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Understanding emotional triggers

Do you smoke when you’re stressed, excited or bored?

You’re not alone. Strong feelings are a major trigger for smoking.

That’s because the when nicotine reaches your brain, it causes the release a pleasure chemical called dopamine.  

If you’re feeling low or stressed, having a smoke can make you feel better (but only for a brief moment). In reality what’s happening?

In fact, quitting smoking can reduce your stress levels.  

If you can pinpoint the emotions that trigger your smoking, and do something else when that emotion strikes, it can help you resist the urge to light up.

Here are some ideas:

Stressed/anxious

  • Leave the situation and go for a walk 
  • Exercise 
  • Try deep breathing – see exercise below 
  • Meditation
  • Call Quitline or request a callback.

Bored

  • Take up a new hobby that engages your hands such as knitting or cooking
  • Call a friend
  • Play a game on your phone
  • Try some of our tips and tactics

Angry/frustrated

  • Pick up a piece of paper and write down why you’re angry – if you feel angry often, perhaps keep a diary or chat to Quitline about it.
  • Walk it or run it off (or swim or dance it off – whatever gets your heart rate up)
  • Try some deep breathing 
  • Listen to your favourite tunes. 

Happy/want to celebrate

  • Treat yourself – it might be a massage or manicure or a dinner out
  • Celebrate indoors and avoid any outdoor smoking sections
  • If you’re at a pub, look for other activities such as playing pool or hitting the dance floor

Try these relaxation exercises:

Deep breathing

The key to relaxed breathing is your stomach.

  1. Draw the breath in by pushing your stomach out and letting your chest move up (try not to move your back) then breathe out by pulling your stomach in and letting your chest drop a bit.
  2. Breathe in gradually through your nose as you count to 5 and take in as much air as you can.
  3. Hold your breath to a count of 10 (if you can last that long) then let it out gradually. (As an alternative you can let it out in a rush, through your mouth.)
  4. Concentrate on how your body feels, particularly as the air comes out. You should feel your body relaxing.
  5. Repeat (if you have time) – 3 is a good number of repetitions to aim for. Each breath should result in you feeling just a little more relaxed.

Muscle relaxation

This is part of a technique called Progressive Muscle Relaxation where you systematically tense and relax all the muscle groups in your body.

  1. Pick one or two muscles – it’s best if they’re in places that are feeling tense but any body part will do.
  2. Sit or lie comfortably. As you take in a deep breath tense the muscles you have chosen e.g. make your hands into tight fists, or lift your shoulders up high and tense your neck. Hold your breath and hold the muscles tight for the count of 10 (if you can last that long).
  3. Let go as you breathe out. All the while focus your mind on what you are experiencing, the tension while tensing and the flow of relaxation as you let go. Notice the way the body parts become limp and loose. Breathe slowly for a few seconds while you enjoy the relaxed feeling.
  4. Repeat this with as many parts of the body as you have time. Doing each tense-then-relax cycle twice is also good. Also, try listening to Quit’s Ten Good Ways of Relaxing audio.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness involves focusing on what is happening right now – your moment-to-moment experience – both internal and external.

Avoid thinking about the past or the future. Try not to consider what your feelings or thoughts mean. Don't let your thoughts gets tuck on what is happening somewhere else. For example, you could focus on your breathing or the feel of the sunlight on your skin.

If thoughts about other things come into your mind (and they will) simply note that they have occurred and return your focus to the present. It’s impossible to focus on everything that is happening here and now so you need to choose one simple thing.

You only need to do this activity for a few seconds to get an initial benefit. Persist for longer and it can have more benefits.

It can be very useful when you have a craving because you can be mindful in almost any situation. Add mindfulness to the 4Ds: delay acting on a thought of the cigarette, deep breath, drink water, do something else – do some mindfulness!

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