also increase blood clotting.
Over the years, one's heart and circulatory system are bound to feel the effects, possibly resulting in such conditions as high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, angina, heart attacks, strokes, etc.
And because of the narrowing of your capillaries, one's skin ages prematurely, resulting in facial lines, wrinkles and a rubbery-like appearance.
And by the way, nicotine, in concentrated form, is marketed as an insecticide known as Black Leaf 40. There are also literally thousands of chemicals, tars and gases found in cigarette smoke. So it's not just Marlboro Country taste!
Did you know that formaldehyde is a by-product of cigarette smoke, the same chemical they use to embalm people with? Perhaps they're getting us ready a little ahead of time.
And how about chemicals like arsenic, carbon monoxide (the stuff that comes out of automobile exhausts), hydrogen cyanide, etc. Then there's all that tar being deposited on the lining of your lungs.
It's no wonder that smokers have difficulty breathing and lack the energy for day-to-day living.
So what are some of those non-smoking alternatives mentioned earlier? Well, exercise comes immediately to mind (consult with your physicians before starting any physical exercise program). There's walking, jogging, biking, stretching or just running in place. How about tennis, hiking, golf and even yoga?
A cold mitten rub or shower first thing in the morning is a good alternative to that "wake-up" cigarette. Cutting down on coffee and sugar will normalize your blood sugar level and help to stabilize your mood swings throughout the day.
There are even some herbs found in health food stores that help boost one's energy level (ginseng for example).
Try the following relaxation exercise for a calmer, quieter you:
Sit or lie down comfortably with eyes closed;
Take several deep, satisfying breaths;
Bring your awareness to your feet and quietly suggest to yourself that your feet are relaxed, warm and heavy;
Continue moving up the body suggesting that your legs, thighs, buttocks, pelvic area, stomach, chest, back, shoulders, arms, stomach, chest, back, shoulders, arms, neck, scalp and face are each warm, heavy and relaxed;
When you are deeply relaxed, repeated some of the affirmations you learned in previous articles;
Slowly, gently open your eyes and greet the day with love.