If you want to live free of tobacco but struggle with depression, anxiety, or both, you may feel like quitting just isn’t an option. There’s no way you can deal with it all, right?
It’s time to dispel that myth. With the right plan – one that takes your personal needs into account – you can regain control of your health, body and mind.
A heavy burden
According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four American adults is dealing with a mental illness or battling substance abuse, which are known as behavioral health concerns.
Behavioral health challenges can complicate any quit attempt – even the search for a stable starting point can feel overwhelming. But the need is great. This group alone consumes more than 40 percent of all cigarettes smoked by adults.
Doctors may prioritize treating mental health first and addiction gets sidelined, especially if the addiction is something as common as tobacco use. But that’s a mistake. The mental illness may lead to harm, however, tobacco kills half of those who use the products.
In fact, according to that same CDC data, people with behavioral health disorders die about five years earlier than those without, many from the effects of smoking. Even more concerning, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, statistics suggest people with combined addiction and mental illness die up to 25 years earlier than the general population.
Unfortunately, behavioral health providers don’t usually get trained in helping patients quit. That’s one reason the myth persists that smoking is simply the lesser of two evils. In fact, some addiction treatment programs use cigarettes as rewards in treatment. You can’t tackle one harmful addiction by substituting another, more deadly, one.
However, as overwhelming as it may seem, you can beat addiction despite depression, anxiety and other strains. The key is to look carefully at personal triggers, routines, moods and your environment.
Developing a personalized plan that works
A quit attempt is not a behavioral health treatment, and it shouldn’t replace that process, but it can be integrated into any treatment plan. At QuitLogix, our quit line at National Jewish Health, we’ve learned that patients with behavioral health issues are more likely to succeed when they believe they can quit regardless of the circumstance. The experience will not be the same for any two people.
To customize your quit, consider these five strategies. They can get you off of tobacco while keeping anxiety and depression in check.
1. Smoke on a schedule.
A powerful tool for breaking habits, setting up a schedule for when you smoke can help you gain control of your addiction. A systematic, time-based approach gives you a target, a way to hold off a craving by not smoking at that moment but rather on a pre-determined time, which you’ve set. You can reduce the number smoked slowly, week by week.
2. Set a quit date for the future.
A quit date removes a lot of mental burden, relieving that pressure of feeling like you have to quit immediately. A lot of people who quit cold turkey eventually go back to cigarettes. Setting a quit date is an important way for you to prepare yourself and your environments to support your intention to quit.
3. Track your mood.
Each of us should do more to track our moods. Knowing how we feel helps remain alert to when you may be vulnerable to use tobacco. Pairing that knowledge with an awareness of when you smoke will allow you to retool your day to keep on track toward quitting for good.
4. Know your daily routines.
What is causing stress or anxiety at various points in your day? Who are the people that you are likely to smoke with? What times of the day do you smoke? Which activities do you associate with smoking? These triggers will often have you reaching for a cigarette. Plan for those moments when your cravings are likely to be triggered – they’re not always obvious. Do you reach for a cigarette when you get in the car and drive? When you wake up? When you have your first cup of coffee? When you go outside for your work break? When you gain awareness of those associations, you can have a plan to use different strategies to help in these high-risk situations.
5. Prepare your environment.
Do you have ashtrays or lighters sitting around? Do you have a cabinet where you keep your cigarettes? Things in your everyday environment will trigger you. The smell of the coat you wear when you grab a smoke outside, for example. It may be difficult at first, but go through your home environment, your car, and your work environment to remove those potential triggers before you embark on your quit.
Preparing mentally, physically and environmentally will bring stability, a starting point for getting better. When that preparation is done, the quit process becomes a process you control, even as you are burdened by other challenges. With a plan, and an eye on your target, you can do this.
Amy Lukowski is Clinical Director for Health Initiatives (QuitLogix), Assistant Professor at National Jewish Health, and Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Colorado Denver, School of Medicine.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.