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4/9/2014 10:18:00 AM
Health: The power of the puff
Address mental and physical facets to stop smoking
Those who want to quit smoking must deal with physical and mental addiction.
Those who want to quit smoking must deal with physical and mental addiction.

There's no better fitness plan for the smoker than giving up tobacco. Providence Health and Services offers smoking cessation classes.

Amelia was, like most smokers, an aspiring quitter. She enjoyed the social aspect, bonding with her friends around cigarettes, but her body took less kindly to the habit: Her colds lasted longer than most, her singing range was diminished, and her yoga practice felt uninspired. At her first visit with Dr. Sunita Deshmukh in Gresham, a simple thing happened: Dr. Deshmukh referred the five-year smoker to Providence's quit smoking class. Amelia signed up — with reservations. The 23-year-old restaurant cook wasn't convinced the class would take, or that she would take to it.

The six-week class taught Amelia about triggers and cravings, and how to cope with both. Instead of bonding with friends over cigarettes, Amelia bonded with classmates over being smoke-free. Through the class — free to her as a health plan member — she built up confidence to keep tobacco at bay and embrace the freedom from cigarettes. She's been smoke free since September 2012.

Amelia still carries a piece of paper the size of a credit card that she received at the beginning of the class. The front reads: The urge will pass whether you smoke or not. And on the back are her reasons for wanting to quit: life breath (yoga), quality of life, mental freedom and health. For Amelia, good health is happiness, and quitting smoking has given her a chance to heal. "I was always thinking about healing," she says. "Now," she says, "I don't want to give up my happiness."

Why is it so hard to quit smoking? The answer lies with nicotine, one of the most addictive substances. With each puff of a cigarette, nicotine goes to the brain to give pleasure and calmness, says Dr. Meera Jain, with Providence Health and Services. Within a few hours of not smoking, the brain signals messages for intense cravings and smokers feel mental and physical withdrawal. Both need to be addressed to quit smoking. Symptoms of withdrawal include dizziness, anxiety, irritability, depression, poor concentration, sleep disturbance, fatigue and headaches. "Those unpleasant symptoms make it hard to quit," says Dr. Jain.

Some medications work directly on the brain, helping reduce the urge to smoke. But other things help: one-on-one counseling, a support group, picking a quit date, choosing a medication plan, telling friends and family, getting rid of all cigarettes, using chewing gum, hard candy or veggies, getting regular exercise to ward off anxiety and weight gain and reducing or avoiding alcohol to name a few.

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