It's more than nicotine

There’s a part of me that feels sorry for people who smoke. Since the 70-80’s there’s been a shift away from smoking, what once used to be a cool, hip thing to do is now a socially frowned upon behaviour and smokers are ostracised. It must be tricky to know people are judging you when you are doing something that is a part of the way you choose to live your life.

From my own observation, what I find almost comical is that it is ex-smokers who show the most frustration towards smokers. When speaking with ex-smokers about smoking it appears they have hardly any tolerance for those who still do it.

When we think about behaviour change smoking is an interesting area to explore. This highly addictive habit seems to be one of the toughest nuts to crack. There are lessons to be learnt for all of us, even the non smokers when we look at why some people are able to stop smoking successfully and why some people aren’t.

Most of us are familiar with the situation when a friend who smokes tells you they have given up. You are supportive and tell them why you think this is a good thing for them, you ask them how they are finding it to which they reply that it’s “not that hard”. Over the next period of time you see them smoking again, they let you know that something stressful happened in their lives and they just needed a smoke to get through it - which opened them back up to the habit. The key words in their statement are ‘something stressful happened’.

Let’s go into this a little more. While the physical challenge of giving up smoking is extremely tough, due to having to deal with the dependance your body has on nicotine, there is so much more to it. How many smokers have a cigarette as a way to feel relaxed when they are stressed, when they are presented with a challenging situation they will look to the cigarette as a way of comfort and release. This is a habit they repeat many times during their smoking life, so after the smoker has given up and is then put in a highly stressful situation what do you think their first thought or behavioural instinct is? ‘I need a smoke’. Maybe they don’t need a smoke, maybe they just need a better way to deal with stress.

A lot of us have behaviours that we don’t like but we feel that we need them to fulfill a need in our life. It’s the person who feels they need alcohol to relax at the end of a hard day, the same thing could be said about the excessive TV watcher or someone who associates food as a reward for success.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s ok to have a glass of wine at night or relax in front of the TV in the evening, but if you feel that it’s the only way you can relax then this might be an area worth exploring. You know when you are in this place, it’s when you are thinking to yourself, I really shouldn’t be having so much of (insert substance or behaviour here).

If that last sentence did strike a chord with you it’s time to do some exploring. Ask yourself what you hope to gain from that habit, for the smoker it might be de-stressing, for the excessive TV watcher it could be relaxation. Then spend some time finding healthier options to achieve those goals. I suggest that you find a few different ways to achieve this outcome.  For example, when the smoker needs to de-stress they may put these strategies in place; ring a friend, write down their thoughts and then have a five minute rest as a way to deal with their stress. The more angles you can approach it from the higher the chance of success.

Nearly all of us have areas where we are using our habits for deeper reasons which we may not have explored. Try to spend some time on yours, develop a multi-directional approach to achieve the real outcome that needs to be fulfilled and you’ll be on a much healthier path in your life. 


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Bevan Eyles