Brideau said it takes 96 hours to get the nicotine out of your system and a month to eliminate the withdrawal symptoms. So why do people go back to smoking years later or in a time of crisis?
"Because it is their main form of relaxation," Brideau said. "That's why we teach relaxation techniques to every person who quits.
"If you think about it, smokers practice good relaxation techniques. They get up from their chairs and stressful jobs, walk, go up and down stairs, perform deep breathing, though with smoke filling their lungs. They talk, stretch their muscles, take a break from the normal routine and come up with a plan for their next one in one to two hours."
The planning might be beneficial. Researchers know that chronic stress is caused mostly by feeling a loss of control in life. Planning those parts of the day you can control helps cut stress.
Even in these emotional times, the act of planning can help you maintain (or regain) positive health habits, said Judith Stern, a nutrition researcher at UC Davis.
"Take five minutes a day to decide how you are going to care for yourself, the food you eat, what you can do for physical activity," said Stern, who has lost 20 pounds using this simple strategy and isn't about to let any terrorists cause her to slip. "Otherwise the events of the day take over."
To be sure, the new sense of normal includes some real fears. Molitor said she and other Chicago-area colleagues were unsettled about reading recent packets of mail originating from American Psychological Assn. headquarters in Washington, D.C. She saw three clients in one week who developed severe fear of flying because of the recent crash near Kennedy Airport in New York. Moreover, local layoffs ("the most direct effect of Sept. 11 for people here") are causing Molitor's clients to fret at length about financial security.
Greenland said such fears are all the more reason to cultivate positive habits, whether or not you are ready for the new sense of normal.
Condor is a writer for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune company.