28 April 2008

How I quit smoking

How I quit smoking
By Paul Burri

I know several people who are trying to quit smoking and I appreciate how difficult that is. It took several years for me to break the habit. It was quite a few years ago and here’s how I did it.

It was way, way back in 1954 and I had just been discharged from the Army. Many people will be surprised that as early as the fifties, there were cancer warnings about the dangers of smoking. But back then we had none of the patches, pills, medications and other aids for quitting. At the time I had been smoking for about six years and was up to two packs a day. I tried “cutting down” with no success. I tried substituting candy and chewing gum with no success. I tried self-hypnosis. I was trapped in the old cliché: "It’s easy to quit smoking; I’ve quit thousands of times."

At the time, both my wife and I were working; I in Los Angeles and she for Walt Disney in Burbank. We had only one car so I would take the bus to work every morning. In the evening the bus went right past the Disney parking lot so I would get off there and wait around for 15 or 20 minutes for her to get off work. Then we’d drive home together.

Since I had been doing this for several months, I got familiar with one of the guards at the Disney parking lot and he and I would talk about various things. One day as we were talking, I took out my pack of cigarettes and lit up. At the same time, I offered one to my friend. He recoiled in mock horror and said to me, "Are you trying to poison me?"

I replied, "I guess you’ve quit, huh? I wish I could."

He answered with a remark that I have never forgotten. He said, "You can too if you really want to."

I never smoked another cigarette from that moment on.

As always, I look for what lesson is to be learned from that experience. I think it is that you can achieve whatever you want to if you are really sincere and the motivation is really there. Conversely, if you find it "impossible" to break a habit or to achieve a particular goal, it’s because you do not have sufficient motivation.

I am reminded about something I wrote in an earlier column that had to do with setting goals. At a seminar I attended we were asked to make a list of 10 goals we wanted to achieve. On the second day, we were asked to make a new list showing what we needed to do to achieve those goals. On the third day we were to list what we were actually doing. It was pretty embarrassing because we had goals, we knew what we had to do to achieve those goals — but few of us were doing what it took to get there.

I do not want to minimize the pernicious nature of various kinds of addictions nor the extreme difficulty of escaping from them. I also do not want to oversimplify the problem, but I do believe that one’s own strong self-motivation is an important first step. I sincerely believe that you can achieve whatever you want if you are really motivated to do so.

17 April 2008

Don't give up giving up

Don't give up giving upQuitting cigarettes means walking away from an addiction to something containing over 4,000 known chemicals. This is why quitting smoking is one of the toughest things to do. But it gets easier with practice. Perhaps the most telling testament to the difficulty of quitting is the number of people who routinely say "I've tried to quit smoking more than once." In fact, the average person who has successfully quit smoking has only done so after five or six failed attempts.

A big problem for many smokers trying to quit is handling the craving for nicotine. Nicotine increases the levels of chemicals in the brain that regulate mood, attention and memory, making it far more difficult to avoid a craving than many people might think.

Here are some helpful tips to help you to quit smoking:

- Pick a quit day within the next two or three weeks to quit. Having a deadline makes it easier to plan how you will handle the people, places and situations that make you want to smoke. Make your own list of reasons for quitting: health, family, money...

- Replace cigarettes. Many people chew gum in lieu of smoking cigarettes. To make that beneficial, make sure the gum is sugarfree to avoid damaging teeth. Some people simply reach for food when a nicotine craving hits. If you take this road, make sure the food you choose is healthy, such as fruits and vegetables (i.e., carrots, celery, apples).

- Speak with friends, family, and colleagues who can give you support. Start making the lifestyle changes that will support your plan. Leave cigarettes at home when you go out, remove the ashtrays from your home. Consider joining a support group. Some people find it helpful to talk to others who are also trying to quit.

- Learn to relax. Because nicotine affects chemicals in the brain and, in turn, mood, quitting can make a person cranky and restless. In fact, nicotine withdrawal and dependence have been recognized as disorders by the American Psychiatric Association for 20 years. Oftentimes, the restlessness that results from withdrawal will drive someone to smoke again because they cannot relax when a craving hits. Take 10 slow, deep breaths and hold the last one. Then breathe out slowly and relax all muscles. Imagine a soothing scene and allow your mind to escape as you concentrate on that scene.

- Leave the room. Merely changing surroundings when a craving hits works for some people. Head outdoors for some fresh air, walk down the hall to a different room or change what you're doing when cravings hit.

- Don't fall into the trap of "Just one won't hurt." "Just one" often turns into more than that, as anyone who has tried and failed at quitting before can attest. The problem with the "just one" approach is that it negates all the work a person has done up to that point.

Health benefits of quitting smoking are unlimited!

Quitting smoking is the single best thing you can do to improve your health and quality of life. Non-smokers have a much lower risk of getting dozens of smoking-related diseases like lung cancer, heart disease, and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD, including emphysema). You will look and feel younger. Smokers are more likely to wrinkle at an earlier age and have deeper wrinkles.

Quitting smoking increases the chances of living a longer and healthier life. After about 15 years, an ex-smoker's relative risk of getting lung cancer is only slightly greater than that of someone who has never smoked. Similarly, their relative risk of a heart attack is reduced almost to the same risk level of someone who has never smoked.

Once you have quit, you will know you can succeed at difficult takes and take more control of your life. Quitting helps you believe in yourself. Many smokers remember the exact day they quit because it is a source of great pride. You'll feel proud of your ability to overcome something so challenging.

10 April 2008

Smoking Actually Increases Stress

Smoking Actually Increases StressDoes smoking help stress? Many people think that smoking cigarettes helps to calm them down. Smoking releases chemicals in brain, called neurotransmitters; these improve your mood and make you feel better. However, these feelings usually only last for a short period because withdrawal from nicotine gradually makes you feel worse and your good mood is only restored when the craving is satisfied with another cigarette. So, if you smoke to reduce stress, you are only adding to your stress.

Studies show that for adult smokers the positive mood changes experienced during smoking may only reflect the reversal of unpleasant abstinence effects. Regular smokers, therefore, experience periods of heightened stress between cigarettes, and smoking briefly restores their stress levels to normal. However, soon they need another cigarette to forestall abstinence symptoms from developing again. The repeated occurrence of negative moods between cigarettes means that smokers tend to experience slightly above-average levels of daily stress. Thus, nicotine dependency seems to be a direct cause of stress.

Stress may be increased if you are worrying about trying to give up smoking. You may feel irritable and stressed when you quit smoking, but it is important to remember that this is a sign that your body is repairing itself from the effects of nicotine. If smoking was your main way of coping with stress, after quitting you'll need to find new, better ways of stress relief. Exercise, reading and relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, are good alternatives and will help you to take your mind off a stressful situation and improve your mood.