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Meditation a healthier way to deal with stress than tobacco use

Apr 21, 2020

Editor's note: Many people may be tempted to return to smoking or vaping to deal with the stress caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Interact for Health asked a former smoker to share her tips for dealing with stress without tobacco.

By Tonia Smith

COVID-19 has drastically altered our lives. It has affected how we interact with family and friends; restricted our ability to go to a movie theater, restaurant or gym; and, for many of us, it has affected our ability to earn a living. During times of uncertainty, it is normal to have feelings of anxiety, nervousness and fear. As a result, many people are relying on unhealthy coping mechanisms to relieve stress, such as smoking.

As a former smoker, I know that smoking a cigarette can seem like the only outlet that you have for relieving stress. While most smokers want to quit, actually quitting is usually reserved for some far-off day: New Year's Day, when people learn how to drive, when this whole coronavirus thing is over. Chances are you've set plenty of these quit days, those days have come and gone, and you continue to smoke.

The turning point for me was when I realized that I needed to replace smoking with other behaviors that provided the same perceived rewards that cigarettes offered, such as stress release and relaxation.

Mindfulness meditation, shown to reduce stress and increase calmness, involves focusing your awareness on the present moment rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Mindfulness meditation, paired with yoga breathing exercises, provided me with the tools that I needed to finally become a nonsmoker.

When you feel the urge to smoke, before reaching for a cigarette, try this:

  1. Sit comfortably in a chair (or stand) with your feet planted on the ground, your shoulders down and away from your ears, and your face soft and relaxed.
  2. Gently close your eyes or soften your gaze (if you can do so safely).
  3. Begin taking slow deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose for a count of five, then breathe out through your mouth for a count of five.
  4. Begin counting your breaths, focusing all your attention on your breathing.
  5. Complete at least five breaths (one inhale + one exhale = one breath).

By practicing this technique, you can begin taking steps toward a tobacco-free life and better health. Even if you begin by smoking one less cigarette a day, that's reason to celebrate! Be consistent. It will get easier to resist the temptation.

Note: Nicotine gum was helpful to me when the urge to smoke was overwhelming. When used alongside other methods such as mindfulness meditation and yoga, FDA-approved nicotine replacement products and medications improve quit success rates. Contact 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) for more information.

Tonia Smith is a health coach, certified health education specialist, tobacco treatment specialist, registered yoga teacher, mindfulness meditation facilitator, certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor. Her company, Good Green Life LLC, promotes wellness through plant-based nutrition, active living, yoga, mindfulness meditation, eco-friendly living and tobacco cessation.

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