Breaking Up with Boredom

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“I’m just…bored” is something I’ve been hearing a lot lately. Whether it be from myself, clients, colleagues, or family members, it seems like everyone is struggling with increased boredom these last months. Though it has certainly been boosted by the COVID-19 pandemic, boredom is far from a new experience. This is especially true for people who are working to reduce or quit their tobacco use. 

What is boredom?

To me, boredom is one of those concepts that everyone seems to have an idea of what it is, but when we try to define it with words it’s suddenly difficult to explain. Because of this, having specific definitions can come in handy as we work to combat boredom. This month’s blog and livestream used a couple specifically:

  1. Boredom is “the state of being weary and restless through lack of interest…”
  2. “…attentional failure (i.e. being unable to successfully engage attention w/ an activity) and or perceived lack of meaning can lead to boredom…”

COVID-19 impact

“…perceived lack of meaning can lead to boredom…” is something I’ve been thinking about more often as we continue to find ways to deal with COVID-19 and public health responses. For nearly the last year, we’ve all been dealing with changes to our daily lives in one way or another due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether you’re staying home more, changing the ways you connect with others socially, have developed a new routine, or maybe even completely stopped having a routine, change as has been unavoidable. These changes have also had their hand in influencing the amount of boredom we face. While boredom was not created by the pandemic, the pandemic has certainly resulted in an increase in the amount of boredom one might experience daily or weekly. Additionally, it may leave many experiencing something similar to “Groundhog Day” syndrome given the lack of opportunities for new or exciting activities. Even with hopeful changes coming our way, increased boredom will likely continue for longer than we hope.

Boredom and tobacco reduction

While boredom is common and maybe in some cases welcome from time to time, too much boredom can be challenging, and this especially true for someone who is currently trying to quit or reduce their tobacco use. People often smoke when they’re bored and this is for a few different reasons including:

  1. Boredom is emotional trigger (i.e. people are used to smoking when they’re bored and therefor when they experience boredom it is the natural response to light a cigarette)
  2. Smoking gives people something to do when they’re bored
  3. They have no alternative distractions
  4. Smoking is already on their mind 

Because of this link, someone experiencing an increase in boredom in their daily life will likely also experience increased opportunities or urges to smoke. 

It’s also important to note that boredom is not only a trigger for people to smoke and can also be a result of reducing your tobacco use. Tobacco use is something that takes up a pretty decent amount of time throughout your day. On average, it takes someone 5-6 minutes to smoke a single cigarette, which opens up about an hour per day for those smoking ½ of a pack per day and two hours for those smoking a pack a day. Those who smoke cigars might be smoking anywhere between fifteen minutes to one hour per cigar depending on the type and brand. Tobacco use also takes up specific times of your day (i.e. post coffee, first thing in the morning, post meals, before/after activities, etc.). While this may not seem like much, having that much additional spare time suddenly can be challenging to deal with. This is why we try to work with our clients to find ideas for alternatives to smoking, distractions, and other ways to stay busy as a part of their quit plan as they work on their own tobacco reduction/cessation. 

Combating boredom 

This month’s blog and livestream tpoic is a result of clients dealing with boredom, and part of the hope was to offer both a deeper understanding of boredom as well as ideas to help people cope with and combat their boredom. For this I focused on two ideas: daily routines/structure and activities to keep the hands and/or mind busy.

In our very first livestream last year we discussed the idea of a “quarantine routine” and ways to help maintain structure in your daily life. Though it’s been nearly a year since I wrote the accompanying blog, the tips offered can definitely help support your daily routine – and also combat boredom by giving yourself consistency in your day to day life. It may even give you something to look forward to. 

You can also check out the ideas below for activities to incorporate into your daily or weekly routine:

  • Video games – a great way to keep your hands and mind occupied and potentially a way to connect with others if you have friends or family who also play the same games
  • Learn to knit or crochet! You don’t even need needles!
  • Games on phone such as Hearts, Sudoku, Euchre, or Words with Friends – especially if you want to keep your hands busy while watching TV/movies
  • Board games 
  • Schedule weekly calls or video chats with loved ones – or have a “virtual dinner”!
  • Journal
  • Plan “movie nights” with friends where you watch the same movie even if you can’t be together
  • Get moving! Whether you’re interested in dancing it out, yoga, walks, chair exercises, or more traditional forms of exercise this is a great way to boost your mood and keep you busy! You can find just about any type of workout on Youtube. You can also check out our HOPE program videos on our Facebook and Youtube pages.
  • Puzzles
  • Draw, color, or paint
  • Take up meditation
  • Listen to podcasts 
  • Organize your space
  • Give your home a deep clean
  • Reading – most libraries are offering virtual events and book downloads as well as other pickup services!
  • Virtual exhibits/events/etc.
  • Cooking/baking – you could even set up some sort of exchange with close friends to share the best recipes and results
  • Write letters to loved ones or your future self 
  • Make a bucket list or a list of all the things you want to do when it’s safe to
  • Try out a new hobby you’ve been interested in
  • Start an at home yoga practice

As with everything else, making massive changes all at once isn’t necessary to deal with your boredom. Planning out a couple activities/ideas (whether they’re on the above list or not!) to try the next time you find yourself experiencing boredom is a great way to start. Keep necessary supplies or even a list of your chosen ideas near your tobacco reduction supplies or somewhere easily accessible/viewable so they’re readily available the next time boredom sets in. 

Dealing with boredom while trying to quit or interested in finding out more about Unified’s Tobacco Reduction services? Contact our tobacco reduction team:

Detroit
Amber Jager – (313) 316-6226
ajager@miunified.org

Ypsilanti/Jackson
Caitlyn Clock – (313) 316-7561
cclock@miunified.org

Building Your Own Quit Kit

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If you’re currently a client in Unified’s tobacco program, or if you’ve ever discussed the tobacco program with another UHHB provider, you might know that one of the services we offer through our program are quit kits. Our quit kits include a variety of items and resources including fidget toys, journals/puzzles/coloring pages, gum/candies, tea bags, outside resources like information for the Michigan Quit Line, and cough drops. However, it should be noted that this is not all a quit kit can contain, and there are multiple ways to add to your quit kit (if you’ve received one from UHHB or another service) or to build your own quit kit.

What is a quit kit?

A quit kit is a compilation of items, strategies, and resources to support someone who is looking to quit or reduce their own tobacco use. A good way to think about quit kits is that they are essentially a toolkit for quitting smoking. Oftentimes, we might think of the quit kit as something that is specifically for an individual’s quit day or only the first week or so of being quit. However, the true purpose of a quit kit is to be there to support you on your quit journey, whether that be your first day tobacco-free or your thirtieth. While this might predominantly be in times of frustration or when an individual is trying to cope with a particularly challenging craving, quit kits can also be there for moments of celebration as people begin to meet their quit goals.

Why is quitting so challenging?

Celebrating quit milestones is more important than people realize, and that’s because quitting is difficult. In our most recent Tobacco Talk Tuesday livestream, we discussed the dual nature of tobacco addiction and how that dual nature is what makes quitting so challenging for most, if not all, of those who are trying to quit smoking. The first part of this is an individual’s physical dependence on/addiction to nicotine. When someone uses tobacco products, the nicotine moves into the brain and activates a receptor that leads to the release of dopamine (a chemical that boosts your mood, motivation, and attention). This process happens within seconds and leaves people feeling great, so when the effects wear off they’re often left feeling stressed, anxious, or tense, which is the result of the body craving the next dose of nicotine. Over time, an individual will build up a tolerance to nicotine, and will therefore need to consume a greater amount in order for them to get the pleasurable effects from smoking. 

The nicotine addiction cycle.
Image from ResearchGate

The second part of this dual nature has to do with how an individual’s tobacco use has infiltrated their daily life. Someone looking to quit smoking must also address the patterns and habits that have become closely associated with their smoking. These might include: their cup of coffee in the morning, meals or snacks, driving, working out, smoke breaks at work, stress, specific places and people, as well as other various situations in which they might reach for a cigarette either before, during, or after it occurring. In order to find success in quitting, people often need to work to change these routines, which on it’s own can be challenging. 

It’s because of this dual nature that we suggest a two-sided strategy and response when it comes to quitting. This is done through a combination of pharmacotherapy (nicotine replacement therapies, Chantix, or Wellbutrin) with some form of behavioral intervention (individual counseling, support groups, or quitlines). 

Planning for your quit kit

Prior to starting your quit kit you might want to consider a few things:

  1. Have you already created a quit plan?
  2. Do you have a quit day (or a practice quit day!)?
  3. What does a typical day look like for you with smoking?
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If you’ve already created a quit plan you might have already considered and likely answered the second and third questions above. If you’ve created a quit plan, your quit kit should include items and resources that will support that plan. If you haven’t worked on creating a quit plan, tracking your smoking habits prior to creating a plan and building your kit may be beneficial. We often suggest individual’s track their habits over two days (a weekday and weekend) and write down what time they smoked, where they were/what they were doing, and how they were feeling at that time. Tracking your smoking habits will allow you to gain an understanding of what changes you might need to make in your daily life. Making sure your quit kit is ready (or at least partially ready) to go prior to your quit day is also important, and it might be useful to test out your quit kit on a practice quit day to see what was helpful and what was not. 

What goes in a quit kit?

When it comes to building your own quit kit, there are very few rules about what you can add to it. The most important thing to remember is that your quit kit should support you and your own quit efforts, and therefore items or resources that will help you cope with cravings or manage specific triggers should be included. The following list of items and resources isn’t a mandatory or even complete list by any means. Rather, it’s here to give ideas and be a starting point for anyone looking to put together their own quit kit.

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  • Fidget toys – bendy straws, stress balls, fidget cubes, putty, pipe cleaners, yarn loops, rubber bands
  • Colored pencils and coloring pages or books
  • Crosswords, Sudoku, or other puzzles
  • Journal and pens
  • Tea bags
  • Gum, mints, hard candies, lollipops
  • Plain or mint toothpicks
  • Cough drops
  • List of smoking triggers (and something you can do instead of smoking in that moment)
  • List of motivations to quit
  • Bubbles
  • List of snacks to replace smoking – carrots, celery, pickles, frozen grapes
  • A picture of something you’d like to buy with the money saved 
  • A planner or calendar 
  • A list of support or people you can call during a tough moment 
  • A book
  • Chosen quit medication(s)
  • Supplies for hobbies 
  • Quit smoking apps like quitStart (iOS, Android), Smoke Free (iOS, Android), and Kwit (iOS, Android)
  • Rewards for quit milestones
  • Recipes you want to try

Maybe some of these ideas have helped you on past quit attempts, or maybe a few will help you on a future quit attempt. Regardless of the items you choose to add to your quit kit, the most important thing is that the contents of your kit are there to support your quitting efforts.


Have additional questions about quit kits or just interested in finding out more about Unified’s Tobacco Reduction services? Contact your local Tobacco Treatment Specialist:

Detroit:
Amber Jager – (269) 350-3826
ajager@miunified.org

Ypsilanti/Jackson:
Caitlyn Clock – (734) 489-9916
cclock@miunified.org