Whether you’re thinking about quitting and want some tips to get you started, we’ve put together some information to help you through the early days and beyond.
Getty Carrie Bottomley
Whether you’re thinking about quitting smoking and want some tips to get you started, or you’ve already quit and are struggling – we’ve put together some information to help you through the early days and beyond.
Check out your smoking habits
Before you actually quit, you’ll go through some sort of preparation, even it’s simply throwing away all cigarettes, lighters and ashtrays in your house.
You can make this time more effective by thinking about where, why and how much you smoke. The idea is to understand your habits, so you can think about ways to change them.
A good place to start is to keep a smoking log for a couple of days in which you note the time of each cigarette, where you smoked it and what your mood was like. It can be as simple as a sheet of paper you keep inside your cigarette packet.
Know your pros and cons
The decision to give up smoking often comes from people taking stock of their lives – it’s why New Year is such a popular time for quitting.
People quit for different reasons: some people will be motivated by the financial cost of smoking, while others will want to give up for the sake of children or other family members. Personal health is the most popular reason for giving up smoking.
Whatever your reasons, if they’re going to motivate during your quit, you must believe in them as worthwhile goals.
As well as thinking about why you want to quit, it’s worth spending time on what you’ll miss.
Take a sheet of paper and rule a line down the centre. On one side write all your pros for quitting, on the other, your reasons for continuing to smoke.
Be as honest as you can: it’s easy to say there are no cons to quitting while you still have the option to light up.
Now look at the two lists of reasons for and against quitting, and think about the difference between what’s important to you here and now, and what will be important to you in the future.
Medicines can help
Several drugs can significantly increase the chances of successfully quitting.
Both nicotine replacement therapy and Zyban (bupropion) can help reduce these physical withdrawal symptoms. A new drug Champix (varenicline) can also help to reduce craving as well as reducing the satisfaction a smoker gets from a cigarette.
Ask your doctor or your local Quit Smoking service for more information.
Use diversion techniques
Dealing with cravings
Here are some ideas to help you cope with cravings for a cigarette:
- chew some gum
- eat something eg carrot sticks or lollipops
- brush your teeth
- sip a non-alcoholic drink you don’t link with smoking
- take a shower
- do a crossword
- call a friend
- occupy your hands, eg by doodling, knitting or completing a pocket puzzle
- do some deep rhythmic breathing – see below on relaxation.
The idea behind diversion techniques is simple: if you focus on something, ie your cravings for tobacco, your need will seem more intense.
If you distract your attention, you can trick your mind into ‘forgetting’ the craving and it will pass.
This technique can be helpful to stopping smoking because cravings rarely last for longer than a couple of minutes.
For it to work, you’ll need to come up with some ideas beforehand and understand why you smoke, because it’s these emotions and situations that are most likely to trigger cravings once you quit.
So if you use smoking to deal with pressure, you need to look at alternative ways to cope in these circumstances.
If you smoke to fill time when you’re alone on social occasions, you need to think about what you’ll do instead.
Think of at least 10 things to divert your attention when you have a craving for a cigarette.
Use relaxation techniques
When you feel the urge to smoke, try this relaxation exercise instead. Deep rhythmic breathing helps your brain control basic emotions including cravings and improve your thinking and rational behaviour.
- Sit up straight, close your eyes and take a deep breath.
- Make each breath last about 10 seconds and spend longer on breathing out and holding your breath out (about 6 seconds) than breathing in (about 4 seconds).
- Hold it for a moment, and then breathe right out, relaxing all the muscles in your body.
- Repeat 10 times until the craving passes.
The ability to relax quickly is one that can be taught. There are lots of different methods, and the more you practise the easier it’ll become.
Visualise the end
Try this to help your motivation.
Imagine waking up one morning with absolutely no desire to smoke.
You are a non-smoker who has survived the struggle.
You are free from your addiction and happy you gave up smoking.
How do you feel? How would life be different?
Visualisation uses mental images to inspire particular feelings, ie your motivations for staying quit. For example, you may associate giving up cigarettes with freedom. In this case, you would think of an image that represents this, such as walking along a white sand beach.
You would then colour the picture with the positive way you’d feel as a non-smoker, eg by seeing yourself taking a big gulp of air and feeling the clean air in your lungs.
These positive images can help you cope with cravings, by shoring up your willpower, but you can also use them to stop thinking about cigarettes in the first place.
Plus, because the images you use to focus on the good reasons for quitting are pleasant and relaxing, they can help you to cope with stress – a key factor in causing relapses.
Focus on the positive
The decision to quit smoking is an achievement in itself. If you’re struggling in the early days of your quit, think about the positive changes to your life.
Tell yourself the benefits are worth a period of discomfort: the longer you stop smoking, the lower your risk of getting a smoking-related disease, the more money you will save, and the better your health in general.
Our inner thoughts have a powerful effect on how we see ourselves and the world. Not only are negative thoughts about your abilities the basis of low self-esteem, but they can become self-fulfilling prophecies – if you tell yourself you’ll fail, you most probably will.
Having the right attitude, ie a positive one, may sound a cliché, but it’s not an easy goal. Negative thought patterns embed themselves over years and it can take a lot of work to retrain long-held assumptions. In fact, there’s a whole type of therapy called cognitive behavioural therapy that aims to help people do this.
At its simplest, it means instead of thinking ‘I’m such a heavy smoker, I won’t be able to beat cravings,’ you say ‘There are things I can do to counter the urge to smoke. Cravings will pass.’
You may also want to come up with a mantra that motivates you during difficult times, eg ‘I’m determined to be a non-smoker, and I have the strength to see this through.’
Your local NHS Stop Smoking service may be able to offer you a course of cognitive behavioural therapy to help you quit.
Come up with strategies for your habit
Nicotine dependency is just one of the reasons you’ll want to start smoking again.
Certain places, activities and emotions can also trigger the urge to smoke.
These form the psychological part of your addiction and can be the most difficult to overcome.
To help you come up with a list of strategies that tackle the psychological aspects of your habit, think about the following.
The smoking log described at the beginning of this article will help you answer these questions.
- What part does smoking play in your daily life?
- What situations make you want to smoke?
- What activities do you associate with having a cigarette?
- Do particular moods trigger your need to smoke?
- Does smoking fulfil particular psychological or social needs?
- How do you see yourself as a smoker?
If you feel equipped to cope with these problems, your chances of success will increase.
Try to get support from others
Giving up smoking with others, or having the support of family and friends, can make a big difference to your motivation levels and determination to stick at your quit.
Research has shown that the likelihood of successfully giving up cigarettes is much higher if you take part in a group programme which experts can support you in your efforts to stop – this includes providing medication such as nicotine replacement therapy to help you.
But if you’re quitting with others, you also need to think about how you’ll feel if one of the group starts smoking again – will you see this as proof it’s all too hard and give up yourself?
Quitting smoking is now an NHS priority area, so clinics and other services to support smokers are being set up around the country. You can find out more including how to access your local NHS Stop Smoking Service at Smokefree NHS.
Even if there’s no formal clinic in your area, you can still get advice from pharmacists, doctors and practice nurses.
Cravings don’t last forever
Finally, if you’re struggling now bear in mind the following. The strength and frequency of cravings varies from smoker to smoker and even from quit to quit. It will take time before you start to feel comfortable without cigarettes.
For most, these cravings and other withdrawal symptoms will lessen after three to four weeks. However it can take up to 12 weeks for the nicotine receptors in the brain to calm right down and ‘switch off’ your craving, so you need to aim to get through that early period.
Even after that there will still be times when you want to smoke, but there will also be increasingly long periods when you don’t think about cigarettes: first entire days, then weeks, months and eventually years.