Tobacco has a sneaky way of infiltrating into many aspects of daily life. Over many years, using tobacco gets associated with certain places, activities, or people. Triggers become stronger over time through a process called conditioning. Perhaps when you get into the car to drive to work you have an immediate urge to smoke – even if you just had a cigarette a few minutes ago! This “conditioned response” is automatic, and may often seem almost impossible to ignore or suppress. In fact, it may almost cause a sense of panic because you think the urge may never pass…just get worse and worse.
Human nature is to be intolerant of discomfort, and unfulfilled urges to smoke can be very uncomfortable. So in these trigger situations remaining tobacco-free can seem tough. One way to approach triggers and the thoughts and emotions that come with them is to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is the exact opposite of trying to “ignore” or “suppress” an urge. Mindfulness is a state of quietly and gently paying attention to your thoughts and feelings and avoiding responding automatically.
Next time you are struggling with the urge to smoke, try this:
· “Urge surfing”: Rather than try to ignore or suppress the urge to smoke, acknowledge the urge and accept it. Ride the urge like a wave, paying quiet attention to your body, your thoughts and your feelings. Notice the urge crest, let it wash over you like a wave, and then notice it fall again.
o Remind yourself: “Some discomfort is tolerable.” And “This will pass.”
o Be kind to yourself. Don’t judge yourself for having urges – they’re normal, and a normal part of the process of stopping smoking.
o Pay attention to yourself. What are you feeling in your body or your emotions? Are you operating on automatic pilot?
o Breathe. Bring focus to your breath as an “anchor” to help you focus on the present.
o Be patient. Over time, urges get weaker and shorter through the process of learning alternative (non-reactive) responses. Respond “mindfully” and not “automatically.”
Practicing mindfulness has been shown to dampen reactivity to stress, increase positive emotions, improve insight and self-awareness, and improve the ability to pause before reflexively responding to urges. (Dr. G. Alan Marlatt, American Psychological Association, 2004)