Once you stop smoking, you’ll likely experience a number of physical symptoms as your body withdraws from nicotine. Nicotine withdrawal begins quickly, usually starting within an hour of the last cigarette and peaking two to three days later. Withdrawal symptoms can last for a few days to several weeks and differ from person to person.
Common nicotine withdrawal symptoms include:
- Cigarette cravings
- Irritability, frustration, or anger
- Anxiety or nervousness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased appetite
- Increased coughing
- Constipation or upset stomach
- Decreased heart rate
As unpleasant as these withdrawal symptoms may be, it’s important to remember that they are only temporary. They will get better in a few weeks as the toxins are flushed from your body. In the meantime, let your friends and family know that you won’t be your usual self and ask for their understanding.
Manage cigarette cravings
While avoiding smoking triggers will help reduce your urge to smoke, you probably can’t avoid cigarette cravings entirely. Fortunately, cravings don’t last long—typically, about 5 or 10 minutes. If you’re tempted to light up, remind yourself that the craving will soon pass and try to wait it out. It helps to be prepared in advance by having strategies to cope with cravings.
Distract yourself. Do the dishes, turn on the TV, take a shower, or call a friend. The activity doesn’t matter as long as it gets your mind off smoking.
Remind yourself why you quit. Focus on your reasons for quitting, including the health benefits (lowering your risk for heart disease and lung cancer, for example), improved appearance, money you’re saving, and enhanced self-esteem.
Get out of a tempting situation. Where you are or what you’re doing may be triggering the craving. If so, a change of scenery can make all the difference.
Reward yourself. Reinforce your victories. Whenever you triumph over a craving, give yourself a reward to keep yourself motivated.
You may also gain weight if you replace the oral gratification of smoking with eating unhealthy comfort foods. Therefore, it’s important to find other, healthy ways to deal with unpleasant feelings such as stress, anxiety, or boredom rather than mindless, emotional eating.
Nurture yourself. Instead of turning to cigarettes or food when you feel stressed, anxious, or depressed, learn new ways to quickly soothe yourself. Listen to uplifting music, play with a pet, or sip a cup of hot tea, for example.
Learn to eat mindfully. Emotional eating tends to be automatic and virtually mindless. It’s easy to polish off a tub of ice cream while zoning out in front of the TV or staring at your phone. But by removing distractions when you eat, it’s easier to focus on how much you’re eating and tune into your body and how you’re really feeling. Are you really still hungry or eating for another reason?
Drink lots of water. Drinking at least six to eight 8 oz. glasses will help you feel full and keep you from eating when you’re not hungry. Water will also help flush toxins from your body.
Take a walk. Not only will it help you burn calories and keep the weight off, but it will also help alleviate feelings of stress and frustration that accompany smoking withdrawal.
Snack on guilt-free foods. Good choices include sugar-free gum, carrot and celery sticks, or sliced bell peppers or jicama.
Helping a loved one to stop smoking
It’s important to remember that you cannot make a friend or loved one give up cigarettes; the decision has to be theirs. But if they do make the decision to stop smoking, you can offer support and encouragement and try to ease the stress of quitting. Investigate the different treatment options available and talk them through with the smoker; just be careful never to preach or judge. You can also help a smoker overcome cravings by pursuing other activities with them, and by keeping smoking substitutes, such as gum, on hand.
If a loved one slips or relapses, don’t make them feel guilty. Congratulate them on the time they went without cigarettes and encourage them to try again. Your support can make all the difference in helping your loved one eventually kick the habit for good.