Thursday, June 4, 2015

A cigarette always helped with my stress, what do I do now that I've stopped smoking?

From my book, "How to Win at Quitting Smoking":

Stress is a major cause of relapse because smokers lack other stress reducing options. Smoking has been an easy low-effort coping behavior that you have used to deal with situational stress and strong emotions. Smoking provides temporary relief from the physical stress of nicotine withdrawal, which is the reason why smokers mistakenly believe that nicotine is an effective strategy for stress. It feels like it helps to decrease negative feelings such as tension, anxiety and anger, yet realize you are self-medicating and not actually dealing with your problems.

Anything can be stressful. What is stressful for one person, may not be for someone else; it is how you perceive the event and react that makes it stressful, not the actual event. Traffic seems to be a stressful event for many, yet to others, it’s not a bother at all.

To be stressful the situation also has to exceed your ability to cope. Think of stress as adding water to a glass. Your coping skills are like a release valve so your glass doesn’t get too full. There are varying degrees of stress such as having a flat tire which is inconvenient and would be like adding a few drops of water to your glass. Having a major car accident which totals your car and puts you in the hospital would like having your glass flooded. But even small irritations and inconveniences can add up, drip by drip until your glass is overflowing, if you don’t have adequate coping strategies to relieve some of the pressure. As stress builds this can lead to various physical maladies, emotional and mental trauma.
After becoming smoke-free, when a cigarette is no longer a coping option, you will probably be able to handle minor incidences of stress. It is when an unexpected situation arises that exceeds your ability to cope and endangers your well-being, that a cigarette feels mighty tempting if other resources are not available.

Your behavior is how you relieve stress. If negative behaviors, such as smoking, are used to suppress or escape, it increases your stress, not relieves it. You need to develop new ways of coping with stress. The solution will depend on your level of stress and the type of relief needed.

Activity: Decide how you can relieve your physical symptoms of stress, how you can cope emotionally and mentally, and resolve to not act out behaviorally.
·         Learn how to deep breathe: Stress can cause people to take shallower breaths which decreases your focus and concentration. You can relieve the tension in your body by inhaling deeply and allowing your lungs to take in as much oxygen as possible. Think of filling a glass with water; it fills from the bottom up. It should be the same way with your lungs. Place your hands on your abdomen right above your bellybutton. Inhale deeply and slowly for five seconds through your nose and feel your stomach expand. Exhale for five seconds through your mouth and feel your stomach contract. This is one example of a breathing exercise, another type is described in Step Two, Getting Ready Physically, on page 71, where your exhalation time is increased.
·         Learn progressive muscle relaxation: Systematically tense, then relax the different muscle groups of your body. Start with your dominant hand and forearm, then move to your upper arm, your non-dominant hand and forearm, upper arm, forehead, upper cheeks and nose, lower face, neck, chest, shoulders and upper back, abdomen, dominant upper leg, calf, foot, non-dominant upper leg, calf, foot. For each muscle group, hold the tightened muscle for 10 seconds before releasing; notice the difference in how the muscle feels from being tense to being relaxed.
·         Pamper yourself: Do things you find relaxing. Take a bubble bath. Go for a long walk outdoors. Enjoy nature and reflect on the peacefulness of a flower or tree. Have lunch with a friend. Stay home and read. Get your spouse to take the children and have an afternoon for yourself. Get a massage. Let your batteries recharge. Make room in your life for more fun activities. Pet your dog or cat.
·         Exercise to relieve tension: Set up a program you enjoy. Find an exercise buddy or walk the dog.
·         Take a yoga, meditation or tai chi class which can help physically as well as calm your mind.
·         Release your emotions: Cry; a good cry can be a healthy way to release tension. Laugh; laughter can release “feel good” chemicals in the brain.
·         Listen to something that makes you feel good: Relaxation tapes, classical or soothing music.
·         Daydream or visualize about a calm peaceful place in nature where you have been before: Clear your mind, close your eyes and imagine you are there. It is restful; maybe lying on the beach, sitting by a lake or hiking in the woods. Try to remember what sounds you heard. Seagulls, birds or the wind? Do you feel the sun on your skin, or are you under the shade of a tree or have sand in your toes? What do you smell? Flowers, the ocean, the freshness after a rain? A few minutes reliving a peaceful scene can give you a mental break as well as relax your body and relieve your tension.
·         Share your stress: It helps to talk with a friend about your concerns and worries. A different perspective is often helpful. Seek support from friends or family members. If stress is interfering in everyday activities, consider talking to a licensed therapist or find a support group.
·         Learn to say “NO” to excessive demands: Know your limits.  Turn off your phone and computer. Allow yourself to schedule “me” time; if you are asked if you have a commitment, say “yes”. You don’t need to say it’s “me” time or share that it is a commitment to take care of yourself, just say that you are busy.
·         Ask yourself, “Does it really matter to me?” Be willing to let go of unimportant issues. Don’t sweat the small stuff and remember, it is all small stuff.
·         Go with the flow and learn to be more flexible. Avoid or alter the cause of your stress. Be proactive, expand your horizons, and think creatively or outside the box. Learn and practice the Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can
And wisdom to know the difference
·         Learn what you have control over and what you don’t have control over. If a situation cannot be changed at this time and is beyond your control, don’t fight it. Learn to accept it for what it is now, until such time that you can change it.
o   You have direct control over problems with your behavior. You can change your habits.
o   You only have indirect control when you have problems with the behavior of others. You can change how you interact.
o   You have no control over the past or other situational realities. You can change the way that you see it. See page 115 on reframing.
·         Take a time management class: Get organized, clean up the clutter. Spend 15 minutes doing one thing you have been procrastinating about, you may not finish but you might find the task easier than you thought. Pursue obtainable goals: Make a list of what you will do this week, not what you think you should do, but what you are capable of finishing. Learn to prioritize your commitments; not everything is an emergency. Learn to live in the moment and make a decision as to what is the most important thing you can do right now; don’t try to multi-task, but concentrate on one item.

·         Remember to “HALT” whenever you are: Hungry, Angry (Alcohol, Anxiety), Lonely, and/or Tired; common triggers which are neglected and cause undesired consequences.

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