Stoptober may be over but our Quit Support service is helping people quit every month of every year. People like Joanna.
“I feel amazing! I am so much happier and could not be prouder of myself for doing this!’’
Joanna is absolutely delighted. She’s thrilled and proud because she’s about to celebrate being smoke-free for an entire year.
It wasn’t always like this for her. Far from it.
Quitting smoking is a big brave step to take. You may feel it’s just too difficult and that you’re all alone, but that needn’t be the case. Our Quit Support team is here to help you. They’ll be alongside you every step of the way as you find your own path to ditching the habit for good.
As Joanna says: ‘’It was right there in front of my face, the sheer number of people in the same situation as me. It’s given me great comfort over the past 12 months to know that I’m not on my own.’’
You may need to try many times before you succeed, and that can be hard – but never give up hope! It will be worth it in the end.
Trying to fit in – the power of peer pressure
Joanna started smoking when she was young and desperate to make friends.
‘’I don’t want any sympathy votes here,’’ she says, ‘’but I was bullied quite badly throughout most of my time at school, and all I wanted was to fit in and be liked. It’s just such a shame that smoking was the only thing to make me feel part of the crowd.
Her experience is far from unique. Many people start smoking when they’re young and inexperienced. A team of researchers in Finland found a strong link between how we feel about ourselves as adolescents and whether we’re likely to smoke. ¹
Joanna continues: ‘’Like most people, it started off with just a few cigarettes a week. Then as I got older, left school and started working, into my late teens and early twenties and going out at the weekend, it seemed to escalate. I honestly can’t remember how many I was smoking back then, but if I think about it, I can’t recall many times when I didn’t have a packet of cigs in my bag. And I always enjoyed having a smoke break in the staff room at work. Yuk!
‘’By the time I was in my late twenties, into my thirties and even into my forties, I was up to around 20 a day. So, did I enjoy smoking? Yes, I actually believe I did, for a long time. I had it in my head for years that I needed those little things [cigarettes] to help me cope with the stresses and strains of work and life. But really, it was just habit that I had to have a certain number of cigarettes at certain points during my working day. It was also worse when I had a drink.’’
The tricks that fool our brains
Cigarettes contain chemicals and toxins that affect the body – and the brain. Chief among these is nicotine, the drug that ‘hooks’ you in.
Nicotine sets off receptors in your brain and when these are activated, they release a chemical called dopamine which makes you feel good. This pleasure response to dopamine is a big part of the nicotine addiction process.
A study by researchers at the University of Montreal in Canada also found that smoking can distort our perception. ²
One of the study’s authors, Stéphane Potvin, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Montréal, said:
“Many factors make it difficult for people to quit. Part of the explanation could certainly be because cigarettes ‘trick’ the brains of smokers. Specifically, we discovered that the brain regions associated with motivation are more active in smokers when they see pleasurable images associated with cigarettes and less active when smokers are confronted with the negative effects of smoking.”
In other words, smoking makes smokers feel more positive about images of smoking and less keen on images of its unpleasant effects on our health.
Talk about tricking us with smoke and mirrors!
My best advice to someone who is trying to quit? Don’t ever quit quitting! If it doesn’t happen the first time – or even the tenth time, keep going. It will click into place if you really want to stop. Also, download a stop-smoking app, one that shows you how much money you are saving and how your health is improving. That is such a good incentive to stay stopped.
Don’t overthink it!
Joanna knows just how tough it can be to become a successful quitter.
She says: ‘’Oh Crikey! I tried to stop for most of my thirties! But I only ever lasted a couple of weeks. The daft thing is, I don’t know why I didn’t try harder. I guess that, deep down, I didn’t want to stop.
As you get older, you start to notice everything that is making you look and feel just that bit older. I also had nicotine-stained teeth and fingers, poor circulation, a terrible cough, and I wheezed a lot. I felt that I looked and sounded terrible – and also that I stank!
So, the moment finally arrived when I felt I had to stop. I didn’t put any pressure on myself by setting a quit date. This might be where I’ve fallen down in the past. Don’t overthink it!
On 2nd November 2019 my husband and I came home from a gig and I went straight outside for a smoke, the last cigarette in the packet. After that, I just never bought any more.
I now exercise every day; my energy levels are getting better all the time. My skin and circulation are so much better, my teeth and gums are healthier, and I no longer cough and wheeze all the time.
I’ve even booked a holiday for next year with all the money I’ve saved. Best of all, I got there in the end. So yes, I do feel amazing!
Please note: name changed and stock photography used at user’s request.
- Antti J. Saari, Jukka Kentala, Kari J. Mattila. Weaker self-esteem in adolescence predicts smoking. Biomed Research International. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2015/687541/
- Laurence Dinh-Williams, Adrianna Mendrek, Josiane Bourque, Stéphane Potvin. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire: The brain reactivity of chronic smokers when exposed to the negative value of smoking. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, 2014; 50: 66 DOI: 10.1016/j.pnpbp.2013.12.009