We don't need to tell you about the dangers and risks of smoking — about the exponential increases in your risk for lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema, and other potentially fatal conditions and illnesses. We also don't need to tell you about public perception of the habit — the smell, how it ruins your teeth and your skin, and how it now makes you unemployable in several industries.
Smoking stinks and smoking kills. We all know these things. But what most people don't know or don't care to consider (especially non-smokers), is that quitting is extremely difficult. And if a smoker isn't fully prepared to quit and dedicated to the work that goes into that, they're simply not going to succeed. If, however, you are a smoker and you're ready to quit, there are several strategies you can use to increase the likelihood of success.
Create New Associations to Curb Your Smoking Habit
Smoking cessation requires a serious commitment to a serious lifestyle change. Most smokers associate cigarettes with a number of other habits, behaviors, or activities. They smoke with their morning coffee or after having a beer with friends. They smoke when they're driving. They smoke after a hearty meal. Or they smoke simply because they're addicted and that's what they do.
Whatever the occasion or excuse, cigarettes are strongly associated with seemingly mundane daily events, which means that those who are serious about quitting need to learn to break those associations. Instead of having a cigarette with coffee, try drinking a tall glass of orange juice as a healthy alternative. Rather than smoking during your daily commute, try listening to talk radio or an audio book to help calm your nerves before work or to decompress on the way home. If you've just finished a good meal and feel the urge to have a cigarette, schedule a regular post-meal walk with your friends or loved ones to get some fresh air and help digest your food.
Whatever it is that triggers your desire for a cigarette, develop a plan that will help divert your attention away from your craving and replace it with a healthy, soothing alternative.
Keep a Journal to Stay Committed to Quitting
Studies show that we are far more likely to follow through with commitments if we make a point to write down our goals, objectives, and strategies and then regularly follow up to log our progress. Be honest and really think about why you want to quit. Are you worried about how you're viewed by your coworkers? Is the habit becoming too expensive? Are you concerned that second-hand smoke might be harming your loved ones? Or has it finally sunk in that if you keep smoking, the cigarettes are likely going to kill you.
Everyone has different reasons why they want to quit, but if you don't write them down, then they remain intangible — mere abstractions that you will only occasionally consider. And if you're not constantly reminding yourself of how and why you want to quit, your chances of success will steadily diminish. In fact, new research suggests that smokers try to quit an average of 30 times before they are successful, which is a testament to just how difficult it is to persevere through those first days and weeks. Whenever you're feeling vulnerable, just pull out that list you made, review your reasons for quitting, and jot down a little note to pat yourself on the back for resisting the urge and detailing the tactics you took to do so.
Find New Ways to Cope with Stress
Another reason that so many people find it difficult to quit smoking is that they use smoking as a way of coping with and combating stress. Of course, the irony here is that quitting is itself a highly stressful endeavor. Smoking doesn't actually help you alleviate a stressful situation; it simply prolongs the inevitable. Your stress isn't going anywhere, so you need to try to eliminate factors that contribute to it — including smoking (especially since smoking deteriorates your health and eviscerates your bank account).
Whenever you're feeling an intense craving or compulsion, the first thing you should do is take several deep breaths. Inhale deeply through your nose and exhale through your mouth, and you should begin to feel more relaxed within just a few seconds. While taking your deep, concentrated breaths, you should attempt to visualize a comfortable, safe space and allow yourself to enjoy your brief reprieve from reality. Stretch your limbs or go for a quick walk through the office or around the block for an added stress release.
Don't Quit Quitting
As previously mentioned, quitting smoking can take dozens of attempts. The key is to not let yourself be discouraged. Even if you give in to temptation and break your non-smoking streak, that doesn't mean that you have to quit quitting. Giving up nicotine is a very difficult undertaking, and we're all prone to relapsing occasionally. Continue to remind yourself of why you've chosen to quit, and envision a healthier future for yourself. You really can do this, but you have to stay the course even as you encounter the occasional obstacle in your path.
One tried and true method to help you keep on track is to create a "smoke jar." Much like a swear jar, every time you smoke a cigarette, you have to contribute five dollars to the smoke jar. And once the jar adds up to a predetermined amount (say fifty dollars), you have to give that money to your spouse, children, roommates, or coworkers. But make sure that your support group is holding you accountable so that you don't quit quitting simply because the costs are getting too high. This should serve as a constant reminder that cigarettes are harmful to your wallet as well as your health.
The Canopy Health network and our affiliates advocate for the health and wellness of our members and the entire Bay Area. We want you to live a healthier smoke-free lifestyle that allows you to shed the stress and anxiety that comes with nicotine addiction. If you're having a hard time quitting, you can contact the Smoke Free hotline by calling 1-800-Quit-Now, or you can sign up for a smoking cessation program through our partners at Hill Physicians.