A Quitter’s Guide to Mindfulness

Person practicing yoga in the morning outdoors

Do you ever feel like you haven’t got a moment to yourself? With the busy lives we all lead, it can be easy to rush through our days, and stop noticing the world around us, or how our minds and bodies feel. But, when you’re quitting smoking, it’s important to pay attention to your stress levels and your cravings, to give you the best chance of success. Mindfulness can help you to do this. Here is why you may want to practice mindfulness when quitting smoking:

What is Mindfulness?

Three people doing yoga exercises

Mindfulness is something we can all do. It simply means paying attention to your own thoughts and feelings and making sure to be present in the moment. By reconnecting with your body, mindfulness allows you to take notice of the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment. This allows you to see the present moment clearly, and can positively change how you view yourself and your life.

Mindfulness Techniques

If you are new to mindfulness and want to give it a go, there are lots of mindfulness exercises you can try:

1. Full body scan
To do a full body scan, move your attention slowly down your body. Starting at the tips of your toes, focus on feelings of pressure, warmth, tension and relaxation in each area of your body. As you move your focus up your body, make sure to notice the weight of your body on the chair or floor, any sounds around you, and sensations of warmth or coldness. If you find your mind has wandered, just gently guide it back to the area of your body you were up to in the exercise. Take deep, relaxed breaths throughout the scan, which should end at the very top of your head.

2. Mindful eating
As many people worry about putting on weight when quitting smoking, mindful eating can be very useful. Mindful eating ensures we are watchful and aware of what we eat, and that we appreciate every mouthful. To eat mindfully, make sure there are no distractions (like the television or radio) so you can focus fully on your food. Savour the smell of your food, the texture of it hitting your tongue, the movement of your teeth to chew it and, of course, its flavour. Be aware of your body and tune in to the signals your tummy sends you to tell you when you are full.

3. Mindfulness of breath
Mindful breathing is an exercise which focuses on your breathing, and with practice can help you to deal with stress, anxiety and anger in everyday life. You can do this sitting or lying down in a comfortable position, with your eyes open or closed depending on your preference. Focus on your breath as it flows in and out of your mouth. Feel the breath as it travels down your throat, and notice your chest or abdomen rise. Some people find it helpful to use a technique, such as the 4-7-8 breathing technique. This is where you breathe in for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and then exhale forcefully through the mouth. This can be useful to regulate your breathing and promote relaxation but isn’t necessary for mindful breathing.

Woman standing outdoors

4. Thoughts and feelings
As well as being mindful of the world around you, mindfulness is about being aware of what is going on inside our bodies too. This includes our emotions. When you become aware of a feeling, stop what you are doing and focus on it. Don’t try to push it away or make excuses for how you’re feeling initially, just accept the sadness, guilt, anger, or happiness (whatever the emotion may be). The next step is to identify and accept how you are feeling. At this step, it can be useful to actually name the specific feeling, for example by saying to yourself “I am feeling very shameful now, and I accept that.” By embracing these feeling openly, you can stop and breathe before a negative emotion consumes you and you act on your feelings without thinking.

5. Mindfulness Walking

Man stroking a dog outdoors

Walking is a great way to combine getting moving with mindfulness in everyday life. When you walk to places normally, it’s common to feel like you’ve got there without thinking. To practice mindful walking, start by finding somewhere you would like to walk. Start to walk, and notice how your body feels as you move along. Be aware of any parts of your body which feel stiff or sore, notice how your arms swing beside you, and the sensation of your feet hitting the pavement.

The next step is to start paying attention to what is going on around you. Simply focus on what you see, hear, smell, and taste rather than forming an opinion on what’s causing the feeling. . For example, if you can smell something sweet, focus on how that smell travels up your nose as you breathe, rather than the fact that it means someone nearby is baking a cake.

How can being mindful help you to quit smoking?

Quitting smoking is one of the hardest things a person can do. Whilst giving up smoking, most people can expect to feel negative emotions, stress, and cravings. By being mindful, a person can learn to accept these feelings, realising that they are temporary and will pass. By having exercises to complete, it can give you something else to do as you wait for cravings to subside. It can provide techniques to help cope with stress, which can be a trigger to start smoking again after quitting.

Man riding a bicycle

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