We all know someone who is addicted to smoking – a family member, a co-worker or friend, or maybe even you yourself. Once you start smoking and develop a habit out of it, quitting can be extremely challenging. Nicotine, the active compound contained in cigarettes, is one of the most addictive drugs there is. It hijacks the brain’s reward system and creates a state of dependence. Once addiction kicks in, the part of your personality that’s attracted to rebellion, self-medication and pleasure-seeking gains ascendancy. The other part – the part that wants to maintain a healthy, balanced lifestyle – takes a back seat. But if you or someone you know is ready to stop smoking, meditation is here to help.
How can meditation help smokers quit?
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 50 years ago 42% of the adult population in the U.S. were smokers. Today that percentage is down to around 15%, and it’s still way too high, considering what we now know about smoking-related health issues.
Some people smoke so they can feel normal or blend in. Others reach for their cigarettes when they’re stressed out, saying that it helps calm their nerves. Still others believe that it’s best to enjoy today and not worry about tomorrow. And lots of people who smoke no longer really enjoy their cigarettes – they just can’t do without them.
There are plenty of good reasons to quit, including health, money and social pressure. Many schools and workplaces have gone “smoke-free” and they’re serious about keeping their campus that way. There are different techniques to help smokers quit; among them, meditation has been scientifically proven to be an effective method to help smokers kick the habit once and for all.
In one study, a group of smokers were invited to participate in Transcendental Meditation (TM) sessions for two years. Within that time frame, 51% of the participants quit smoking altogether and 30% significantly reduced their tobacco consumption. These results were far better than those of the control group.
There are various ways that meditation can help people successfully quit smoking. They include:
Reducing a major smoking trigger: stress
We’ve seen that stress is a major smoking trigger. When smokers are anxious or stressed, just a few puffs will make them feel more relaxed and better able to cope. They enjoy that brief period of relaxation despite knowing that it won’t last and that smoking is hazardous to their health.
In truth, reaching for a smoke merely camouflages underlying issues of unease, stress and anxiety. Because the relief is temporary, smokers soon feel the need to light up another one. If you (or someone you know) are motivated to stop smoking, meditation will effectively help with stress by promoting more self-awareness and calm. Less stress means a less compelling reason to reach for the next cigarette.
Also, check out our article on How Does Meditation Reduce Stress?
Most smoking habits turn into addictions when the incessant cravings begin. When individuals reach this stage, they pick up a cigarette and smoke it without giving any consideration to the consequences. But when smokers start practicing meditation, they learn to recognize the deep-seated emotions and feelings that trigger their need to smoke.
When a person meditates, they are committing themselves to look at, experience and gradually learn to accept their current mental and physical states, both pleasant and unpleasant. Through meditation, smokers learn to accept what they’re experiencing and feeling. Mindfulness can reshape behavior by showing smokers that they can acknowledge cravings and not necessarily act on them. Whether or not they stop smoking at this stage, meditation will allow them to develop more kindness towards themselves and others. In fact, stopping smoking is a very kind thing to do for oneself and for those who share one’s space.
Researchers have discovered that the brains of long-term meditators differ from those of non-meditators. When you start meditating, your brain starts re-wiring. Those parts that are responsible for the experience of negative emotions such as stress and depression shrink in size, whereas regions associated with calmness, compassion, empathy and self-control develop measurably. As your self-control increases, you are able to develop the willpower necessary to disrupt unwholesome patterns and stop smoking. Meditation is therefore a viable alternative for those who have tried everything else and failed. Studies have also shown that smokers who start meditating may end up kicking the habit naturally, without even realizing they miss it.
For those who need an extra boost, researchers are looking closely at the effectiveness of mindfulness-based therapy (MT). MT has a number of advantages when compared to pharmacological or behavioral therapies, accessibility and ease of implementation foremost among them. And those who look to mindfulness to help them kick the habit will discover that their meditation practice does them good in many other ways as well.
Let’s face it, it isn’t easy to stop smoking. But if you could find an effective technique to help you finally quit, wouldn’t you give it a shot? Meditation to stop smoking has shown conclusive results in a number of studies.