Charlie Kondek started smoking at about 17 or 18, "trying to be James Dean," he says. Shortly after graduating from college, he knew he wanted to quit. Now 37, he's a married father of two and a media relations executive in Ypsilanti, Mich. Here's how he quit smoking with stress- reduction techniques, and how you can, too.
Smoking was one of the dumbest things I ever did. I started in high school and five years later I was trying to quit, going, 'Boy, that was dumb.' It wasn't any one thing -- just too many days of waking up with that yucky taste in my mouth, going out into the bitter cold to have a cigarette break, or trying to go up a flight of stairs and do something mildly athletic and having that horrible wheeze. It wore me down.
I tried to quit three or four times before it finally stuck. I had wanted to take up martial arts for a long time, but it's a pretty big commitment. But then I realized that what the experts tell you is true: you can't just accommodate the physical craving, you have to accommodate the psychological behavior. So I said, I'm not the guy who smokes anymore. I'm the guy who goes to kickboxing practice and worries about his health.
I started going to mixed martial arts two days a week. It was very physical, and it also involved the whole holistic Eastern philosophy of health. We did breathing and meditation at the beginning and the end of practice, and it really helped me to focus. Doing all that punching and kicking also worked out a lot of the nervous energy that I had after quitting.
Why Stress-Reduction Techniques May Help You Stop Smoking
So far, there is not much research on the effectiveness of techniques based on mindfulness, focus, and stress reduction -- such as martial arts, yoga, and meditation -- in quitting smoking, although some studies are now being done. But it makes sense that these approaches might help, says Michael Thun, MD, vice president for epidemiology and surveillance research at the American Cancer Society.
Part of the difficulty when you quit smoking is simply that you don't feel very good at first. "You can't think well, your thoughts are fuzzy, you're grumpy and out of sorts," says Thune. "You're just not feeling well. So anything that provides pleasure and is calming and focusing, that helps you pull your thoughts together, is going to be a plus."
Also, deep breathing and relaxation techniques are commonly used to help new smokers quit. If you're used to inhaling deeply on a cigarette, you may forget to continue that deep breathing and increase your tension levels. Since deep and controlled breathing are key components of things like yoga, meditation and martial arts, they can help with relaxation and relieving the stress that comes from quitting.
Tips for Stress-Reduction Activities While You Stop Smoking
The American Cancer Society's Quitline counselors and other smoking-cessation experts recommend a variety of techniques to help you quit smoking.
- Deep breathing. Breathe in deeply, letting your stomach expand until your lungs are filled. Pause a minute. Then exhale fully. Pause a minute. Then take another deep breath in, hold a minute, then exhale. Continue with your eyes closed until you feel calm.
- Guided imagery. "Imagine yourself in the situation that causes you the most difficulty, and picture all the strategies you're going to use to address the situation without smoking," says Trina Ita, the counseling supervisor for the American Cancer Society's Quitline. "We call it a mental rehearsal."
- T'ai chi. This mind-body exercise combines deep breathing with postures that flow from one to the next through a series of slow, continuous movements. Researchers at the University of Miami are now studying its effectiveness as part of a smoking-cessation program.
There are other relaxation techniques, including yoga and meditation. The trick is to find a relaxation technique that you enjoy, and that fits into your life.