Giving up smoking? Put your mind to it

Nobody said it was gonna be easy. It might be; maybe not – but there is one way to reduce the confusion and distress: prepare like it matters.

Giving up smoking? Put your mind to it:

By Cecilia Westbrook

Everybody knows that smoking is bad for you. Yet quitting smoking is a challenging endeavour – insurmountable for some. Even smokers who get the best help available still have a 50% chance of relapsing. Clearly, the more options we have to help with cessation, the better. Recent research suggests that meditation and mindfulness may be beneficial for smokers looking to extinguish the habit.

Mindfulness is a concept stemming from ancient Buddhist philosophy, comprising nonjudgmental attention to present-moment emotions and experiences. Mindfulness and meditation-based practices have shown remarkable benefit for a variety of ailments, from depression to chronic pain. This year, the first randomised, controlled trial of a mindfulness-based smoking cessation program found that it worked better than a standard behavioral paradigm in helping smokers quit and avoid relapse.

Mindfulness seems to be beneficial by helping smokers cope with craving. Cigarette craving can be a powerful motivator, and one of the major reasons for relapse. But mindfulness is effective at helping people cope with strong emotions, such as those experienced with depression, anxiety, and pain. A small handful of studies have examined the relationship between mindfulness, craving, and smoking, and have lent some support to this hypothesis. However, the findings from those studies are inconsistent, and not terribly conclusive.

So if you’re trying to quit, consider learning mindfulness techniques to help you cope when you’re craving. It might be just the tool you need!

Cecilia Westbrook is a student in the MD/PhD program at the School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Wisconsin. Her paper has been made publicly available by the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (SCAN). You can read it in full and for free here.