By: Wesley Anderson, DCH
Practicing hypnotherapists hear many peculiar statements from smokers who ask for help in quitting. The idea that cigarettes could be someone’s “friend” is just one of them. One man believed that he couldn’t write music unless he was smoking. Others have been convinced that they couldn’t relax unless they were inhaling tobacco fumes. Those people were suffering from what I have come to call “tobacco hypnosis”. They had hypnotized themselves into some odd beliefs about the effects of tobacco and smoking.
It’s easy to understand how some of the “tobacco hypnosis” beliefs came about. For example, the notion that smoking is relaxing has a basis in fact. Taking a deep breath and holding it for a few seconds before exhaling does result in a relaxation response. The response of the body to deep breathing is so strong that it overrides the drug effects of the nicotine, which is a stimulant that increases muscle tension, raises blood pressure, and constricts circulation. Consider the power of suggestion, too. A great many people believe that smoking is relaxing, so relaxation becomes a self fulfilling prophesy. They relax while smoking because they believe that smoking causes relaxation. The power of that belief empowers the mind to actually reverse the drug effects of the nicotine.
Those kinds of beliefs can make it difficult for smokers to quit. After all, they’re not just putting down a bad habit, they’re giving up a friend, or worse yet, their ability to relax! Of course, all humans have the ability to relax without inhaling cigarette fumes, taking drugs, or a hot bath. However much some smokers may believe otherwise, we all have the capacity to take a break, or a deep breath, or to change our mood quickly with a smile, an expletive, or a good laugh.
The job of the hypnotherapist is to help clients loosen or blow out obstructing beliefs so that they can quit smoking easily. Humor works exceptionally well with “Cigarettes are my friend”. Simply look at the smoker quizzically, and ask, “Do you pull out cigarettes and have long conversations with them about all the things going on in your life? Or, maybe you put a pack on the pillow next to you and say ‘Good night’ before turning out the lights?” Usually, the response is a surprised laugh, and a smiling “no”.
The notion that cigarettes are relaxing can go up in smoke just as quickly. It’s simply a matter of explaining the stimulant effects of nicotine, and then having the smoker take a deep breath, hold for a few seconds, and then exhale as if blowing out cigarette smoke. Physical relaxation always follows, and without a single puff on a cigarette! Experiencing the relaxation from a deep breath is usually a strong convincer to a smoker who believed that they could only relax by smoking. And since, people usually relax when going into a hypnotic state, as well, it’s easy for the hypnotherapist to have them memorize the feelings for later.
Perhaps the most difficult and oppressive belief for smokers to give up is that cigarettes are “addicting”. Surprised that anyone could disagree after all the publicity that’s been given to the scientific research that’s been done on tobacco? From a hypnotherapist’s point of view, the word “addiction” means something different when applied to tobacco versus narcotics like heroin. And, making that distinction can be crucial in helping a smoker quit, because a smoker’s belief in addiction can turn into a self fulfilling prophesy of struggle and difficulty, hardly the ideal mindset for successfully quitting.
So what is the difference between heroin and tobacco? Someone addicted to heroin will go into withdrawal, feel sick and experience physical cravings too strong to ignore on a regular basis, say every 6 hours. Some smokers report having no cravings or withdrawal for 8 hours at work, “because smoking is not allowed”, although the first thing they when leaving is to light up. Others will forget cigarettes for an hour or two at a movie or church. And, no one seems to be awakened fifteen times a night by nicotine withdrawal. Once awakened a smoker may indulge, but it isn’t craving a cigarette that wakes them up in the first place. A heroin addict does not sleep through withdrawal cravings, or put off the next fix for a while just because it’s inconvenient.
This is not to downplay the difficulties that so many have had in quitting cigarettes. Their struggles, including cravings and unpleasant physical sensations, have been real, generated by a combination of supporting beliefs, and nicotine. Changing those beliefs is just one of the tools that hypnotherapists uses in helping smokers quit easily and for good.