This Pandemic is forcing us to examine our habits and vices. Anything hindering our lungs could be life or death for ourselves or our loved ones at this time. Smoking is probably not the ideal past time during this isolation season. Thought I'd share some of my tricks to quit.
It's a good time to spend money on food and essentials, but if you haven't quite kicked that cigarette habit, you are going to start feeling it.
Here is how I quit in February (just in time) and I can admit now it was the best choice. It took a few weeks to truly quit, but now I am completely nicotine free and it is very freeing. Smoking cigarettes is extremely addictive. Don’t agree? Try to quit. I thought I didn’t have an “addictive” personality until my third day of nicotine withdrawal. There is endless research on why smoking is not good for you. I would recommend reading as much information as you can while you try to quit; at the end of this blog I have attached some links and information. The following is my personal experience while quitting cigarettes.
I smoked every day for exactly one year. Before February 2019, I had smoked cigarettes here and there throughout college, while traveling Asia on several occasions, and sprinkled in my marijuana during various times in my young adult life. But it was when I started buying cigarette packs, while alone, that it all went downhill.
It never bothered me when friends would smoke, because the smell reminds me of playing at my grandmother’s home when I was a child. It is a comforting smell. I also love outdoor debrief and pow wow sessions to break up any party or social gathering. There is something about a cigarette break that really calms the anxieties. Even before I smoked, I would participate in departing the party for ten minutes with those who did smoke. It is a good excuse for fresh air, refocus, and calming yourself.
Then February 2019 life began to go to shit a bit. I had just ended a 3-year relationship with someone I had lived with and thought was “the one.” I had been quickly heart broken by a rebound and good friend. I had to move out of my amazing home in downtown Salt Lake to a closet on a farm in a small town in Utah county. As thankful as I am for those who helped me and were near me at this time, I still found myself feeling very lonely. After visiting some good friends, who smoke cigarettes, I realized the calming effect nicotine could have on me. I also had been struggling with suicidal thoughts during this time. So suddenly the idea of killing myself slowly didn’t seem so bad. When people would use the argument that I was killing myself by smoking cigarettes I would always want to respond, “it’s better than a gun.” This is extremely crass, but it was the truth of my thoughts. Contrary to my overall argument I must say there are moments in the last year that cigarettes may have saved my life. I have struggled for a long time with panic attacks and through the ups and downs of 2019 I found myself on the edge several times. In those moments it was putting a little stick of nicotine between my lips that kept me from jumping—so there is one small redeeming factor of this addiction I struggled with all year—I am still here.
But I also truly believe that smoking contributed to worsening my panic attacks as time went on. What began as my rescue, in turn just perpetuated my demons. With this new pessimistic outlook on life I was not convinced to stop by all my normal convictions. Convictions that should have been convincing: like the amount of money I spent every week, the yellowing of my teeth, how I smelled around friends and family, or if I was getting smile wrinkles faster. Nothing could sway me from the calming security of cigarettes.
Cigarettes are an adult pacifier. I would feel incomplete leaving the house without them. I would begin to panic when I only had one left. If I was almost out or did not have my cigarettes with me, I would go buy another pack immediately—just in case I needed one. It is shocking how quickly habits are created. Once it became a habit to smoke in my car during San Francisco traffic, it was very difficult to not always smoke in my car during San Francisco traffic. I would plan my days incorporating when I would be able to smoke. The security of the habit became not only a physical addiction, but also a mental addiction. I would have been better off starting to suck my thumb again.
Another interesting thing about cigarettes is how suggestable they are. I was easily convinced to take any reason to smoke. Listening to The Doors or watching an actress do it in the old movies, immediately made me want to partake. I would be lying if I did not create a new rolling stone persona in my head of smoking Amber. Artistically speaking I think there is something unique that cigarettes say about a person or a situation—but this is no excuse to give time to this addiction-- and that persona isn't necessarily a positive one.
So, this is how I quit.
Begin by writing, singing, playing an instrument, painting whatever way you speak to yourself: do it. Keep your hands and mouth busy, just focus on your thoughts vs. what your body is telling you that you need. To even begin quitting I had to convince myself it wasn’t good for me. No one else could convince me to quit. My boyfriend mentioning, he didn’t enjoy the smoke in the car when we are driving helped me lessen my intake, but it was not enough to end the addiction.
Realizing nicotine is an addiction is the first step. Something that sadly motivated me was watching several of my friends get into extremely addictive drugs. Realizing how hard it would be to quit those substances really made me reevaluate all my vices and ask myself if I could survive a day without any of them. It was then I realized I had not gone a day without smoking a cigarette in almost a year.
How can a little tube of tobacco leaves be something I have to have every day?
You must want to quit. No one else can make you quit.
As much as I’ve thought about cigarettes since the moment I quit, it was the withdrawals that really convinced me to quit. I never want to feel that way again.
Days 3 to 6 after quitting my nerves were going haywire; it felt awful and confusing. I would wake up from the smelliest night sweats. I couldn’t stand my own stench. Two showers a day would not make the smell go away. My body detoxing itself of nicotine was a disgusting experience. An excuse I had given myself for beginning cigarettes in the first place was due to a pain disorder I have causing overactive nerves. Cigarettes are a band aid for nerve pain. Once cigarettes are relied upon for this nerve pain the nerves become dependent on nicotine to calm them down, only perpetuating this bad habit more. The good news is a few weeks after quitting my nerves did not react as much or crave the nicotine. Just like anxiety, cigarettes helped once, but perpetuated the issue until I detoxed.
Throughout this difficult process of quitting I discovered a few tips and tricks that worked for me.
Do not keep them in your car. Don’t keep them in the convenient places you previously would: jacket pockets, purse, table by the door, etc. I had to put encouraging signs on my review mirror and all over my room reminding myself I could quit and that I was mentally strong enough without cigarettes.
Have a support system. Someone reminding me why my body feels like it is craving something helps me connect my body and my mind with the experience of detoxing. Someone who will distract you from the craving with something else enjoyable such as food, weed, sex, hiking, yoga, or even taking a shower. Truthfully anything that can distract you from the craving helps—make a healthier choice than cigarettes.
Take a break from the crowd. I guess, this can be one reason to be thankful for the current mandate of social distancing. This one was really difficult for me, before social distancing it took me longer than I had hoped to actually quit due to being too socially influenced. This one, hopefully even current smokers can understand, your need to spend a few weeks away from the crowd that smokes to truly quit. This may mean only hanging out with people at coffee shops or facetiming your close group of friends. Avoiding parties and bars for a few weeks will mentally help the quitting process. Replacing habits with positive activities is physically and mentally difficult, but the only way to change.
Go on a long plane ride. (Disclaimer: This paragraph was written early February, before the Coronavirus became classified as a pandemic. This helped me, but I would not recommend it in the current state of our world). This was my personal reward for quitting smoking. I planned a trip to Panama. Knowing that a long day on planes and in airports was going to be difficult without cigarettes I made sure I quit at least a week before leaving. I did not want to have withdrawals while stuck on a plane or even when I landed in paradise. I went on a vacation to have fun. If I am just trying to maneuver Panama City to find cigarettes I will miss out on all there is too see right before me. Live in the present and breath. If you can find joy in this moment without a cigarette, you can do this at any moment. There is joy to be found and cravings to be silenced.
Create new habits. This helps especially if you are having a hard time quitting. I also believe everyone should adapt this idea during this pandemic with nothing but time to create and get to know ourselves better. Make a list of things you enjoy and have always wanted to improve on creatively and post it where you will often see it. When I was casual about wanting to quit, but not yet serious, I would lessen my intake by distracting myself with other desires. For example, my list reads: Write, play piano, sing, exercise, and read. I would do everything in my strength to do these things before I could have my first cigarette for the day. It is embarrassing to admit how many times this still did not work. Cigarettes took up a lot of my mental space and often I would just give into the craving before I started my day or checked anything off the list. Something that really helped me quit as well as helped me in most areas of my life was creating a 21 day challenge to write and commit to two healthy habits a day. I did this by actually titling a 21 Days of Change area in my journal/word document each day, tracking what day I was on to truly see my thoughts and habits. Writing everyday made me realize how much time and energy I gave to cigarettes and other distractions, when I could just stop stressing and be creative--it just took mental work to change. It helped me focus on healthy habits and it helped me track my progress of quitting and improving myself.
You won’t stop until you want to stop. Many smokers think they will stop after this one, but that never works because each time you intake more, you’ll crave again.
You can stop if you want to—never give up.
Each moment is a new moment to change.
Treat yourself to being healthier.
The previous words are from my own personal experience and opinion. Following I have provided several links to facts about smoking, and assistive devices to quit that really helped me. It can be hard to find what works best for you, but don’t give up. I figured out what I needed to do with a few trial and error attempts, but I did it—I quit.
Smoking changes your brain chemistry.
This fact irked me for some time, once I finally did my research, I discovered abundant evidence for how nicotine smoke alters your brain chemistry. Altering your brain chemistry can make it very difficult to quit. “Nicotine stops new brain cells from forming in the hippocampus,” which severely affects your memory (Young, 2002). Young explains a study done on rats, they administered nicotine and found the new neurons in the hippocampus was 50% less than the normal average. “Nicotine activates dopamine signals” (Lindberg, 2019), causing the brain to associate cigarettes with the pleasure feeling, eventually replacing some of the brains naturally occurring dopamine. This reliance on nicotine to activate dopamine can make it impossible to quit without facing sadness caused by brain chemistry changes. “According to a 2017 study, smokers were 30 percent more like to develop dementia,” and smoking can heighten your risk of brain volume loss (Lindberg). The Radiological Society of North America discovered that, “nicotine-dependent patients had significantly decreased concentrations of the amino acid acetylaspartate (NAA) in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), the part of the brain that processes pleasure and pain." I can concur that quitting is very confusing on the brain, but knowing these facts can make it more tolerable even when you feel off, that first few weeks off of nicotine.
Smoking is bad for fertility in both men and women.
Men who smoke are putting their sperm at risk for not binding with the zona, which is necessary to fertilize the woman’s egg (UB Research). Not only are sperm at risk from cigarette smoke, but “nicotine interferes with the testosterone hormone,” (Budin, Kho, Lee, et al; 2017). For women, smoking can deplete eggs much quicker than the bodies natural process. Once woman’s eggs are depleted, they do not get them back. Depending on how often and how long a woman smokes can directly affect her ability to have children. Not only does smoking deplete eggs, but it increases the risks of “miscarriage and offspring birth-defect rates. Women who smoke are more likely to conceive a chromosomally unhealthy pregnancy. Ectopic pregnancies and preterm labor also occur more often among female smokers,” (Smoking and Infertility). If you are young and still considering having children, it is worth it to put the nicotine down to ensure your best fertile chances for you and your future family.
Singing and Smoking
Do you sing? Well, hurry up and get that record deal if you smoke, because tar will begin to build up on your cilia—"the little hair-like structures designed to control the buildup of phlegm--” and only that pesky smokers cough will get it out. Even though many rock and roll stars show off smoking, the truth is the nicotine from cigarette smoke on the vocal folds and lungs will make singing harder and harder over time.
Get free Nicotine Patches from your doctor! Most patches release 14mg of nicotine over a 24 hr period. To compare most cigarettes have between 6-12mg of nicotine per cigarette. So one patch can be like slow burning a cigarette all day, which gives you time to change your habits, while still getting a small fix until you don't need it anymore. On average patches are used for six weeks while the smoker is quitting.
Herbal Cigarettes! These smokes really give you the feel of a smoke break and actually calm you down with naturally smokable herbs. These are handy to have at a party, bar, to use in a social setting, or a tempting scenario in place of a cigarette. https://brownbearherbs.com/collections/herbal-smokes
"Be Free and Be ready for anything." -Amber (Me) in 2014, recorded by Alex Scrivner
-Budin, S. B., Kho, J. H., Lee, J. H., Ramalingam, A., Jubaidi, F. F., Latif, E. S., … Mohamed, J. (2017, December). Low-dose Nicotine Exposure Induced the Oxidative Damage of Reproductive Organs and Altered the Sperm Characteristics of Adolescent Male Rats. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5771515/https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5771515/
-Lindberg, S. (2019, August 23). What you Need to Know about Smoking and Your Brain. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/smoking/smoking-effects-on-brain
-Nicotine Affects Sperm Adversely; Creates Changes that Reduce Fertility Potential, UB Research Finds. (2003, January 21). Retrieved from http://www.buffalo.edu/news/releases/2003/01/6042.html
-SmokingChanges Brain Chemistry. (2006, November 29). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/11/061128140728.htm
-Smoking and Infertility. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.reproductivefacts.org/news-and-publications/patient-fact-sheets-and-booklets/documents/fact-sheets-and-info-booklets/smoking-and-infertility/
-Young, E. (2002, May 15). Nicotine stops new brain cells forming. Retrieved from https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn2286-nicotine-stops-new-brain-cells-forming/