John Agin started smoking as a teenager. Then, in his thirties, “I became aware that I was not invincible," he says. "I decided that I wanted to set a date to quit and just go for it." He had cut back several times before, but this time was different: He committed to a hard cut-off, started working with a health coach and incorporated mindfulness practice into his routine. Now 34, John has been smoke-free for five months.
Research shows that people who quit smoking abruptly are more successful than those who gradually smoke less. While there's no one-size-fits-all approach to kicking the habit, former smokers and experts believe these tactics offer the best chance of success:
Studies suggest that practicing mindfulness reduces smoking at a greater rate than the typical smoking cessation program. "We think of mindfulness as opening up the space to respond rather than habitually react,” says Judson Brewer, MD, a psychiatrist, addiction expert and director of research at the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He uses two mindfulness approaches in his addiction practice:
- Recognize the craving.
- Allow/Accept the craving so you can work with it.
- Investigate what the craving feels like in your body.
- Note the physical sensation. "Is it tension, burning, heat, mouth-watering, tickle in my throat?"
By mastering these four steps, you can ride out cravings.
Similarly, Aetna health coach Martha Buko teaches her clients to stop and think whenever they have a craving. "She told me that if I was tempted to smoke, I should never bum a cigarette off someone," John recalls. "I should make myself go to the store and purchase cigarettes myself. I have to go out of my way. And if I do that, it means I do not really want to quit right now.”
Buko's advice is essentially a mindfulness technique. "That tip gives you the time to pause," agrees Brewer. The suggestion worked for John, who believes, "that small piece of advice probably prevented me from ruining it within the first month."
A mobile app removes the barrier of going to a professional’s office and is close at hand in those moments when quitters are experiencing cravings. "Online communities have been shown to increase quit-rate like 3- to 5-fold," adds Brewer, who developed the app Craving to Quit. But he cautions that success requires a “whole package” of tools that includes coaching.
Some popular apps to consider:
Who knows better what you're going through and how hard it is than an ex-smoker? Anecdotal evidence suggests that having a smoking “sponsor” with whom to share your experience, progress and setbacks is more effective than getting support from someone who’s never smoked. Here's why:
With commitment, guidance and the right plan, you're well on your way to staying off cigarettes and living a healthier life. Check if your insurance plan offers smoking cessation programs or covers nicotine replacement therapy. Many Aetna members, for instance, have access to the Simple Steps to a Healthier Life online coaching program and CVS Minute Clinic programs.
Christina Joseph is a veteran editor and writer from New Jersey who still loves to read the old-fashioned newspaper. She’s raising two fruit-and-veggie loving daughters to balance all the treats Grandma sends their way. Christina’s health goal is to resume her workout routine after being sidelined by injuries.
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