07 May Can Mindfulness Improve the Success of Smoking Cessation?
Mindfulness is the common term for a practice that involves purposefully paying attention to normally overlooked sensations, emotions and thoughts, as well as changes in one’s immediate surroundings. In recent years, a number of scientific researchers have explored the potential usefulness of this practice as a secondary treatment for substance-related issues and other mental health concerns. In a study published in March/April 2014 in the American Journal on Addictions, researchers from the University of Cincinnati explored the possible benefits of using mindfulness training to help cigarette smokers overcome a low tolerance for emotional distress and thereby improve the odds that they will successfully stop smoking.
The basic principles of mindfulness come from Buddhist religious traditions; however, the practice has no essential religious component and people of all spiritual/religious backgrounds can use its basic techniques. These techniques include paying conscious attention to your breathing patterns, the shifting of your emotional states over time, moment-to-moment physical changes in your body and shifting circumstances in your external environment. Practitioners of mindfulness have developed a variety of methods to help promote a more conscious awareness of these internal and external factors, including certain forms of meditation and a form of psychotherapy called mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). Current scientific evidence indicates that the cultivation of mindfulness has a range of potential benefits that include improved immune system function, improved resistance to the harmful effects of negative emotional states and reduced levels of student misconduct in classroom settings.
Emotional distress is a term used to describe feelings of unease or discomfort caused by the impact of emotional states such as anger, fear, sadness, irritation, nervousness, despair, frustration, dread or hopelessness. All human beings experience these emotional states. However, some individuals adjust to them and weather their effects better than others. People who adapt well to unpleasant emotions have what’s known as high tolerance for emotional distress. Conversely, people who don’t adapt well to unpleasant emotional states have a low tolerance for emotional distress. Distress-intolerant individuals often try to avoid experiencing emotional states that make them feel uneasy or uncomfortable; unfortunately, these attempts at avoidance can actually intensify emotional unpleasantness and contribute to increased levels of distress intolerance in the future.
Mindfulness and Smoking Cessation
Current figures indicate that fully two-thirds of all cigarette users in the U.S. want to stop smoking. However, most of these individuals fail in their quit attempts fairly quickly. Smoking cessation efforts guided by trained professionals include a number of medication-based and non-medication-based approaches to loosen the grip of nicotine addiction and help current smokers establish a tobacco-free lifestyle. Smokers affected by distress intolerance may have an especially hard time completing smoking cessation and successfully ending their cigarette use.
In the study published in the American Journal on Addictions, researchers at the University of Cincinnati explored the potential benefits of mindfulness for cigarette users involved in smoking cessation efforts who have unusually low levels of tolerance for emotional distress. This exploration included 125 people who smoked cigarettes on a daily basis. Each of these individuals submitted details about their smoking behaviors, as well as details about their ability to process emotions.
The researchers also recorded the age and gender of each participant, as well as educational level and intensity of nicotine addiction. In addition, they measured the impact of two skills associated with mindfulness: the ability to accept information without passing judgment and the ability to perform actions with conscious awareness. The researchers concluded that, compared to cigarette smokers who don’t have the ability to remain aware or avoid passing judgment on seemingly negative situations, cigarette smokers who possess these mindfulness-based skills have an improved ability to cope with negative situations.
Significance and Considerations
Based on their findings, the authors of the study published in the American Journal on Addictions believe that mindfulness training may have an important role to play in relieving the effects of distress intolerance and improving the outcomes of smoking cessation programs. However, their work did not produce a detailed understanding of the mechanisms that make mindfulness beneficial as a component of smoking cessation treatment. For this reason, they urge future researchers to formulate field studies and laboratory experiments that explore the issue further and provide a more definitive explanation of the potential benefits of mindfulness.
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