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“Sure, I’d like to quit smoking, but then what would I do?” Gina asked. She’d been a smoker for so many years, it was hard to imagine life without cigarettes. What would fill the void? What would fill her time? And could she really quit anyway? The whole idea felt overwhelming.
Yes, it can feel overwhelming. For Gina – and millions of others – quitting smoking can be a tough decision. But there’s good news. You can follow specific strategies that make it easier. And you don’t have to quit nicotine cold turkey.
If you’re ready to quit cigarettes, use the tips below so you can stop smoking and be on your way to enjoying better health and well-being. You’re worth it.
Understanding Nicotine Addiction
The first step is to understand what you’re up against. Some people view smoking as a “bad habit.” In reality, though, smoking is more than a tendency to chew your fingernails or leave the toilet seat up. Nicotine is addictive.
If you’ve been smoking cigarettes regularly, nicotine has impacted your body and your brain. So, it has become a physical addiction and a psychological habit. It has a “feel good” effect on the brain, which encourages you to keep turning to cigarettes for that feeling – maybe to relieve stress, to unwind, or to deal with boredom or depression.
The chemical actually alters your reward pathways, so you crave it. Smoking is probably also ingrained in your daily rituals – during work or school breaks, or after a meal, or when you hang out with certain people.
In short, nicotine addiction includes psychological, emotional, and social aspects. To break this mind-and-body addiction, you’ll need to make changes that retrain your brain. This is possible with the right quit-plan and good supports (provided here).
How to Create a Plan to Quit Smoking
As you create your plan, the first thing to remember is that quitting smoking is a journey. It’s not a single event. Developing a plan is the start of that journey. Your plan will help you stay on track and quit for good.
- Set a quit day. Choose a date in the next two weeks as your quit day. Make a firm commitment to this date (and choose a day that is less likely to be stressful).
- Write down the reasons you’re quitting (or put them in your phone). Possible reasons might be:
- To improve your health
- To set a good example
- To look and smell better
- To save money
- Baby on the way
- For family or friends
- Your doctor recommended it
- Know your triggers. These are situations, people, or places that make you want to smoke. Triggers might include:
- Being offered a cigarette
- Smelling cigarette smoke
- Seeing someone else smoke
- Drinking coffee
- Create a supportive environment. Consider who in your life you can reach out to for support and what expert help and resources you’ll use. Include plans to manage cravings and triggers. Put these in your quit-plan. Be specific. Examples include:
- Sharing your quit plan with your family.
- Finding a quit buddy to go on the journey with you.
- Contacting your doctor for expert assistance.
- Downloading an app.
- Joining a social media group for support.
- Eating something crunchy like carrots to curb cravings.
- When cravings occur, going someplace where smoking isn’t allowed.
Once you’ve identified your triggers, you can take steps to cope with them. You can remove the ones that are avoidable and plan how you’ll handle the ones that aren’t. For example, if you always have a cigarette when you wake up, choose a different activity to do first thing in the morning. Or, if you know you’ll be offered a cigarette, practice ahead of time how you’ll turn down that offer.
The key is to put supports in place that will work for you and your life circumstances. Once you have these in place, your quit smoking plan is ready to be implemented.
Coping With Withdrawal
Once you’ve pulled the trigger on your plan for how to quit nicotine, it’s likely you’ll experience withdrawal. Your body has become dependent on the steady supply of nicotine, so when that stops, it reacts. You’ll feel physical and mental effects. Your mind and body are “craving” the nicotine.
When the cravings and withdrawal symptoms hit, keep in mind that, even if they’re strong, the intensity will likely pass in 5-10 minutes. And each time you resist the urge to smoke, you’re closer to your goal of quitting cigarettes for good.
To manage these tough moments, try these methods of coping with withdrawal.
- Delay: Remind yourself you just need to wait 10 minutes.
- Distract: If you do something that you usually associate with smoking, do something else to distract yourself. For example, if you usually smoke while you talk on the phone, try doodling instead.
- Crunch: Give your mouth something else to do (that doesn’t cause weight gain). Chew sugarless gum or munch on sunflower seeds. Choose something crunchy, tasty, and healthy.
- Burst: Try a burst of physical activity. Go up and down the stairs a few times. Do a few pushups or deep knee bends. Take a short walk.
- Relax: Take the edge off by finding new ways to relax. Pray, listen to soothing music, take deep breaths, or use muscle relaxation techniques.
- Divert: Choose a diversion to keep yourself (and your hands) busy when cravings hit. Try sewing, woodworking, or journaling.
- Remind: Go back to your reasons for quitting. Remind yourself that it’s worth pushing through the craving to reach your goal.
Nicotine Replacement Therapy Alternative
If withdrawal is a major concern, you can take an alternative approach to the “cold turkey” method. Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) is available to help curb cravings and relieve withdrawal symptoms. These products provide low doses of nicotine to treat withdrawal, so you can slowly ween yourself off nicotine.
Common NRT products include nasal sprays and inhalers, which require a prescription, and nicotine gum, patches, and lozenges, which you can purchase over the counter.
Finding Support to Quit Smoking
As you create your plan and find ways to cope with cravings, one thing is crucial: don’t try to do this all by yourself. Social help from friends, family, or support groups is part of the addiction recovery process.
But you might be wondering exactly where to turn. Who can help you?
Try these valuable resources:
- Reach out to the supports you listed in your quit plan. Call someone or meet up to go for a walk or share some laughs.
- Join a support group for individuals who are learning how to quit smoking cigarettes.
- Meet with a counselor who has experience with nicotine addiction.
- Call the quit line 800-QUIT-NOW.
- Join or visit an online community. You can connect with others to motivate and support each another to quit smoking. Here are some options:
Tips to Stay Smoke-Free for Good
What’s next? Once you break your addiction to cigarettes and become smoke-free, it’s important to take steps so you can stay that way.
Here are some effective strategies:
- Enjoy new routines: Develop new habits that don’t involve smoking cigarettes. If a cup of joe makes you crave a cigarette, switch to a tasty glass of orange juice. If you used to smoke during your work break, take a walk with a coworker instead. Certain places or people may also trigger cravings. If this is the case, take a break from them for now. Once your smoke-free habits have grown stronger, you may be able to go back to them without feeling the urge to smoke.
- Move it: Keep your body and mouth busy. Exercise will fill your time, burn calories, and tone muscles. It’s a great activity to manage stress, improve your health, and curb cravings. Chewing gum or munching on veggies are great ways to keep your mouth moving, without inserting a cigarette or a donut.
- De-stress: Stress is a common reason for smoking. Don’t let stress send you back to your old habit. Find better ways to cope with life and tough situations. Exercise is a good way to manage stress. Other good options include writing, volunteering, praying, and listening to music.
- Take up a hobby: Remember Gina? She wasn’t sure what she’d do with herself once she stopped smoking. Occupy your time with something that keeps your mind and hands engaged. Feel free to try several things until you find something that clicks. Maybe it’s gardening, cleaning, playing the guitar, or painting.
- Reward yourself: Have you calculated how much money you’ll save by quitting smoking? The average cost of smoking in the U.S. is $6 per day.1 That means, when you quit smoking, you’ll have an extra $180 each month, or more than $2,100 in a year! Use your savings to treat yourself to something special each month, or save up and take a well-earned vacation.
Quitting smoking offers benefits that are worth the effort. You’ll reduce your chances of cancer, heart disease, and lung disease, and you’ll feel healthier and more energetic. Plus, you can do a lot with all the money you’ll save.
Remember – it’s a challenge, but you can do it!
- Make a plan.
- Use the many supports and resources available.
- Put strategies in place for staying smoke-free for good.
Want to encourage others who are wondering how to quit nicotine? Share this article on Reddit’s r/stopsmoking to help others on their quitting journey.
- Cigarette prices by state [updated april 2023]. (n.d.). World Population Review. Retrieved August 9, 2023, from https://worldpopulationreview.com/state-rankings/cigarette-prices-by-state