Commentary: Why is it so hard to quit smoking?

It’s hard to tackle the physical addiction to nicotine.

Cigarettes contain nicotine, a highly addictive substance found naturally in tobacco. It travels quickly to the brain when it is inhaled and can cause a feeling of temporary relaxation and/or stress relief. Nicotine can also elevate your mood and your heart rate. But this feeling is only temporary.

Shortly after you finish smoking a cigarette, your body starts to show signs of withdrawal. You start to crave another cigarette to overcome these symptoms, starting a vicious cycle of dependency.

It may seem challenging to find new ways to handle your stress. Do you grab a cigarette when you feel stressed or anxious?  Stress, whether it’s from your job, relationships, caregiving burdens or just plain fast-paced living, can cause you to look for fast and easy relief.

But in the long run, smoking will only add to your stress by taking away your good health. To successfully quit smoking, you may need to think through your stress-management options before you quit.

Consider these tips:

  1. Stop and take a deep breath. Taking five to 10 deep breaths is a good start to stress relief. You also get the benefit of inhaling clean air into your lungs without those harmful chemicals!
  2. Go for a walk. Physical activity can release a chemical in your body that improves your mood and relieves stress. Walking for 30 minutes a day can be a healthy distraction, burn extra calories and help your heart.
  3. Try to relax. Stress can make your muscles tense. Relax them by stretching, deep breathing, doing yoga, getting a message or even closing your eyes and visualizing yourself in a peaceful place.
  4. Call a friend. Talking through your highs and lows with family, friends or even a support group can give you comfort and positive reinforcement.
  5. Cut back on caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant that can increase your heart rate and your anxiety.  When you’re trying to manage your stress, caffeine can make you tense, keep you up at night and may even cause you to want to smoke.
  6. Take care of your body. Drink lots of water, eat healthy and get enough sleep. You’ll feel more energized and ready to handle stress.

Here are some other questions to consider as you plan your smoke-free life.

Does smoking:

  • Provide a way to meet people or hang out with a group?
  • Distract you when you feel lonely?
  • Help you control your weight?
  • Boost your confidence?
  • Give you something to do with your hands or other physical habits?
  • Serve as a companion to coffee or alcohol or seem like the thing to do after a meal?
  • Give you something to do while you are driving?

Here are some great alternatives:

  • Rethink your social breaks.If you smoke with friends to be social or with co-workers on your lunch break, it is important to tell them that you are trying to quit — and invite them to join you. If it becomes too difficult to spend time in these places where you normally smoke, think about changing your schedule or taking your breaks with nonsmokers.
  • Keep yourself busy.Go for walks, read a book or listen to music.
  • Keep your hands and your mouth busy. Chew gum, eat a healthy snack, squeeze a stress ball or play with putty.
  • After a meal,get up immediately from the table and engage in a pleasurable activity.
  • If coffee is your trigger,change something about the way you drink it. Change the mug you drink from or when and where you indulge. Start a new habit!
  • If you smoke in your car,remove your ashtray and replace it with potpourri or notes to remind you why you want to quit smoking.
  • At parties, try to stay away from smoking areas. Stay indoors or distance yourself from people who are smoking. This might be hard, but stay with it!
  • You might also need to cut back on alcohol. It’s hard to have will power and stay focused on your commitment when you’ve had too much to drink.

For more information call Sheila Hurst (907) 822-8851 or call the Alaska Tobacco Quit-Line 1-800-QUIT-NOW

Sheila Hurst is the prevention coordinator for the Copper River Native Association.