Almost every smoker wants to quit, but for so many people the process of quitting seems daunting and beyond reach.

To get a handle on the problem of smoking, it can be helpful to see it as two problems:

  1. Physical addiction: enduring the painful physical withdrawal from nicotine. If this were the only problem, using the nicotine withdrawal patch alone would ease people through it.
  2. Behavioral dependence: smokers are psychologically dependent on the physical act of smoking for relief from their daily stress.

In treating people with stress and anxiety disorders over the years I have been struck again and again by how physically tense and constricted a smoker is when he or she is without access to smoking. It is as if the smoker simply cannot relax and breathe fully when only smoke-free air is available.  To relax, it seems that the smoker wants only the smoky air to calm nerves and soothe the body’s muscles. Deep breathing, done without a cigarette, is unnatural to a smoker.  The smoker may think that she will cough uncontrollably if she draws pure air. A smoker may believe that his lungs are not prepared for pure air.  Most cigarette smokers separate their lives into two zones:  a cigarette-free zone of mental tension and tight muscles, and smoking zone where they can relax and loosen mind and body.

For many smokers, it is almost as though they believe they cannot relax unless they are smoking.

Smokers need to know that the same calming kind of breath that they take when they are dragging deeply on a cigarette is no different than what non-smokers are doing when they reach out for calmness by taking a deep breath.  Before trying to kick the physical addiction, I strongly recommend that smokers first learn how to break the behavioral pattern by learning to breathe deeply without a cigarette. Once they get the knack of taking breathing breaks without cigarettes, the use of the patch can then get many over the hump rather quickly.

For some, learning to deeply inhale the scent of an aromatic oil will do enable the smoker to tolerate deep breathing without cigarette smoke.

Of course, smokers who quit shouldn’t even try an occasional smoke. In the fight against smoking addiction, one can never be “a little pregnant.”  One cigarette a day often leads quickly back to the old habit. A helpful resolution is to vow never to light a match to tobacco ever again. Millions have quit and you can be one of them. 

I hope this is of help.

Jerrold Bonn, M.D.
Psychiatrist & Talk Therapist
Greater Philadelphia