Everyone feels stress sometimes. It's a natural physical or emotional response to challenging situations. And when you're a tobacco user, your first reaction to pressure, anxiety, anger, or hassle may be to reach for a cigarette or a tin of chew. Sure, a bad day or argument can cause stress, but even good things like being promoted, moving, and getting married can be causes of stress. Learning to identify your sources of stress, and then using stress reduction techniques will help you make changes from the inside out to reduce your stress levels and help you focus on successfully quitting tobacco.
Below are some easy and effective techniques to get you started on your way to reducing and better managing your stress levels. Each technique is not right for everyone, so it is important to think about what will work for you based on your stressors, available time, and personality. Don't be afraid to try new techniques though, as you might be surprised by what works for you, even if it sounds silly at first. And you don't have to wait until you are quitting to try the following:
Start By Planning Ahead. As you get ready to quit tobacco, begin by identifying the sources of stress in your life. If you can, start by keeping a log and writing down the situations when you feel stressed, anxious, or nervous. Be sure to look hard at yourself and think about sources of stress that aren't always obvious. Is it traffic that gives you stress, or the fact that you wake up late and are always rushing? Both of these things are examples of stressors you can identify.
Next, take a look at each stressful situation you have on your list and apply the 4 A's of stress management:
- Avoid the stressor. While not every stressful situation can be avoided, and some shouldn't be, there are always stressors that you can eliminate or avoid while quitting. This also can mean avoiding people who cause you stress, focusing on important tasks while eliminating others, and just plain saying “no” when you are feeling overloaded.
- Alter the situation. For unavoidable stressors, try altering the situation. This might involve behavior changes like expressing your thoughts, communicating more effectively, using your time more wisely, compromising, and being more assertive.
- Adapt to the situation. Changing yourself is just as important as changing the situation. Knowing that you only can do your best and focusing your time and energy on the positive will help reduce efforts wasted on negative thoughts. Practice making the best of the situations that might stress you out, and try to keep things in perspective.
- Accept what you can't change. From the actions of others to today's weather, there are some things you just can't control. Keep a balance between doing all you can and accepting some things in life. Focus on the things you can control, and look at the positive whenever you can. Use techniques below to help you relax and let go of anger and resentment. Be sure to never bottle up your feelings—good or bad!
Improve Your Physical Health. Taking care of yourself and making healthy lifestyle changes can be the cornerstone of your plan to fight back against stress. Improving your diet, exercise patterns, and other lifestyle behaviors can help you manage stress and boost your immune system, ultimately relieving stress and tension.
- Get regular exercise. Scheduling at least 20 to 30 minutes of exercise 3 to 4 times a week can help reduce stress and prevent stress while releasing built-up energy. Taking up activities that involve both the mind and body, such as martial arts or yoga, are especially effective. When stress hits, even just taking a walk can help get your blood flowing and your mind off tobacco.
- Eat a healthy diet. Try beginning your day right and taking the time to eat breakfast, then follow it with balanced, nutritious meals throughout the day to keep your energy up and your mind clear. Taking the time to eat right will pay off by leaving you better prepared to cope with stress.
- Cut back caffeine and sugar. Caffeine and sugar provide quick “highs” that most often result it a crash, the same kind of crash you might feel when you need a cigarette or dip and don't have one. If you cut back and stabilize the coffee, sodas, and sugar you take in, you will feel more relaxed and, as a bonus, be able to sleep better.
- Don't forget about sleep. Getting a good night's sleep helps you recharge your mind and your body. Feeling tired can lead to irritability and increase stress.
Talk Yourself Up. Be your own coach and reinforce your desire to quit. For example:
- Think about your plans to avoid or reduce stress and visualize yourself handling stressful situations successfully.
- Tell yourself, “I can get through this without using tobacco today.”
- When you really want to smoke or dip, remind yourself, “I want to quit more than I want to use tobacco right now.”
- Shut down negative thoughts. Try not to let negative thoughts take over, and don't say things like, “I knew I couldn't quit anyway.” Focus on the positive and on what you can control.
Get it Out of Your System. Don't let stress build to the boiling point.
- Use your friends and family to communicate and get your feelings off your chest.
- Find a quit buddy from your unit who you can talk to any time you need to, or create a quit blog on our website to connect with other quitters.
- Start a journal to record your thoughts, especially those you don't feel comfortable talking to others about. When you are upset or irritated, it might not be a good time to tell your spouse or your NCO exactly what you are thinking, but you can write it down and get it off your chest until you have calmed down. Try taking this strategy one step further by writing about the situation from the other person's perspective, too.
- Be assertive when you need to be. If you are overloaded, don't be afraid to say no to more stressors.
- Focus on one day at a time.
Breathe In, Breathe Out. Remember, you are in control—not tobacco! Practice stress reduction techniques like taking deep breaths and relaxing. In no time at all, you will find yourself feeling more focused and relaxed as your breathing stimulates your mind and body.
- Breathe in through your nose and hold, and then let the air out slowly through your mouth. Count up to five while inhaling through your nose, and then back down to one slowly as you exhale through your mouth. Close your eyes and repeat as you picture yourself handling the situation without tobacco. Practicing this daily is proven to reduce stress and boost your immune system.
- Try progressive muscle relaxation, by tensing and then relaxing muscle groups starting from the top of your head all the way down to your toes. This can be done anytime, and repeating this for just 10 minutes will help calm your mind, not to mention helping you relax before falling asleep.
- Sit comfortably and quietly in a chair or on the floor. Breathe normally from your diaphragm and think on the breath in and the breath out. Let your mind rest. As thoughts enter your mind, let them flow in and out. Be mindful of your breathing and don't focus on individual thoughts. It's all right if your mind wanders as you relax. Try doing this for 5 to 10 minutes a day.
- To add to the experience, try aromatherapy by burning your favorite scented candles or incense as you practice breathing.
Take Breaks. When you quit tobacco, it doesn't mean you should quit taking breaks. Breaks are important opportunities to focus and release stress. Create peaceful times if you can in your everyday schedule to recharge and refocus, even if it's for 5 minutes. Consider these ideas instead of smoking or chewing:
- Make time for rest and relaxation every day.
- Take a quick walk.
- Make a phone call to your quit buddy.
- Grab some water and stretch.
- Take a long, hot shower.
- Listen to your favorite music.
- Get a massage.
- Spend time in nature.
- Play with a pet.
- Find a quiet place to meditate or listen to your iPod.
- Work outside in your garden or on your lawn.
- Spend your time around those who are positive and bring happiness to your life.
- Remember the people who'll be proud of you for quitting, and update your Facebook status or write them an email to say hello. They'll be so happy to hear from the tobacco-free you!
Laugh Out Loud. Your sense of humor can get buried under stress, so make the effort to lighten things up when you can:
- Look at the situation and don't be afraid to laugh at yourself when you take a step back.