November 16, 2009
Overcome Habits to Successfully Quit
By Dr. William Schiff, Clinical Psychologist
Walton Rehabilitation Health System
Augusta, GA—According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 5 adults in Georgia and South Carolina are smokers. While rates of smoking have slowly declined over the past 10 years, they have not kept pace with the numbers of people who try every year to quit smoking. It’s a struggle that affects not only the general population but also those with disabilities. In fact, according to the CDC, those with disabilities are 50 percent more likely to smoke than those who do not have a disability.
So why is quitting so hard? It’s important that those who smoke understand that quitting is a process, and there are a number of strategies available to address issues that smokers face when they are trying to quit.
Part of the challenge is habit—simple routine and following the same pattern day after day. Smoking is called a habit because it is an activity that smokers typically associate with other activities—waking up, driving, drinking coffee or having fun with friends. Breaking usual routines can be difficult because they’re not only comforting, but also can be enjoyable. Which is why smokers also need to really understand why they are smoking in the first place before they can create a plan to quit.
There are several reasons why smokers smoke. For some, the habit is all about relaxation. These smokers may be combating feelings of depression, anxiety, or boredom. For others, it’s all about the rush. Smoking pumps them up and gives them a feeling of euphoria. And still for others, it’s about avoiding the drop of nicotine in their blood levels and the associated unpleasant withdrawal effects when not smoking.
Knowing the reason why you smoke provides insight on how to quit, especially in replacing a habit with a healthy alternative. For example, the person who smokes to avoid anxiety may benefit from relaxation training or talking to a therapist. A person who smokes to lessen feelings of depression may also want to speak to a therapist or use an antidepressant. A person who is simply bored may want to find an activity to stimulate their mind. Social activities, crossword puzzles and other games of concentration, as well as outdoor activities are just a few examples.
The person who smokes for that rush may want to explore alternative activities that are healthy and that they equally enjoy. For example, exercise, whether joining a gym, becoming involved in a sport, or simply taking a walk outside, releases endorphins that make people feel better and is a great way to give you a “high.” And for those who want to avoid withdrawal effects, nicotine replacement through gum, the patch or nasal sprays can help smokers reduce blood levels of nicotine over time.
Next, break the habit of smoking. For example, say that every morning, you get up and the first thing you do is have your morning coffee and cigarette at the kitchen table. If you’re trying to quit, you might find that cravings hit hard when you sit down in the same chair with the same mug of coffee, but no cigarette. That’s why it’s so important to change routines, to keep your usual habits from triggering the need for a cigarette. So instead, take your coffee outside to the patio, or have it while you’re putting on makeup. Just a small change can break your routine and help prevent cravings.
Certain relaxation techniques can help those who are quitting by reducing anxiety and stress, and triggering positive feelings. Uncontrolled, rapid breathing signals to your body that something is wrong and raises stress levels, but slow, controlled breathing (in through the nose, out through the mouth) helps calm you. Guided imagery, used as part of a controlled breathing exercise, allows you to focus in detail on a locale that recalls happy feelings and memories. And progressive muscle relaxation exercises (progressively overtensing, then relaxing muscles throughout your body) enables you to learn to relax on recall.
And finally, reward yourself throughout the process. Quitting is hard enough, so take the opportunity to pat yourself on the back with a special treat, particularly if you successfully combated a craving. Many times, former smokers save the money they spent on cigarettes and use it for a trip or other special gift for themselves. And don’t forget to involve your friends and family. They not only can help “keep you honest,” but can also be your best cheerleaders while you’re quitting.
If you’re ready to break the habit, start making your plans today and set your date. It could be the best, and most important, decision you’ll ever make for yourself and your family.
Media Contact: Danielle Wong Moores, Public Relations Specialist, 706-434-0150
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