Ask any smoker who's tried to quit, and they will likely tell you the same thing — it's not easy. According to sources at MentalHelp.net, addiction alters our brain communication, and our brain adapts to a level of "normalcy" throughout over-stimulation. When that normalcy is interrupted, a world of emotion can ensue, which is why nicotine-based products are often used and effective for quitting smoking. They basically act as a buffer between you and withdrawal symptoms, by keeping up the flow of nicotine even while you steadily decrease the amount.
While this may work for some people, continuing to stimulate my brain with the same substance I was choosing to remove from my life seemed, to me, counter-productive, and I wondered if the continual use of nicotine was contributing to my relapses. Desperate for a more natural buffer between myself and those ferocious mood swings that popped up when I had tried to quit smoking in the past, I experimented with seven different holistic remedies to put smoking in my past for good.
I've tried several quitting methods over the years, but nothing seemed to stick. Every successful quitter I knew would give me the same advice: "You'll quit when you're ready." Sure, maybe I wasn't ready to quit. Research points out that a person's commitment and self-efficacy are often the biggest factors in abstaining from cigarettes. My previous unsuccessful attempts only prove their point; my justifications and excuses for sneaking a puff would overpower the effect of the nicotine supplements. But while my mind may not have been ready to quit, my body certainly was, and there's no denying that smoking was affecting my health in a major way. There had to be a better way.
So, I looked to holistic remedies. I took several months to complete my experiment and, as to be expected, I fell off the wagon hard a few times. It definitely wasn't an easy road, but in the end there was one surprising technique that actually seemed to do the trick. Here's how these seven holistic approaches to quitting measured up.
Studies show acupuncture stimulates the brain to produce endorphins and ease the pain of withdrawal symptoms. The trouble with acupuncture for me was that I would feel as though I had no worries in the world for four to six hours, and then I would go back to my normal feeling of just being on the cusp of irritability. After the euphoric feeling of acupuncture would wear off, I would feel extremely frustrated and irritable, and want to smoke a cigarette. To be fair, the first time I started acupuncture was just after I had decided I wanted to quit smoking for good. So, I decided to try it again.
After the first session I went home, did some yoga, and read my tarot cards. I woke up feeling proud that I hadn't smoked, but as the day wore on, so did my nerves. I was smoking by lunch-time, and while my happiness crash wasn't as powerful as it had been the first time I tried acupuncture to quit, the effect of not wanting cigarettes wore off quickly. Unless I had the means, time, and access to daily acupuncture, I couldn't see this method working for me. I put an end to the pricey appointments after two sessions, and looked for my next method.
2. Cardamom Seeds
Sources at Nature Cures list cardamom seeds as one of the top spices for stopping cigarette cravings. This can largely be attributed to the direct effect chewing cardamom has in a smoker's mouth: it's powerful, potent, herbaceous, and spicy, all while having anti-depressant properties that are both stabilizing and stimulating. In aromatherapy, the essential oil is used to combat sluggishness, apathy, and lack of motivation. Our olfactory system is strongly linked to scent and emotion, so the smell, flavor, and natural oils of cardamom were extremely enticing. I filled a tin with fresh seeds to chew on, and after two weeks of chewing, sans tobacco, I felt ready for a smokeless world. Munching on cardamom seeds proved to be an effective way to curb my cigarette cravings.
Unfortunately, my other lifestyle habits hadn't synced up with my nicotine-less lifestyle, and a day spent drinking coffee and later wine broke me after four weeks. Once I broke the commitment, I was back to smoking around five cigarettes a day — though to be fair, that was down from my previous one pack a day.
3. Herbal Cigarettes
I moved on to herbal cigarettes right after my cardamom seeds. Nicotine-free cigarettes are often used by smokers as an alternative to nicotine-based treatments. According to the Quit Smoking Community website, they work for some people because they focus on the psychological aspect of smoking; many recent quitters like myself struggle to replace the physical movement and calming sensation of cigarettes through inhalation. Unfortunately, they didn't have quite the same calming effect. It only took one passive-aggressive email exchange for me to completely lose my sh*t. My mind was as fragile and volatile as a teenager. I tried yoga, I went for a walk, I made a smoothie, and finally, caved.
4. Matcha Green Tea
After the herbal cigarette debacle, I took a break from my experiment — an embarrassingly long break that lasted about a month. Throughout my experiment, I found that coffee had been a major trigger for relapses, and I had started drinking customized blended teas in the mornings to keep me off coffee beans. I was eager to see if my casual matcha drinking could be used as a new smoking aid.
While relying solely on matcha didn't stop me from inevitably having a cigarette, it did make the cravings and relapses less volatile. Historically, my relapses with cigarettes are the result of an overwhelming tantrum, so I was grateful that it was keeping me focused, less lethargic, and calm. Though there were only three days of being smoke-free in my two-week experiment with matcha, I still considered it to be successful. While trying to quit smoking, I had somehow become un-addicted to coffee, and that removed a major obstacle in how successful I would be at staying away from cigarettes. While matcha green tea didn't completely get rid of the cravings, I felt my mood stabilize; replacing my morning cup of coffee with matcha green tea decreased the amount of cigarettes I had a day by about 50 percent.
5. Ginger Candies
Ginger has many calming effects on the body, including digestive support, which is always appreciated when quitting smoking; physical withdrawals of cigarettes often come with nausea and upset stomach. More importantly, top spices for stopping cigarette cravings and focus, both hard things to do when you're in the throes of withdrawal. Unfortunately, I found these factors to be more potent in the essential oil than using candies with ginger root ingredients. Mostly the ginger candies I purchased only caused me to become more anxious; getting the little candy wrappers open eventually lead to me throwing one out my car window in a rage and reaching for a pack of cigarettes I had stashed in my purse in case of an emergency, i.e traffic jam.
6. Aromatic Inhaler
As an aromatherapist, I felt confident that essential oils could curb my cravings through the power of scent. When essential oils are inhaled, they quickly reach our olfactory mucous membrane, traveling to the limbic system which triggers memories and emotion. Black pepper has analgesic properties, relieving painful withdrawals and providing strength and courage — two things you need to quit smoking IMO. Once I had my blend of essential oils, I was surprised at the decrease in the way I craved smoking. I still wanted cigarettes, but I was able to go without way more easily. I found I could go an entire day without cigarettes without any issue. Long after the experiment ended, I still used my essential oil inhaler and smelling salts to stop cravings, de-stress, and wake up my mind naturally.
If there was a clear winner of my experiment, it would be hypnotherapy. When I went to see Joan Teasdale, a certified hypnotherapist, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect, but I didn't expect it to work as well as it did. I had three sessions in total. The first session we spent about an hour exploring the way my subconscious works and the underlining causes of my addiction. One of my justifications for continuing to abuse tobacco was that this addiction could easily be replaced with another, like exercise or sugar. The actual hypnosis began to eliminate many positive associations I had with cigarettes, and replaced them with the idea that I didn't need cigarettes, and that they weren't a luxury or a reward — they were toxic and getting in the way of who I wanted to be, as an herbalist and a health-conscious person.
Once my sessions were over, I realized I had a lot of clarity regarding why I picked up cigarettes, and my susceptibility to other addictions. I realized that I already have all of the things I need to survive and be happy, and that smoking was merely me reaching for an anchor when I was already on dry ground. After each session, I was calmer, and felt more restored. I smoked after my first session and my next sessions were sporadic, but the impact on my quitting was profound.
Hypnotherapy works for addiction because it digs deep toward the source of the addiction in our minds. Studies have shown hypnotherapy can be effective for treating addiction by creating personal awareness and honing in on memories and habits that were formed in our early years that are less accessible in our conscious state.
Results of My Experiment...
Hypnotherapy has made the biggest impact in my holistic approach to quitting, and it may even be one of the biggest impacts on my adult life. The reason hypnotherapy worked for me was because unlike other approaches, it didn't require me to replace cigarettes with something else, and it got to the root of why I was a smoker in the first place. Feeding my subconscious with the negativity cigarettes brought into my life and bringing in healthy, happy thoughts about my own insecurities forced me to de-glamorize cigarettes. The smoking wasn't the only thing that was under investigation: the neediness to feed myself emotionally with food, empty socializing, drinking, and similar behaviors became something I was suddenly very aware of, and I needed this awareness to fully develop the want to quit.
I have been nicotine-free for months now, and the dependency and abuse of tobacco feels more like a bad habit than an addiction. I use smelling salts with essential oils, and when the mood strikes me I'll use homemade herbal tobacco cigarettes. It wasn't at all easy, but overall, I would call this experiment a success.
Image: Kristin Collins Jackson (4); Getty; amazon.com (2); Joan Teasdale (1)