It’s safe to say that all smokers know that they should stop smoking, and the sooner the better. Tobacco is a major risk to your health, and to the health of your loved ones who are exposed to your secondhand smoke.
But even if you know all of this logically, stopping smoking is still extremely difficult due to the additive nature of nicotine, which is the chemical in tobacco that keeps people hooked on cigarettes. This is true for more than just cigarettes, and includes smokeless tobacco, chewing tobacco, and others. Without this powerful drug, even the most enthusiastic smoker wouldn’t go near the stuff, since tobacco itself isn’t exactly appealing.
When you’re looking to kick cigarettes for good, you’ll need to be really ready for a tough road ahead. Getting away from cigarettes is a challenge but it’s possible to break free. Here are some tips for quitting smoking and sticking to your new, smoke-free lifestyle.
Smoking cessation: Why is quitting so hard?
Smoking cigarettes is not only addictive, it’s also usually an ingrained habit. Both of these factors combined makes quitting smoking extra difficult psychologically and physically.
Cigarettes contain tobacco, which contains nicotine, an addictive substance that provides an intoxicating, albeit temporary, high. This high feels good so, naturally, your brain starts to crave it and you’ll look forward to smoking as a way to unwind, feel more positive and destress.
Unfortunately, when you take away the nicotine, you start to experience physical withdrawal symptoms and cravings, which can only be relieved by lighting up another cigarette. And so the cycle of addiction goes.
On the psychological level, smoking gets built into your daily routine, making it even harder to quit. You might smoke on your work breaks as a way to relax and shoot the breeze with your coworkers. You may smoke with friends after grabbing drinks. The more a habit becomes ingrained into your social life, or your self-care routine, the harder it is to break.
This is why tobacco use is such a pervasive issue even when most people are well aware of the many dangers of smoking.
Quit smoking to live longer
However appealing smoking might seem in the moment, this habit doesn’t do anything but destroy your body and your overall health. Smoking leads to a greater risk of lung cancer, asthma, birth defects, heart disease, gum disease, emphysema and diabetes, just to name a few.
Smokers die an average of 10 years earlier than non-smokers and cigarettes are responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States—which means roughly 1,300 deaths every day.
And it’s not just smokers’ health that is affected by smoking: Each year, 41,000 of those nearly 500,000 deaths are actually a result of secondhand smoke exposure. Tobacco use doesn’t just affect people who smoke, it affects people who don’t, which is another reason to push yourself to quit for good.
Any reward you get from smoking just isn’t worth the risk to your health and to the health of others.
Consider nicotine replacement therapy
Quitting tobacco use cold turkey is not recommended because there is a very high relapse rate due to nicotine withdrawal. Nicotine withdrawal happens because tobacco is addictive. So not having your habitual cigarette all of a sudden creates a void within your body. You’ll feel tired and irritable and get headaches, among other physical and emotional symptoms, as your body reacts to the shock of no more nicotine.
For help with smoking cessation, it’s recommended to use nicotine replacement therapy and wear yourself off slowly. Nicotine replacement therapy can come in the form of nicotine patches, nicotine gum or lozenges that can curb the cravings slowly, and ease withdrawal symptoms without forcing you to go through an intense withdrawal period.
Typically, people do nicotine replacement therapy for anywhere from six to twelve weeks (or longer, if needed) and it’s important to use enough to relieve your cravings so you can stick with quitting smoking and experience the health benefits.
In addition to nicotine replacement therapy, there are a number of prescription medicines that your doctor can recommend for easing withdrawal symptoms or curbing depression related to quitting smoking. While stopping smoking isn’t easy, there are a number of resources you can use to make the process less difficult.
Tips for avoiding common smoking triggers
As you work to quit smoking, you want to set yourself up for success by making the process as easy as you can. By eliminating common smoking triggers, you can focus on building this smoking-free chapter of your life as a positive change.
Here are some helpful tips for avoiding these triggers so you can stay on course and quit smoking for good:
Toss your cigarettes and related paraphernalia
Keep your environment free of physical reminders of smoking. This includes your cigarettes themselves, but also any ashtrays, pipes or smoking accessories. Toss the cigarettes and try to recycle the rest if these items are glass or plastic.
If you’re feeling creative, you can repurpose or upcycle your ashtrays into windchimes, soap dishes or candle holders, especially if you have vintage or pricier pieces you can’t imagine fully parting with.
Take a break from alcohol
Nicotine is a drug and drug and alcohol dependence are often linked. Quitting alcohol while you give up tobacco can be a good idea if drinking triggers your desire to have a cigarette. However, for some people, too much deprivation all at once can make quitting smoking more difficult—hence why you shouldn’t try to go on a diet when you quit smoking.
So if you’re feeling a great deal of distress over not smoking then having a drink every now and then could be helpful. Only you know which way you need to go on this.
Address your stress
When you stop smoking, you may feel more anxious or overwhelmed. This is normal, especially if you used smoking as a way to relieve stress. Now is a great time to address the stressors in your life: your work, relationships that are weighing you down, family issues that could benefit from boundary setting—whatever that’s draining you.
When you get to the root of the issue (the trigger), you can take away the need for a smoke for that feeling of relief.
Avoid other smokers
While this doesn’t mean that you need to avoid all of your friends, family members or your partner, it is important to keep your distance, at least temporarily, from people in your life who smoke. You should definitely stay away from toxic friends though.
Smokers can encourage each other to keep smoking – even subconsciously – so if these people are unsupportive of your desire to quit, it’s going to be much harder to do so if you’re having regular, close contact with them.
Replace the habit
Whenever you’d normally reach for a cigarette, make the commitment to call a friend, go for a walk or even play a game on your phone.
If you typically use cigarettes as a way to relieve feelings of depression, anxiety or sadness, you might consider starting therapy so you can talk through your feelings instead of avoiding them.
At the very least, it’s important to choose another form of self-care to help you when you’re feeling down, like meditation, yoga, journaling deep breathing exercises – whatever works for you.
Keep healthy swaps handy
When you feel like reaching for a cigarette, you’ll want to have something you can put in your mouth to replace it. Chewing gum or eating candy are common swaps for cigarettes because they keep your mouth occupied and their sweet taste can give you a dopamine boost. You can also have fresh fruit and vegetables cut up so that you can reach for something nourishing when you feel like smoking.
What should I do if I slip or relapse?
Relapsing when you’re trying to quit smoking is very common. Instead of beating yourself up about reaching for a smoke, have a plan for when you slip up so you can get back on track. You’re not alone. You have a number of internal and external resources to help you get through this. Use the tips below to guide you when you fall off the no-smoking wagon:
Stop smoking immediately
When you realize you’ve relapsed, even if it’s mid-drag, compel yourself to snuff out the cigarette and toss it ASAP. Once you get in the habit of doing this, you’ll get closer and closer to never picking up a tobacco product again. (And if you haven’t thrown out your cigarettes yet, do it now.)
Identify the trigger
Think about what made you relapse. Was it someone’s negative comment when you told them you were quitting smoking? Did you have a moment of saying screw it to your health because you were feeling anxious? Were the cravings just too overwhelming?
Everyone has different triggers and these triggers can change over the course of your journey. Some people keep a journal while they’re quitting so they can track their specific triggers and work to overcome them.
Remember your reason
When you’re feeling like you’ve run out of willpower or resources, think about why you’re doing it. Why do you need to quit smoking in the first place? Is it for your health? For your kids’ health?
Whatever your reason, sit down quietly and picture it in your mind. You might even make a small vision board or stick a note to yourself in a specific place in your home to help you remember why you’re doing this super hard thing.
Join a quit smoking support group
Smoking cessation groups can be great resources when you’re trying to quit smoking. Being with other people in the same boat as you can be affirming and provide you with a safe place to commiserate without judgement. Join a group and go to a meeting when you’re feeling a trigger coming or whenever you have a relapse.
Give it time — and give yourself a break
When you’re ready to stop smoking for good, be sure to give yourself time and patience. You’re in for a challenging road but it is possible to get there.
Enlist family and friends for support and let them know when you’re going to quit smoking. A quit date can be very helpful. Choose a start date and share it with them so they can help cheer you on and be there for you if you falter. Set a reward for yourself when you’ve quit for good so you have something to look forward to. This celebration will be well deserved.
Stopping smoking is hard work and your body is going to fight you psychologically and physically every step of the way until you’re out of the withdrawal period. Give yourself grace by remembering that what you’re doing takes a lot of willpower.
And remember: You can do this. When you quit smoking you’re giving the gift of health, not just to yourself but to all of those around you.