“I quit.” That’s a big step to take for a smoker. And it’s just the beginning of a tough battle, with both the body and the mind at odds with the decision. Of the many smokers who decide to quit and fight nicotine addiction on their own, a mere 4–7% are estimated to succeed in staying the course. Everyone else needs help, not just by way of encouragement from family, friends, and associates but also through a structured program.1 Whether you’ve decided to give up smoking for health or economic reasons, the sake of your loved ones, or simply because clean air laws make it such a hassle, here are some general tips to quit smoking.
1. Set A Date, Have A Plan
Once you’ve decided to quit smoking, it’s essential to fix a start date. Don’t set a date beyond a month from the time you decide or your resolve can weaken. Once you’ve targeted a date, get working toward your goal.
- Announce your intention to stop smoking to family members, friends, and colleagues. Their support and encouragement will strengthen your commitment and help you through weak phases.
- Eliminate everything that could dilute your commitment. Remove all cigarettes lying around at home, office, or in your car. Throw away your ashtrays. If you have family members who smoke, request them to refrain from smoking in your presence.
Don’t set a date that’s one month away. Be ready with a plan. Stock up on medicines or substitutes.
- If you plan to take prescription drugs to help you stop smoking, start on them ahead of your committed date (more on this later).
- Keep substitutes handy. When the day arrives, the need to smoke will resurge frequently (the first few days are especially hard). Stock up on hard candy, sugar-free gum, or vegetable sticks to distract you from the smoking urge. Even sucking air through a straw vigorously for several minutes can help you get over the temporary craving, say experts.2
2. Be Aware Of Triggers – Activities Linked With Smoking
If you’re a long-time smoker, lighting up would have become a habit closely associated with a host of normal activities – smoking with a cup of morning coffee or over an evening drink, or a final post-dinner puff before going to bed may be the norm for you. When you quit smoking, these routine actions become “triggers,” setting off the craving to light up once again.
Well before the “Quit Smoking Day,” stop smoking while doing a regular activity like drinking tea or reading the newspaper.
Since you cannot (or may not want to) stop these things, it’s essential to delink them from smoking. That’s a tough call, so well before your “Quit Smoking Day” arrives, begin the effort not to smoke along with these triggers.3 Friends who smoke in your presence are also “triggers.” You may even have to avoid some of these people during this difficult time.
3. Deal With Withdrawal With Nicotine Substitutes
Nicotine is the major addictive compound in a cigarette that affects many of your organs, including the brain. When you decide to stop smoking, your system still craves it. It’s not easy fighting your body – and your mind will rebel too!
Withdrawal symptoms vary in type and intensity from one person to another. They range from intolerable craving for cigarettes, depression, and irritability to sleep problems. The first week to 10 days are the worst; this is also the time when will power is at an ebb and smokers typically “slip” from their resolve. Each smoker has to find the tools that work for them and there are several.
Nicotine Replacement Therapy
Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) delivers small doses of nicotine and none of the other hazardous chemicals loaded into cigarettes. This helps smokers deal with hard-to-control cravings typical of the early stages of withdrawal from smoking.4 From over-the-counter (OTC) products to prescription-based remedies, NRT comes in many forms to suit individual preferences.
- Nicotine Gum and Lozenges: Chewed or sucked to release low quantities of nicotine.
- Nicotine Patch: Releases small amounts of nicotine into the body when placed on the skin.
If the urge to smoke is too strong and you don’t have a nicotine lozenge or patch handy, suck the air vigorously with a straw.
- Nicotine Inhaler: This product has a nicotine-filled cartridge. Inhaling through a mouthpiece releases nicotine into the mouth.
- Nasal Spray: Nicotine-in-a-bottle that can be sprayed into the nose with a pump.5
NRT is a great weapon in the battle against nicotine addiction and ups your chances of giving up the habit permanently. Co-opting other strategies will improve the chances of your quitting cigarettes and staying smoke-free. Studies show that NRT accompanied by monitoring and behavioral support improves outcomes for smokers wanting to quit.6
Also, research on NRT has shown that it is a reasonably safe method to adopt for virtually all adult smokers. People with existing heart or lung disease should definitely consult their doctors, though. Pregnant women and adolescents should also seek professional advice before trying NRT.7
Medications such as bupropion SR or varenicline can help fight your nicotine addiction. They do, however, come with their own side effects such as nausea, dryness of the mouth, and sleep problems. Pregnant women and people with medical conditions should stay off these. The safest bet is to check with your doctor before starting them. You could also seek professional advice on the efficacy of combining medications such as a nicotine patch with gum, inhaler, or lozenges to help your efforts to quit smoking.8
4. Combat Craving With Food, Exercise, And Mind Games
Nicotine is a tough enemy and regardless of the medication route you opt for, there will be many moments when your willpower wilts against the very real pain of withdrawal. It’s also normal to feel anxious, depressed, or cranky while you struggle your way through quitting. Try these pre-emptive measures to reduce your cravings or cope with them when they do strike.
Food And Drink
- Pamper yourself with healthy food and sufficient sleep. Stay well hydrated. Ordinary as they sound, these measures can give you the energy required to fight extra stress.
- Eat several small meals a day instead of a couple of big ones. This helps balance blood sugar levels and eases the urge to smoke.
- Spicy or sugar-laden foods can trigger the desire to light up. Stay away from them.9
When the urge to smoke hits you, say “NO,” and go out for a walk. Take a shower when you want to light up before bed. It will make it easier to sleep.
- Go for a long walk, hit the gym, or try dancing or aerobics. Exercise can ease the stress and make you feel better.
- Take a shower or bath when you feel the urge to light up.
- When trying to quit, you may find your energy levels soaring. Use this extra energy productively: clean up the yard or organize your closet or garage.
- Take up a new sport. The added benefit is that you may be better able to control weight gain after quitting.10
- Take 10 long breaths. When you inhale on the last breath, light a match. Slowly exhale, blow out the match. Stub it out in an ashtray, pretending that it’s a cigarette.
- Say “No” out loud and listen to yourself saying it. You can use other phrases too – “I won’t let myself down,” “I’m not a smoker anymore,” “I’m too strong to give in” – anything to reinforce your determination.11
5. Practice Yoga And Deep Breathing
Some research studies observe that yoga and cardiovascular exercise can help reduce nicotine cravings among smokers.12 The feel-good experience of a morning walk or run in fresh air can help you shake off those crabby withdrawal pangs. Club these with asanas (yoga poses) and deep breathing techniques which are inherently relaxing and beneficial for the mind and body.
Here are a few examples of asanas that can specifically help with your quit smoking program:
- Bhujangasana (cobra pose) expands the chest and improves circulation.
- Setubandhasana (bridge pose) opens up the chest and improves oxygen flow into the body.
- Sarvangasana (shoulder stand) improves blood flow to the brain.
- Shishuasana (child pose) has a calming effect on the nervous system.
Deep breathing can relieve your stress and take your mind off the immediate need to smoke.
All these poses also relieve stress and anxiety, helping you combat the craving for nicotine and the attendant withdrawal symptoms you are experiencing.
Pranayama (yogic deep breathing) induces a deeply calming state of mind. Here are two well-known techniques:
- Kapalbhati pranayama exercises the lungs and is thought to clear the nadis, the subtle energy channels in the body.
- Nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) with its slow, deep rhythm also clears the subtle energy channels, relaxes body and mind, and may help control withdrawal symptoms.13
Consult a qualified yoga instructor to learn more about these physical routines and breathing techniques that can help you quit smoking.
6. Get Counseling When The Craving Is Overwhelming
Don’t underestimate the power of psychology in the battle against nicotine. By itself, counseling won’t help you kick the habit. However, combined with therapy/medication, chances of your stopping smoking are brighter. Explore options for counseling, either in the form of regular, face-to-face sessions or on telephone helplines – especially when the urge to smoke is too strong and you desperately want to be talked out of it.
Talk to someone, a friend or a family member in the know, when the urge to smoke is overwhelming. Or call your state tobacco quitline.
“Quit smoking” programs on the internet and published self-help guides are affordable and worth adding to your other attempts to stop smoking. Go for them! 14
You may also contact your state tobacco quitline. This is a free resource where you can talk to a coach about your concerns, develop a quit program, and get support whenever you need it.15
7. Relax By Using Guided Imagery Or Self-Hypnosis
Some studies have shown that guided relaxation can help smokers handle nicotine cravings successfully.16 Techniques you can try include guided imagery, biofeedback, progressive relaxation, and self-hypnosis. Deep breathing exercises are also a form of guided relaxation. Speak to your doctor or a psychologist to learn these techniques.
|↑1||I Want To Quit. American Lung Association.|
|↑2||Deciding To Quit Smoking And Making A Plan. American Cancer Association.|
|↑3||Quit Smoking: Top Five Psychological Strategies. West Virginia University.|
|↑4||Nicotine Replacement Therapy. Smokefree.gov.|
|↑5||Explore Quit Methods. Smokefree.gov.|
|↑6||Moore, David, Paul Aveyard, Martin Connock, Dechao Wang, Anne Fry-Smith, and Pelham Barton. “Effectiveness and safety of nicotine replacement therapy assisted reduction to stop smoking: systematic review and meta-analysis.” BMJ 338 (2009): b1024.|
|↑7||Busting NRT Myths. Smokefree.gov.|
|↑8||Explore Quit Methods. Smokefree.gov.|
|↑9, ↑10, ↑11||Quitting Smoking. American Cancer Society.|
|↑12||Elibero, Andrea, Kate Janse Van Rensburg, and David J. Drobes. “Acute effects of aerobic exercise and Hatha yoga on craving to smoke.” Nicotine & Tobacco Research (2011): ntr163.|
|↑13||Quit smoking naturally with yoga. The Art of Living.|
|↑14||Explore Quit Methods. Smoke-free.gov.|
|↑15||Frequently Asked Questions About The Tips Program. CDC.|
|↑16||Relaxation Techniques For Health. NIH.|