Smoking has a long history as a primarily male activity, and Australian statistics show that the rate of females who smoke has never been as high as that of men. According to the Department of Health, 16.9% of Australian males smoked in 2014-2015, a significant drop from the 2001 rate of 27.2%. This is decidedly good progress, but there are still far too many people in Australia who have not yet quit smoking.
While everyone in Australia or around the world feels differently when they quit smoking, there are some common threads that affect everyone. One of them is the "trigger," or set of circumstances that creates the urge to light up a cigarette. Because tobacco use stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain, smoking triggers usually fall into two main categories: positive (feeling good and wanting to feel even better) or negative (feeling bad and wanting to get back to feeling good). Traditional positive triggers include a good meal, sex, or drinking alcohol with friends. Traditional negative triggers include during periods of frustration, fear or anxiety.
Determining well-known as well as hidden and seldom talked about triggers can really help you on your journey to Quitting Smoking. Learn about potential triggers that could be present in your life and look for ways to avoid them when you do decide to quit again.
Another way to think about smoking triggers is that they are either activities/circumstances or emotions. Activity/circumstance triggers may include these:
- Talking on the phone
- Drinking coffee
- Watching someone else smoke
- Working under pressure
- Watching TV
- After a meal
Emotional triggers may include these:
- Manage stress
- Manage weight
- Overcome boredom
- Overcome anger
Going from trigger to lighting up a cigarette is a deeply ingrained habit. It may be difficult for you to imagine anything *except* a cigarette feeling good in the presence of one of your triggers. Coming up with alternative ways to cope with the circumstances and emotions that currently trigger you to smoke will be an essential part of your quit plan. How long has it been since you enjoyed a good meal without a cigarette afterwards? As you develop your quit plan, give some thought to what you could do instead of lighting up, that would extend the feeling of gratification and ritual but not involve any tobacco. It is not wise to include alcohol or other mood-altering substances as part of your coping skill set. They will make it too easy to relapse. Some quitters chew on cinnamon sticks or toothpicks dipped in cayenne to give their tastebuds a thrill without adding tobacco.
You may never fully eliminate triggers from your life--who wants to do away with sex and good meals?--but you can retrain your brain with new responses to them. Replacing them as in the cinnamon stick example is one approach. Taking action to change the circumstances is another. Try going for a walk right after supper instead of smoking, or make that your scheduled time to shower. Sensory input like hot water on bare skin distracts your brain from any cravings it has, neutralizing the trigger.
You can stop a trigger in its tracks by recognizing it, stopping what you're doing and taking 10 slow, deep breaths. This is especially useful after you have quit, when withdrawal symptoms can make you feel anxious and twitchy. The deep breathing not only soothes your nervous system but it floods your system with oxygen, making you feel more focused and more energized. A short walk has the same effect, as well as activating your muscles.
Tobacco is addictive, so it's normal for your brain to feel "hooked" on having cigarettes at particular times or in particular situations. It may help you to remember that your triggers only impact you because of your smoking habit; there's nothing about food or traffic or anxiety that makes a cigarette truly necessary, even if it feels like you truly need to smoke. Like any addictive substance, the reason cigarettes are hard to put down is that they disrupt your brain chemistry; the satisfying fact is that your brain chemistry will return to normal when you have quit.
Smokers who are unable to quit smoking cost Australia $31.5 billion in social and economic costs every year. For more information about smoking triggers and quitting, download this detailed report, "13 Seldom Talked About Smoking Triggers."