Living in lockdown in response to COVID-19 has some obvious challenges. We have new stresses and uncertainties on top of the burdens of daily life. Our days just look different. But if you’re thinking about quitting smoking, a shift in the rhythms of daily life could be just what you need.
Routines and Triggers
The behavioral methods to quit may seem simple, but certainly not easy to execute.1 These methods center around how smoking touches your life – your “routines” and “triggers” — and then finding creative ways to untangle smoking from those “routines” and prevent or respond differently to “triggers.”
Creating new routines and finding new ways to manage triggers may seem tough, but this could also make a pandemic the perfect time to quit. Below are some of the most common smoking routines and triggers that may be drastically different in lockdown.
Driving or riding in a vehicle is one of the most commonly cited triggers for smoking 2. During this pandemic, most people are driving less and for different reasons than before. Some people who smoke are happy not to drive as often, automatically cutting out cigarettes without much effort.
For others, smoking in the car isn’t about the task at hand. Many people use cigarettes to mark the transitions in their day – to prepare for work, to rest from a task, or to celebrate getting through the day. And the car (literally) brings them from one moment to the next.
If you identify with this pattern, consider other ways you can note the meaningful transitions in your day while doing something physical. Go for a short walk, take a series of deep breaths, call a friend on the phone, or enjoy a snack or beverage. Smoking gives you space, time and a chance to check in with yourself. What other activities could meet those needs?
Transitioning from working outside the home to working from home can present a whole new set of frustrations that compound the stresses of the job itself. The lighter, more enjoyable aspects of work life may be very different now or missing completely.
We connect with our favorite coworkers through screens rather than in person. We no longer have a commute to mentally shift from “home-time” to “work-time.” And we may feel less productive than when we show up to a workplace. Being expected to function as if we weren’t home can be extra challenging if we lack the tools, resources and support to do it well.
When smoking is connected to stress, you may find yourself smoking more if your job has changed. But remember that some of the stress of working outside the home has changed as well!
For some, a daily commute to a workplace is incredibly stressful. They would much prefer commuting from the bedroom to the kitchen, for example. And, in the same way we don’t get the intensity of connection with the coworkers we are closest with, we also can reduce some of the tensions, bickering and drama of work when we’re not together.
More time with family:
Many families are sheltering in place together. While this is ideal for protecting public health, the reality is that relationships are one of our biggest sources of stress. And now, we seem to be surrounded by people all the time. This is especially true for parents, who are responsible for doing their jobs while also educating and caring for their children.
If you smoke, you may find yourself smoking more because of increased stress due to relationship struggles or the burden of caring for family around the clock. But if you’re thinking about quitting, those same people may also be your inspiration and motivation.
Where can you find the time in your upside-down day to truly enjoy your family? How can you be gentler on each other and strive to truly listen to each other’s feelings? How can you use these times in close quarters as fuel for your wellness journey? It may take some creativity and planning, but some silliness or fun with family (especially with kids) can go a long way to reminding you of your goal while also reducing stress.
For most people who smoke, being forced into a slower pace of life is not a welcome change. Boredom is one of the most common reasons people say they smoke, and if that describes you, you may be wondering how you can fill your time without puffing the days away!
Having some downtime is a great opportunity to enjoy a new hobby, revisit a passion project, or just get outside for a walk.
You also can challenge the mindset that downtime is empty time. Rest is an important part of self care, especially in moments of anxiety and uncertainty. Too many of us have been taught we must earn our rest. If we aren’t producing, then we’re failing.
If it feels awkward or uncomfortable for you not to be constantly busy, learn to notice and challenge your feelings of guilt for not being more productive. Doing something NON-productive that’s good for your mind, body or soul can help you practice rest. Go to bed early, read a book, take a bath, or listen to music.
During this season, we all have been challenged to adapt our daily routines. If you’re working on quitting smoking or just want to take this time to smoke a little less, this may be an opportunity in disguise to create some new, smokefree moments for yourself and your family!
1 Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence: 2008 Update. Content last reviewed February 2020. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. https://www.ahrq.gov/prevention/guidelines/tobacco/index.html.
2 "Know Your Triggers.” National Institutes of Health, Bethesda Maryland. http://smokefree.gov/challenges-when-quitting/cravings-triggers/know-your-triggers.