The big day is looming for Matilda Davies and Lewis Peters. The day they’ve both been building up to for years.
But they’ve made a life-changing decision and they are determined to stick to it.
They’ve made a commitment to quit smoking cigarettes.
At the end of 2018, the pair knew they wanted to stop the habit they picked up many years ago. They’ve taken their time to research ways to give up cigarettes and have spoken to friends and family about supporting their journey, based on the Hold My Light initiative.
Matilda and Lewis also sought the advice of renowned psychologist, Jo Hemmings.
Best known for her work on Good Morning Britain, Hemmings has long helped people beat their addiction to cigarettes.
‘One of the misconceptions about quitting smoking is that it’s not just the nicotine we crave that makes it hards to quit,’ Hemmings tells Gay Star News.
‘It’s actually the rewards system… we frequently consciously or otherwise reward ourselves or we get into a habit that makes us crave smoking.’
‘We’re very likely to smoke out of habit and sometimes that’s reassuring for people that it’s not just the nicotine they crave.’
Find a new reward
Hemmings says defeating the reward mechanism can be the key to giving up cigarettes.
It’s important to recognize when those moments are during the day where you might have a cigarette. Then Hemmings says, you must find a way to distract yourself.
For Matilda, it’s the walk to work and pre-lunch cigarettes that she can’t seem to beat.
‘When you get out of tube you have to decide you won’t have one of those ones, just keep walking,’ Hemmings tells Matilda.
‘Once you break the really regular cigarettes you have, then it’s easier to stop.’
The key is in the planning.
Hemmings recommends writing down which cigarettes are your regular ‘reward’ ones. That will help with recognizing your daily habits. Once you’ve got those down, it’s time to plan on what to replace them with.
Lewis has already started replacing some of his daily cigarettes with getting up to get a glass of water instead.
But Hemmings warned of replacing those habitual cigarettes with something that could be just as bad for you.
‘What you really don’t want to do is reward yourself with something else like a chocolate bar every time you want a cigarette because then you’re building up problems for yourself, like you’re putting on weight for example,’ she said.
‘So it’s about being aware of those triggers or those moments where you know you will have a cigarette, because you know you can.’
History does repeat
It might take a few tries for a person to quit smoking cigarettes for good and Hemmings says that’s ok. But with each attempt a person is should try the same methods of quitting each time.
‘It doesn’t happen for everybody the first time, it might take 10 times but you’ve got to genuinely want to give up,’ she says.
‘If you’ve tried some techniques, then try another one, because your brain will remember you failed and will probably repeat that pattern
‘So try something different.’
Both Lewis and Matilda are concerned about the impact quitting cigarettes might have on their mental health.
For Matilda in particular, she’s worried about putting on weight once she quits.
‘My body image has always been an issue for me, and other times that I have tried to quit I have put on weight which worries me a bit,’ Matilda tells Hemmings.
But Hemmings is quick to put Matilda’s mind at ease.
‘People do put on weight when they quit smoking,’ she says.
‘But Studies have shown they don’t put on nearly as much weight as they think they do. They only put on one or two pounds… and that weight kind of moves on quickly.’
Matilda asked Hemmings for some practical advice on how to replace her habitual cigarettes.
‘Raisins are things you can chew on for a long time which are not going to be as bad as a chocolate bar. Even dried fruits and fresh fruit in season are good options or carrot sticks have got a bit of sweetness in them,’ Hemmings says.
‘They give you that sweet hit but they help taking the craving away.’
Lewis is a bit more worried about his mental health, given that he lives with depression and anxiety. He worries cigarettes might be hard to give up because they help ease his anxiety.
‘It’s a tough one, that’s exactly why people smoke, when they get anxious or nervous they have a cigarette to help calm them down,’ Hemmings says.
‘If you tried an alternative like vaping or a nicotine patch it might suppress the anxiety coming up in the first place.’
Hemmings also likes to teach her clients breathing exercises to help them deal with anxiety.
‘Take a breath for three seconds and holding it there for three or four second and doing that three or four times with your eyes shut, nobody needs to know you’re doing it,’ she says.
‘But it really has an effect because it will really calm you because once you regulate your breathing that’s what sends messages to your brain.’
We can do this
More motivated to quit after their chat with Hemmings, Lewis and Matilda reflect on the psychologist’s parting words.
‘Reminding yourself of the reasons why you want to stop is stronger than just knowing you want to stop,’ Hemmings says.
‘Just acknowledge the fact that you know what it’s doing to you. You know your clothes smell, you’re burning money, your health is bad and it’s almost becoming a socially unacceptable thing to do.
‘Really, you need to dig deep inside you and work out why you want to do it.’