We all know the health risks of smoking, but that doesn’t make it any easier to kick the habit. Whether you’re an occasional teen smoker or a lifetime pack-a-day smoker, quitting can be really tough.
Smoking tobacco is both a physical addiction and a psychological habit. The nicotine from cigarettes provides a temporary—and addictive—high. Eliminating that regular fix of nicotine causes your body to experience physical withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Because of nicotine’s “feel good” effect on the brain, you may turn to cigarettes as a quick and reliable way to boost your outlook, relieve stress, and unwind. Smoking can also be a way of coping with depression, anxiety, or even boredom. Quitting means finding different, healthier ways to cope with those feelings.
Smoking is also ingrained as a daily ritual. It may be an automatic response for you to smoke a cigarette with your morning coffee, while taking a break at work or school, or on your commute home at the end of a hectic day. Or maybe your friends, family, or colleagues smoke, and it’s become part of the way you relate with them.
To successfully stop smoking, you’ll need to address both the addiction and the habits and routines that go along with it. But it can be done. With the right support and quit plan, any smoker can kick the addiction—even if you’ve tried and failed multiple times before.
Your personal stop smoking plan
While some smokers successfully quit by going cold turkey, most people do better with a tailored plan to keep themselves on track. A good quit plan addresses both the short-term challenge of stopping smoking and the long-term challenge of preventing relapse. It should also be tailored to your specific needs and smoking habits.
Questions to ask yourself
Take the time to think of what kind of smoker you are, which moments of your life call for a cigarette, and why. This will help you to identify which tips, techniques, or therapies may be most beneficial for you.
Are you a very heavy smoker (more than a pack a day)? Or are you more of a social smoker? Would a simple nicotine patch do the job?
Are there certain activities, places, or people you associate with smoking? Do you feel the need to smoke after every meal or whenever you break for coffee?
Do you reach for cigarettes when you’re feeling stressed or down? Or is your cigarette smoking linked to other addictions, such as alcohol or gambling?
Identify your smoking triggers
One of the best things you can do to help yourself quit is to identify the things that make you want to smoke, including specific situations, activities, feelings, and people.
Keep a craving journal
A craving journal can help you zero in on your patterns and triggers. For a week or so leading up to your quit date, keep a log of your smoking. Note the moments in each day when you crave a cigarette:
- What time was it?
- How intense was the craving (on a scale of 1-10)?
- What were you doing?
- Who were you with?
- How were you feeling?
- How did you feel after smoking?
Do you smoke to relieve unpleasant feelings?
Many of us smoke to manage unpleasant feelings such as stress, depression, loneliness, and anxiety. When you have a bad day, it can seem like cigarettes are your only friend. As much comfort as cigarettes provide, though, it’s important to remember that there are healthier and more effective ways to keep unpleasant feelings in check. These may include exercising, meditating, relaxation strategies, or simple breathing exercises.
For many people, an important aspect of giving up smoking is to find alternate ways to handle these difficult feelings without turning to cigarettes. Even when cigarettes are no longer a part of your life, the painful and unpleasant feelings that may have prompted you to smoke in the past will still remain. So it’s worth spending some time thinking about the different ways you intend to deal with stressful situations and the daily irritations that would normally have you lighting up.
Tips for avoiding common triggers
Alcohol. Many people smoke when they drink. Try switching to non-alcoholic drinks or drink only in places where smoking inside is prohibited. Alternatively, try snacking on nuts, chewing on a cocktail stick or sucking on a straw.
Other smokers. When friends, family, and co-workers smoke around you, it can be doubly difficult to give up or avoid relapse. Talk about your decision to quit so people know they won’t be able to smoke when you’re in the car with them or taking a coffee break together. In your workplace, find non-smokers to have your breaks with or find other things to do, such as taking a walk.
End of a meal. For some smokers, ending a meal means lighting up, and the prospect of giving that up may appear daunting. However, you can try replacing that moment after a meal with something else, such as a piece of fruit, a healthy dessert, a square of chocolate, or a stick of gum.