After years and years of smoking, many people are finally waking up to the serious risks smoking poses to their health and welfare. Putting a stop to this habit, however, is not as easy as people may think. As long term smokers will attest, nicotine addiction is very hard to break. For those who value their health, it’s worth a try. Knowing what to expect from quitting smoking can help people tackle this challenge.
When Smoking Stops, What Happens? *
People who quit smoking often experience smoking cravings and nicotine withdrawal symptoms within a very short time. Although quitting smoking has many health benefits such as lowering your blood pressure, reducing heart rate and improving circulation, it can also trigger nicotine withdrawal symptoms that can result in:
- Anxiety attacks
- Mood changes
- Temper tantrums
- Hunger pains
- Poor sleep
- Lack of focus and concentration
Some of these symptoms can start rather quickly, in some cases within as little as an hour of quitting. The first three days are generally the worst; however, symptoms may persist as long as several weeks. People who can endure not smoking for several weeks – despite smoking cravings and nasty side effects – have a good chance of quitting for good.
Breaking the smoking habit takes determination and endurance. If you’re serious about quitting, you should make a plan for accomplishing your goal. Enlisting the help of your physician, family and friends could contribute to the success of your venture.
Quit Smoking Plan *
Former smoker Coral Arvon, Director of Behavior Medicine and Wellness at the Pritikin Longevity Center, Miami, suggests that smokers create a plan for quitting before they stop as this will give them something to fall back on when the going gets rough. Some possible ideas for a quit smoking plan include:
- Making a list of all the reasons you should stop smoking and keeping the list handy to review daily
- Writing down your smoking habits to include when, where and with whom you smoke regularly to avoid falling into old routines
- Having alternatives on hand to replace cigarettes such as sugar free gum or healthy snacks to handle cravings at home, social settings or at the workplace.
- Selecting the right time for quitting. This could be crucial to the success of your program. As Dr. Arvon advises, “Try to quit at a time when you can avoid major stress for at least a week or two,” taking into account work schedule, family obligations and personal studies. This gives you time to focus on overcoming your addiction.
How to Curb Smoking Cravings *
Contrary to what some people may think, smoking cravings are not a figment of the imagination. They’re very real and can definitely throw a monkey wrench into people’s lives. Smoking cravings can cause mood swings, heart palpitations, high blood pressure and more. It’s important people have a course of action in place to curb cravings as much as possible so they can continue with their daily lives.
A smoking craving can last anywhere between 5-10 minutes, although it may feel longer. Distractions can make cravings easier to endure. Here are a few ways people can take their mind off of smoking as they try to quit.
- Find no-smoking zones where to spend your free time to avoid the temptation of being around smokers. Such places include a local library, museum, mall, movie theater, smoking free restaurants, etc.
- Join a gym or sports club, take up biking or jogging or incorporate some other form of regular exercise into your schedule to get your mind off of smoking.
- Avoid (or decrease) alcohol or coffee intake for a few months, if these are smoking triggers for you.
- Eat healthier meals, drink more water, get sufficient sleep so as not to run down your body while trying to quit smoking.
- Stay away from places, people or activities related to your smoking habits.
- Avoid the urge to smoke by munching on a healthy snack such as sugar free gum, peanuts, raisins, cinnamon sticks, etc.
- Stop and breathe deeply to help you relax whenever a smoking craving occurs. Picture yourself in a favorite location at the peak of health and happiness due to kicking the smoking habit.
- Keep the phone numbers of family and friends nearby so you can call in an instant to get support and encouragement when you need it most.
- Stay positive and don’t give up, even if you have a temporary setback.
- Reward yourself regularly for progress made towards your goal.
Understanding Smoking Triggers *
As a long term smoker, you’re bound to have triggers that bring smoking to the forefront of your mind. By identifying these triggers and learning how to handle them, you can avoid losing control and succumbing to old smoking habits.
Smoking triggers may vary from person to person. Some common triggers that many people share include:
- Stress and pressure
- Having a drink with friends
- Coffee breaks
- TV viewing
- Hanging out with other smokers
- Feelings of loneliness or depression
Some people can control their cigarette cravings by avoiding triggers and exerting a great deal of willpower. Others need extra help to overcome their nicotine addiction. In many cases, willpower simply isn’t enough to help people quit smoking on a permanent basis. By combining willpower with a nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) or no smoking drug, smokers may find it easier to kick the habit.
Alternative Ways to Stop Smoking Cravings *
Ms Gay Sutherland, clinical psychologist at the Smoking Cessation Clinic, UK, emphasizes the importance of tackling cravings to overcome a smoking habit. According to Ms Sutherland, “Cravings are without doubt the most important withdrawal symptom to tackle… one of the best predictors of success in quitting smoking is craving control.”
Smoking cravings can be divided into two categories:
- Steady and consistent background cravings that decrease over time
- Sudden and intense cravings triggered by old smoking habits. Although these cravings also decrease over time; when they do arise, they are often quite strong, making them difficult to manage.
As people differ in their smoking habits, finding ways to stop smoking cravings can be a challenge. Of the many methods used to control nicotine cravings, these three stand out:
- nicotine replacement therapy,
- behavior changes, and
- stop smoking prescription medications.
Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) comes in different forms to include chewing gum, lozenges, patches, nasal spray, mouth spray and inhaler. It works by releasing small doses of nicotine into the body to give people the nicotine they crave without resorting to smoking cigarettes. By reducing unpleasant smoking cravings, NRT makes it easier for people to quit smoking. Many people find NRT patches quite effective for alleviating background cravings while the sprays are more conducive to cravings that are sudden and intense.
By discussing these treatments with their doctor, smokers can learn more about how to incorporate their use into their quit smoking plan.
Stop smoking prescription medications such as Zyban and Champix have also been effective in helping people kick their smoking habits. Unlike NRT, however, these medications don’t resort to the use of nicotine to achieve their goal. These medications work on a person’s brain to stifle their desire for nicotine, which, in turn, reduces smoking cravings. As the effect of these drugs don’t kick in for several days, smokers may want to start these medications a week in advance before stopping smoking.
Behavior Changes *
Both NRT and prescription drugs curb smoking cravings but they may not be enough to rid people of their desire to smoke. By combining these therapies with behavior changes, smokers are more likely to succeed in overcoming their addiction.
If quitting smoking on a permanent basis is your goal, the following behavior changes are worthwhile to get rid of this addiction once and for all.
- Change social habits: Avoid going to old smoking habitats that can trigger a relapse. Change timings or locations of favorite activities that remind you of smoking. Drink juice or tea if coffee induces the desire to smoke. Avoid being with smoker friends until you have fully kicked the habit.
- Exercise more: Staying active will get your mind off of smoking and could reduce cravings. Exercise will reduce stress and enhance health and fitness to give you the energy and willpower to resist cravings.
- Adopt a healthy eating lifestyle: In like manner, healthy eating will keep you strong to repel cravings. Healthy eating will also help you feel better about yourself as you’re taking better care of your body. It’s important to maintain a good self-image as it reinforces your reasoning for quitting smoking.
- Expect a fight: Few, if any, people quit smoking without a fight. Expect resistance from your brain and body and be prepared to put up a fight. The first weeks are always the worse – keep reminding yourself that the cravings will pass. If you have a setback, get back up and try again. Don’t let temporary setbacks get you down.
Most people don’t develop a smoking habit overnight. Therefore, they shouldn’t expect to rid themselves of that habit so easily. Quitting smoking is a long term commitment people need to make in order to get positive results. Finding how to curb smoking cravings is a step in the right direction to accomplishing this goal.
For many people, quitting smoking will be the best decision they ever make as it will pave the way for them to live a healthier lifestyle. Smoking cravings may be difficult to go through, but it’s the price people pay for overcoming their addiction and freeing themselves from the threat of cigarettes. Once they’ve broken the nicotine habit, they can look forward to a healthier, more satisfying life.