I used to smoke cigarettes. I quit fifty years ago. So, I guess this year is my Golden Anniversary of smoke free-living. I had tried to quit several times and had sadly returned to the nasty habit. In 1968 I participated in a grad study in college. I suddenly realized quitting was actually easier than I had thought. I just needed a different set of tools. The grad study used journaling and self contracting to accomplish behavior change. Both techniques are addressed below.
I’m writing this post for one special person in my life. I pray every day that she will quit smoking cigarettes. She says she wants to quit, but she hasn’t been able to.
Addiction specialists recognize that cigarettes, “are the crack cocaine of nicotine,” because smoking a drug intensifies its effect. Researcher Jack Henningfield described the process as, “brain altering.” So, if you, like my loved one, have not been able to quit, read on.
I wrote a journal entry each time I lit a cigarette. That entry included the time, the place, the circumstances and the emotion I felt with each cigarette I smoked. I did that for one week before quitting. During that time, I identified my triggers, my emotional involvement with nicotine, and the habituating ritual involved with each cigarette. In my case when reviewing my notes I realized there were only a couple of times a day I really wanted a cigarette. Wow, what a realization. Out of the fifteen cigarettes a day I was smoking I only really wanted about three of them. Eye opening. But everyone has a different relationship with nicotine so I pulled together some science and psychology and thought I would share with you some common sense ideas to help you become smoke free.
Saul Schiffman, PhD, University of Pittsburgh, recommends using cue cards to help patients kick the smoking habit. His cue cards resemble what follows. You can print these “cards” out and refer to them when you need to reinforce your choice to quit cigarettes, or rewrite them on real 3×6 cards. Be sure to personalize each action.
Start by giving yourself Reasons to Quit:
1.) Save your life: By not smoking you are giving yourself an extra decade of life. If you are over 35 and smoke you are increasing your risk of dying from lung cancer by 12 times and emphysema by 10 times and doubling your odds of developing heart disease.
2.) Improve your health: Within 30 minutes of your last cigarette your blood pressure drops. Within 48 hours taste and smell improve. Within two weeks to two months walking becomes easier and lung function improves up to 30%. Within the first year there is a noticeable increase in energy levels.
3.) To save your looks: You will be stopping a habit that causes premature wrinkles especially around the mouth, stained teeth and yellow fingernails.
4.) To save your loved ones: If you have young children by not smoking you are no longer increasing their likelihood to developing asthma, ear infections, or bronchitis. Additionally, you are not providing a role model for smoking.
5.) To save money: You will have more disposable income. If you buy four cartons of cigarettes per month at $60.00 per carton that is $3,120 per year. OMG! You can now afford that vacation to Cancun.
6.) To save your freedom: You are no longer the slave of an addiction. Your time is once again your own.
If you notice your resolve weakening re-read your reasons to quit. To personalize the program add your own motivators to the list, because each person will have their own reasons why they want to stop smoking.
Make a plan to kick the habit:
1.) Pick a date, make your quit date about a week away. Once you set your date do that journaling I mentioned, so you can identify when and why, you light up each of those coffin nails.
2.) Make an “I Quit contract”: The “contract” has been used for years by psychologists and psychiatrists to change behaviors. Write up a contract committing to at least 12 weeks to become a non-smoker. Keep it simple, but make it specific. Sign and date it.
3.) Get motivated: Focus on your reasons for quitting-refer to your reasons to quit list.
4.) Make a plan, plan for the challenges you will face and figure out how you will deal with the anticipated obstacles.
5.) Gather tools: Nicotine patches, gum, and lozenges are available over the counter. Or, you can visit your doctor and get a prescription. Studies show that use of such aids will double your chances of success.
6.) Get help: Ask the people around you for support. Join a quit program, call a hotline or go online for information. Here are some valuable numbers to use when you need encouragement. 800-QUIT-NOW, smokefree.gov, and lungusa.org.
7.) Eliminate the visual reminders: On your chosen quit day, get rid of all cigarettes, lighters, and ashtrays.
Those First Smoke-Free Days:
1.) Give yourself some pats on the back: You have made it another day Smoke-free. That’s a big deal, celebrate it. Think of how you will reward yourself.
2.) Plan ahead: Use your powers of visualization. Imagine the next 24 hours as a non-smoker. Make a plan on how you specifically will avoid each challenge as it presents itself. You have already learned through journaling what your triggers are. Use that knowledge to fortify your defenses.
3.) Use your tools: If you got a prescription from your doctor for Zyban remember to take it, set the alarm on your hand-held. If you are using nicotine replacement make sure you have enough to get your through the day.
4.) Line up support: Identify who will help you get through those moments of weakness. Is there someone at your workplace that has quit? Attach yourself to that success story. If you do not have a cheering squad; make a call, or go on-line and touch base with professionals.
5.) Stay centered: Practice yoga, do some visualizations, listen to music–anything that puts you in a relaxed and focused state of mind.
6.) Wear a reminder: Create a bracelet from yarn or leather to remind you of your vow to quit.
7.) Be kind to yourself: Get plenty of sleep, eat well, and take a walk. If you were smoking 20 cigarettes a day you can multiply that 20 by the 10-15 minutes you engaged in the action and Voila! you have magically created 3.3 additional hours in your day to create, to communicate, to love.
Emergency strategies for when you see yourself giving into cravings
1.) Delay: Studies have shown that if you can hold off for 15-20 minutes the urge will pass.
2.) Depart: Get out of the situation. Take a walk, go to the ladies room. Change your surroundings.
3.) Replacement: Twist a rubber band, play with a paper clip, chew gum, eat a piece of fruit. Go for a jog. Work out. Exercise will increase your chance of success and keep any potential weight gain to a minimum.
4.) Distract: Focus on a recent success you’ve had, or plan your vacation, or fantasize about those new shoes you have eyed. Find something pleasant to replace the cigarette.
5.) Refocus: Get out your list of reasons why you want to quit. Each of those reasons are important, and sometimes we just need a little reminder of what is really important.
6.) Medicate: If you are using nicotine lozenges or gum take a piece now. If you are a menthol brand smoker consider doubling up on cessation aids. Evidence strongly suggests that the minty menthol kick makes quitting more difficult. I was a menthol smoker and think this is especially good advice.
Remember that most cravings are worst during the first week of cessation. The intensity of the symptoms will drop significantly with time. At least half of smokers report withdrawal symptoms that include dizziness, headaches, nicotine cravings, anxiety, depression and weight gain.
These symptoms are usually mild. Take a Tylenol and move on. You will be so glad you did. I’m sure quitting smoking when I did has saved me over a $100,000 dollars. Bad habits can be expensive in more ways than one. Break the hold of nicotine on your life.
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