Jermaine Joynes, administrative associate at Children’s Hospital Boston’s Program for Patient Safety & Quality, was 15 when he took his first puff on a cigarette. His brand of choice was Newport Light 100s, the same brand his mother smoked. As a teenager, Joynes smoked sporadically in social situations, and having a cigarette perched between his fingers lent him an air of confidence and helped him feel cool. By 19, Joynes was smoking every day.
Since then, the only length of time Joynes remembers not smoking was when he was laid up in bed with mono. But now, at age 27, Joynes is ready to call it quits. And thanks to Children’s new smoking cessation program, he’s getting the support to make his decision stick. A relative newcomer to Children’s, Joynes was hired four months ago after moving to Boston from Northampton. During his pre-employment screening at Occupational Health, he was told about the hospital’s free, five-week smoking cessation program. The hospital was about to go completely smoke-free, and employees were offered the program to help with the transition. Joynes had tried, unsuccessfully, to quit on his own before, so he was immediately interested. “I certainly felt it was time,” he says.
The hospital’s first weekly session was in September, and participants were given handouts and learned techniques to distract the mind from urges to smoke. After the first meeting, Joynes held out for a full six days before the cravings overwhelmed him and he reached for a smoke. “I was fine all week, but as soon as I went into a social situation, I reverted right back to my old habits,” he explains. Kathyrn McGlynn, the certified hypnotist and success coach who teaches the smoking cessation program, says Joynes’s experience is a common one. “One of the hardest things to deal with is the behavioral and emotional triggers that accompany smoking,” she says. “It’s important to brainstorm strategies that assist with the issues of socializing and remaining smoke-free in situations where you used to smoke.”
For Joynes, the feeling of wanting a cigarette (and not having one) can be stress-inducing. “You feel like you’re missing a medication, albeit one that doesn’t benefit you at all,” he says. “All your mind knows is that you feel better when you take it. Your mind identifies the cigarettes as the cure, but not the catalyst for the anxiety.” Learning to work through the stress response is central to the smoking cessation program. Participants are taught deep relaxation techniques that help to calm smoking impulses. They’re also educated about the chemical changes that happen in the body when you quit, and how to handle nicotine withdrawal.
In November 2009, the hospital became a 100 percent smoke-free institution. Lucinda Brown, director of Occupational Health Services, says it was an imperative step to providing a healthful environment for both staff and patient families. “We know that smoking exacerbates almost every health problem,” she says. “At Children’s, we have many highly skilled employees and we are committed to keeping them healthy and well.” Joynes agrees with the new policy: “Especially as a health care organization, the image that we demonstrate to the community is really important.” But he concedes that the policy, while discouraging employees from smoking during work hours, won’t actually help them quit unless the person is truly committed and ready to make the change. “It’s up to the individual to decide if they want to stop smoking on campus for their employer, or if they want to take that extra step and make it a life decision for themselves,” he says. “From what I can see, the people who are taking the smoking cessation class are ahead of the game and want to make this a lifestyle change.”
Joynes says week after week, the behavior modification techniques taught in the class strengthened his willpower. Quitting is a journey, but Joynes is determined to keep working on it as long as it takes. “I want to be able to have a stressful day and find another outlet for my stress,” he says. “I’d also like to find a better use for fifty bucks a week.”
Want to break a habit?
Whether you want to quit smoking or learn to refuse those chocolate chip cookies beckoning from the kitchen, these five tips from Kathyrn McGlynn can help you successfully overcome your habits and create meaningful change in your life.
1. You don’t need to measure up to anyone else’s expectations of you. Determine your own reasonable expectations for yourself, and forge your own path.
2. Find satisfying, creative outlets to express your joy of living.
3. Build awareness of being in the moment through focus on the breath. Most people miss their life because they focus on the past or the future, instead of the now.
4. Good nutrition helps contribute to building strong brain health. Eat clean, healthful foods to strengthen your mental energy.
5. Find and use tools that help you proactively shift from negative states of mind into positive states. For some, that might mean a yoga class, for others, a phone call to an understanding friend. Remember that you deserve to feel good.