Finding Balance with Stress

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Tools to help create a balance for sustainable well-being

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When I chat with clients, I can never stress to people enough the importance in being equipped with a variety of tools and options in your life to create sustainable well-being. What I mean by “sustainable well-being” is bringing calm from within rather than outside. This ensures that in almost any condition you can find calm, and this calm lasts/builds on the last moment, and only has positive or neutral consequences.

If your go-to response to being in or approaching a state of distress is to use alcohol, tobacco, food, marijuana, caffeine, harder drugs or other negative coping mechanisms (such as verbal abuse/conflict with coworkers, friends or family…) as the primary form of coping mechanism, then you are setting yourself up for failure and the tendency to repeat actions and thought processes that actually increase your distress. Not to mention, falling into a regular pattern of abuse of most of the items I just mentioned can lead to addiction which comes with a full set of problems on its own.

man s hand in shallow focus and grayscale photographyOften, when you begin internal work with the efforts to develop sustainable well-being in your life, you are also doing yourself a favor by building the tools to help prevent unnecessary instances of distress. The list that I have researched and complied is not exhaustive of the positive methods you could use. These are just some that I have found extremely helpful both personally and while working in my practice with clients.

Tools for Mental & Physical Well-being:

I have linked very helpful, reputable sources that provide step-by-step guides or videos for continued exploration, for each of the following tools/tips which you will see underlined in the list.

  • Progressive muscle relaxation: This is a simple technique that you can use almost anytime and anywhere to help reduce stress, tension and anxiety. You simply tense one muscle group at a time for 5-10 seconds, then exhale your breath as you release the tension in that muscle group. In addition to helping reduce physical and mental stress, it can help with instances of insomnia!
  • Autogenic training: While Autogenic training is usually done with a counselor or other practicioner guiding you through a relaxing, visual meditation, you can also do it by yourself by listening to a guided audio file. In the link provided, you will find an audio file as well as more information on this form of meditation. The University of Melbourne describes Autogenic Training as “a method for influencing one’s autonomic nervous system. Autogenic Training restores the balance between the activity of the sympathetic (flight or fight) and the parasympathetic (rest and digest) branches of the autonomic nervous system.” woman girl animal dog
  • Deep breathing: Whether you practice 4-square breathing, exhaling longer than the inhale, or sitting/laying with your hands on your belly to feel and recenter your breath and thought, intentional breathing does wonders for both your body and your mind. It helps to regulate emotion, heart rate, and blood pressure.
  • Mindfulness and grounding techniques: These two are pretty closely related. Mindfulness is being aware of your environment (in your mind, and your physical environment around you) without placing judgement on it or dwelling on a thought. Grounding is a technique that helps to recenter your mental state by grounding your thoughts back to the present moment- this can be useful when you are feeling upset or anxious. Both of the links provided have interactive videos that help you understand and practice these concepts.
  • Exercise; Hiking, swimming, and seated exercises are all wonderful low impact ways to get exercise. If traditional “exercise” isn’t your thing, you can incorporate physical activity in everyday activities such as gardening, cleaning and playing a team game/sport. Walking is always a good go-to, and is extremely underrated considering the huge amounts of benefits that it provides. Just 20 minutes of walking a day can help you lead a healthier lifestyle, by improving circulation, weight management, emotional regulation and so much more.
  • Tap into your creativity: Writing, drawing, adult coloring pages, poems, music, dancing, singing are all great ways to re-fresh your mind.
  • Work on your sleep hygiene. The amount and quality of sleep you get plays an extremely important role in your mood and mental state, which effects how you respond to stressors.
  • Stretching helps improve your circulation, which is linked to improved mental clarity and decrease in feelings of anger, sadness and confusion that can be caused by extreme stress. This is because as stretching improves your circulation, your blood flow increases and your heart rate decreases.
  • Talking with a trusted friend or family member can help you release feelings that have started to build up from continuous stressors. Sometimes, you might even get insight from hearing a different perspective on your situation, or coming to a solution that you hadn’t thought of. Regardless, having someone to vent your frustrations to once in a while can be enough and allows you to let out the feelings you may have been keeping bottled up inside.
  • Having a pet to take care of can increase feelings of well-being and decrease loneliness, which is a major contributor to stress for many as we continue to navigate the pandemic.
  • Spiritual or religious practices can give meaning. This does not have to mean organized religion, just the sense of a higher power can give others meaning. This could also be developing a deeper connection to nature.
  • Getting outside can do wonders for your mind and body and increase your feelings of well-being. This is similar to the above mention of using nature to increase your sense of meaning in life, which increases your resiliency. 
  • Decrease drug, alcohol, tobacco and processed food use as these all interfere with mental well-being.
    • With the exception of tobacco and hard/dangerous drugs, some things are okay in moderation. The important thing here is to note your limit (what can trigger you into a downhill spiral of abuse) and to keep it in light MODERATION.
  • Create loose structure in your life; build a routine (you can refer to Caitlyn’s stream and blog post on building a quarantine routine that we posted near the beginning of the pandemic in March)
  • Give yourself affirmations. Affirmations such as “I am strong. I am capable. I am alive” and so on give your life a greater sense of positivity and confidence. One of my favorite guided affirmations is the Loving-Kindness script.

I hope that these tips and resources are helpful to you in your journey towards sustainable well-being in your life! Remember to be gentle with yourself. Change does not occur overnight. Not even for the most motivated individual. What is important is that you are doing at least one thing each day that will help you get to the place where you want to be in life. Who and where you want to be in life is up to you- the most important thing is that you live a life fully of joy, personal stregnth and resilience.

As always, please reach out to myself or Caitlyn Clock to assist you- whether that is creating a quit plan, gaining accountability and support with maintaining your tobacco-free life, and/or anything in-between as it relates to your tobacco reduction goals! Take care.

Amber Jager, CTTS in the Detroit Area: (269)350-3826

Caitlyn Clock, TTS in the Ypsilanti/Jackson Area: (734)961-1077

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