Rehearsing Success

Some habits are particularly hard to change, smoking being a prime example. If you’re wondering why smoking is being mentioned in a blog about back pain, it’s because research shows that smoking increases back pain prevalence, with one study showing an 8% difference between smoking and non-smoking American adults (Green et al, 2016).

By now, most people are familiar with the other health consequences of smoking, such as cardiovascular disease, COPD and lung cancer, and some smokers make multiple valiant attempts at quitting. Each time they fail. The question is why? One reason is that nicotine, the stimulant drug in cigarette smoke, is highly addictive, hence the myriad nicotine replacement therapies on the market.

But this is only half the problem. Equally important are environmental triggers that perpetuate cravings. If you want to be successful at quitting smoking, you need to identify these triggers and come up with strategies for overcoming them that fit your lifestyle. By identifying situations that prompt cravings, you can identify substitute behaviors, which can help reduce the stress of smoking cessation.

Begin by listing the times during the day when you typically smoke. Examples might include with morning coffee, commuting to and from work, during a work break, at the local pub, watching television or after a big meal. Now, think about your surroundings for each of these situations. In addition to time serving as a cue to smoke, what other triggers can you think of? Do you smoke more around friends who smoke, for example, colleagues who take smoke breaks at work? Are there certain foods or drinks that you associate with smoking? Do you light up at a certain point during your commute? Perhaps you enjoy smoking at an outdoor cafe where you eat breakfast.

For each of these situations, you will need to identify an alternative that is equally satisfying and realistic, considering your work and family obligations. This includes ways of staying connected with friends who smoke outside of smoking environments. If you associate smoking with drinking coffee, could you substitute black (caffeinated) tea? Instead of smoke breaks, could you team up with a co-worker to take walk breaks? Meet friends who smoke inside a smoke-free restaurant. Change your route to work, so the morning drive reminds you less of smoking. Live in the moment. Each little step is a victory.

Because sudden change can be stressful, implement your strategy in a slow, consistent manner. If you have chosen a quit date, use the time leading up to that point to identify triggers and lifestyle changes. Rehearse each change mentally, and then try a physical “dress rehearsal”. Don?t expect 100% success. Aim for consistent improvement. A misstep is not failure. Slow and steady wins the race.

Nina Russin, a veteran journalist for over 30 years, is currently pursuing her doctoral degree at Arizona State University College of Health Solutions.


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