Mim Drew, a 37-year-old actress and new mom who lives in Studio City, Calif., started smoking when she was about 15. She was 31 -- smoking about a pack and a half a day -- when she decided to stop smoking. Here's how she used writing as a tool to quit smoking, and how you can, too.
When I hit my 30s, I knew I had to stop smoking. But boy, did I love it! When I met my now-husband, he was doing a public service announcement for the American Lung Association, and I was feeling very guilty about being his smoking girlfriend as he was shooting these things. He said, "I think I want to spend the rest of my life with you, but I don't think I can do that with a smoker." So I tried the ALA's Freedom from Smoking Program online.
One of the best parts of this program was its online component. As I completed each step, I could go to an online forum and write about how I was doing and see how others were doing. What appealed to me was that at 2 p.m., when I was going nuts for a cigarette, I could go online and write about my feelings and someone else would respond. It was a very neat, anonymous way to put my feelings out there and admit how helpless I was in the face of this addiction, how much it had a grip on me. I quit a lot of times before, but it never stuck. This time it did.
Why Writing Can Help You Quit Smoking
Writing about what you're feeling when you stop smoking can be an important tool to help you quit. Many smoking cessation programs offer workbooks, diaries, and other tools to help you write about your experiences, whether in a journal, on a simple piece of paper, or online.
"In one of our booklets, we have a 'tobacco tracker," says Trina Ita, counseling supervisor for the American Cancer Society's Quitline. "People can use it to journal about when they had their last cigarette, what their mood was, and what they were doing. It can be very helpful in identifying your patterns related to smoking. You'll see, 'Oh, it was around the middle of the day, 20 minutes after lunch when I was on my way to a meeting, that's when I had my worst craving.' Then you can plan what to do during that time to get through it."
Writing Helps You Deal With Emotions as You Quit Smoking
Writing not only helps you identify tough times and roadblocks to quitting, it may also help soothe your emotions as you quit smoking. Some researchers are now studying how useful it is to have an expressive diary or other options for getting out your emotions -- like a blog or online forum -- while kicking the habit.
"One thing I know is that writing things down in whatever form you choose really helps. It makes you more committed to the cause and gives you an outlet when things seem grim or impossibly difficult," wrote Tony, one of two British friends who chronicled their quit journey online at "Help Me Quit Smoking."
"We know that the practice of writing down your feelings is very therapeutic for certain conditions and addictions, particularly if they are fueled by emotional factors," says Lirio Covey, PhD, director of the smoking-cessation clinic at Columbia University in New York.
Tips for Writing to Help You Stop Smoking
How can you make the most of journaling, blogging, emails to friends, or other ways of writing about your experience to help you stop smoking?
- Don't do "parking lot journaling." Covey notes that some of her patients would fill in their stop-smoking journal in the parking lot before coming to see her. The journal is about you, not about getting a gold star from your doctor!
- Periodically review your past entries, emails, or forum posts to see if they contain clues to your smoking triggers. If you broke down and had a cigarette on Sunday, how were you feeling? What were you doing? Write about what you can do to prepare for the next time you feel that way.
- Take advantage of online communities for support. In addition to the ALA's Freedom From Smoking program, you can seek support on WebMD's Smoking Cessation Message Board or post your own journal at Quit Smoking Journals.com.