You've quit, so what happens next?
For many people when the initial feeling of achievement wears off, it can start getting a bit harder, and sometimes really hard. Stay focussed – it will get easier! Below are a lot of useful tips for staying on track:
Coping with cravingsFew smokers can quit without feeling the urge to smoke. The first week after you quit can be the hardest as cravings can be frequent and intense as you suffer withdrawal from smoking.
Understand what makes you smokeRemember when you had a drink or a coffee with your cigarette? Your brain hasn't forgotten that yet. After years of smoking, your brain sends a signal to have a cigarette every time you do these things. When you've quit, these times create cravings – they're a memory of how things used to be.
Situations that can trigger a craving include:
- having a drink or a cup of coffee
- after a meal
- talking on the phone
- being with friends
- starting a new task
- taking a break
Think about the smoking habits that are strongly tied to different things that happen in your life. Aside from nicotine addiction, here are some of the main reasons you may smoke:
- Emotions: to cope with feeling stressed, upset, angry, frustrated, bored or happy.
- Pleasure: to enjoy something more or to reward yourself.
- Social pressure: to feel part of the crowd and bond with other smokers.
- Habit: feeling like smoking while doing certain things.
Keep a Quit DiaryOne way to prepare is to keep a diary about your smoking habits in the lead up to your quit date. Each time you have a cigarette, or feel a craving, note the:
- date and time
- activity or situation
- what you're feeling
- how much you feel the need for a cigarette, on a scale of 1–5 with 5 being the most needed.
These are your very own personalised smoking triggers, and they can help you understand what times will be hardest for you when you quit. You can start to plan new ways to deal with these trigger situations.
Coping with the first few daysFew smokers can quit without feeling the urge to smoke. The first week after you quit can be the hardest, as cravings can be more frequent and intense. People who do best at resisting the temptation to smoke learn many different ways to deal with cravings. There are four main ways you can deal with cravings:
1. Use quitting productsNicotine replacement products and prescription medications work by making cravings less strong. They work best when you carefully follow instructions. Make sure you don't stop them too early. See Quitting strategies for more information.
2. Change your environmentCravings occur most commonly in situations that remind you of smoking. You can reduce how often and how strongly cravings occur by making your environment 'quitting friendly'. Some ideas include:
- Make your home and car smoke-free. If that’s not possible, have at least one smoke-free area for yourself.
- Make it harder for you to get cigarettes.
- Ask others not to smoke around you.
- Use places where you are not allowed to smoke as ‘protection’ until the craving passes.
3. Use mind powerThe way you think about quitting can help you resist tempting situations.
- Tell yourself 'I can quit' or 'I don't need cigarettes'.
- Break your smoking thought patterns. Stop thoughts that lead you to want to smoke. Focus your mind on something else, such as how you are going to reward yourself for staying quit.
- Remind yourself of your main reasons to quit smoking.
- Think of the benefits of quitting and the positive changes in your life since you stopped.
- Set short term goals such as taking one day at a time.
4. Change what you doTo quit, you need to learn new ways to cope with things that used to trigger your smoking. As you become better at doing things instead of smoking, your cravings will tend not to happen as often or be as strong.
Remember that having just one WILL hurt. This is the way that many people go back to regular smoking. Quitting means resisting the urge to smoke even one cigarette, despite the cravings, the habit, the pressure and your own emotional reasons.
Try the 4Ds when you have a craving:
- Delay acting on the urge to smoke. Don't open a pack or light a cigarette. After a few minutes, the urge to smoke will weaken, especially if you do the following:
- Deep breathe. Take a long slow breath in, and slowly out again. Repeat three times.
- Do something else. Take you mind off smoking by taking action – put on some music, go for a walk or ring a friend.
- Drink water. Sip it slowly, holding it in your mouth a little longer to savour the taste.
Dealing with withdrawal symptomsWhen you quit smoking, you may have some withdrawal symptoms. Some common symptoms and tips for dealing with them are:
Tenseness/irritability – Go for a walk. Take deep breaths. Soak in a warm bath. Meditate. Do some stretching exercises.
Depression – Use positive self-talk. Speak to a friend or family member. See your doctor if the depression is intense or does not go away.
Appetite changes – Follow a well-balanced diet. Choose healthy, low-fat snacks such as fruit or vegetables.
Constipation, gas – Drink plenty of fluids. Eat lots of fruits, vegetables and high fibre cereal.
Insomnia – Avoid beverages containing caffeine (eg coffee, tea, cola) particularly before bed. Try relaxation exercises before bed.
Difficulty concentrating – Break large projects into smaller tasks. Take regular breaks.
Cough, dry throat and mouth, nasal drip – Drink plenty of fluids.
Dizziness – Sit down and rest until it passes.
Coping with social situationsOne of the hardest things about quitting can be attending social situations where you are used to smoking.
For many smokers, having a cigarette at a party or over a drink is a well-entrenched habit. But it is one you have the power to overcome. You might be surprised how much a bit of planning and a few changes in your routine can help.
Do you smoke when you are socially awkward or bored, see others smoking, or want to escape from a conversation? Knowing what makes you smoke when you're in social situations can help you work out how to deal with these triggers. Try following these tips when you become a non-smoker:
- Take small steps at first. Try meeting friends at smoke-free venues such as the movies or restaurants.
- Before you go out, promise yourself you won't smoke.
- When you go out, have a quitting buddy or non-smoking friend with you as support. They can keep you entertained and remind you of your goal to quit when you want a cigarette.
- Try to avoid alcohol for the first few weeks while you're quitting, especially in situations where you would have smoked.
- If you still want to have alcohol, cut down on how much you drink by alternating alcoholic drinks with glasses of water. Also, change your drink to something you don't usually have and hold it on the opposite hand to your usual one to remind you that your habits are changing.
- Keep your hands and mouth busy by chewing gum, playing with your mobile phone or sipping a bottle of water.
- Practise saying 'No thanks, I don't smoke' in case someone offers you a cigarette. Don't let other people talk you into having a cigarette.
- Remember: it's okay to go home if the cravings get too bad. You can afford a taxi with the money you've saved by quitting.
- Don't make the mistake of having ‘just one.' For many people this can lead back to full time smoking.
- If you are unsure of what to do in some situations, ask or watch what non-smokers do.
Dealing with stressPeople can have different experiences with quitting. Some people feel anxious the first month or so as a result of nicotine withdrawal. Others take time to settle into new routines and find new ways to manage stress without reaching for a cigarette. A few months after quitting, most people tend to feel better, or as good as, when they were smoking.
It's important to remember that while smoking may feel like it helps you cope with stress – it is only a short term fix. Having a cigarette is not going to take the problem away. Research shows that smokers tend have to higher stress levels than non-smokers, so the real way to de-stress is to become a non-smoker. Resisting cravings and learning new ways to cope without cigarettes will make you less likely to have strong cravings in future stressful situations.
Here are some tips to help you cope with stress during quitting:
- Exercise is a great stress buster. Make a plan that is realistic for you to achieve. Getting more exercise can be as simple as getting off the bus one stop early or using stairs instead of lifts. Or try signing up for some group exercises or team sports.
- Write down the things that might make you feel stressed. Family? Work? Traffic? Then think about ways to combat such stressful moments so that you don't feel the temptation to smoke again.
- Make a change in your routine such as getting up earlier or going for a morning walk. Instead of smoking when you're stuck in traffic, call a friend or take a soft rubber ball in the car to do hand exercises.
- Eat a healthier diet and include lots of healthy snacks, such as carrot or celery sticks and fruit.
- Spend time with positive people who are supportive of you quitting smoking.
- Treat yourself to something fun such as a weekend getaway, fishing, full body massage, or something that you've wanted to do but put off for a while.
- Reduce or go off alcohol for a while and try a soft drink instead. Try drinking less caffeine as quitting smoking can increase the effects of caffeine in your body, potentially making you feel more nervous or cranky.
Stress and anxiety can affect your heart rate, breathing patterns and cause muscle tension. Breathing quickly and having tense muscles, can make you feel more stressed. This cycle can be broken by practising breathing or muscle relaxation exercises.
Try practising the following:
- Lie down or sit in a comfortable position.
- Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.
- Notice the thoughts and feelings juggling for position in your mind.
- Move your attention to the sounds you can hear around you.
- Bring your awareness to the places where your body is touching the seat or floor.
- Notice the areas of tension in your body, and consciously try to relax them.
- Focus on your breathing. Feel the air travelling into your lungs and concentrate on relaxing as you breathe out.
- Try to do this for three minutes whenever you are aware of being stressed.
Reducing weight gainSome people put on weight when they stop smoking. Among people who do, the average weight gain is around 4 to 6 kg in the first year. Roughly 10 percent of people who stop smoking gain a large amount of weight.
If worrying about weight gain is stopping you from quitting, talk to a health professional who can help you get advice for the issues that are important to you. They can help you make a healthy eating and exercise plan that suits your lifestyle.
You can take action to help keep weight gain low, starting with:
- Exercise. Do some more exercise to help keep your weight down and beat cravings.
- Food. Cook with and eat less fat.
- Alcohol. Limit how much alcohol you drink. Alcoholic drinks can contain a lot of calories.
Tips for avoiding weight gainIt's important to remember that someone would have to gain a considerable amount of weight to offset the health benefits of quitting. However, to avoid significant weight gain:
- Steer clear of high fat or sugar snacks like biscuits, sweets, sugary drinks and cakes.
- Prepare healthy snacks instead – celery and carrot sticks or vegetable strips, and whole fruits (not fruit juice).
- Use the time and money you've saved from not smoking to plan and cook tasty, healthy meals.
- Don't try to stick to strict diets – constant bouts of hunger will make quitting more difficult and could put your success at risk.
- Try not to miss meals, especially breakfast.
- Be realistic – allow yourself some treats occasionally.
- If you use food to help you deal with feelings, such as depression or loneliness, try other activities that make you feel better.
- Emotional eating and ‘binge’ eating can sometimes be difficult to deal with by yourself. For help and support, consider seeing a health worker who specialises in people's relationships with food, such as a psychologist.
- There is some evidence that quitters who use nicotine replacement gum can halve their rate of weight gain, however this usually only lasts while using the gum.
If you do gain weightIf you put on a few kilos, try not to be too hard on yourself. Concentrate on your resolve to give up smoking and then tackle the weight gain. But do try to eat healthy foods and get some extra exercise. A few extra kilos is a lot less harmful than smoking.
If you think weight gain is a problem, discuss it with your doctor. Remember, starting to smoke again may not help you lose the weight you have gained.
Identifying warning signs and overcoming setbacksHaving ‘just one’ is the way that most people go back to regular smoking. Quitting means resisting the urge to smoke even one cigarette, despite the cravings, the habit, the pressure and your own emotional reasons.
Common warning signsYou keep thinking ‘Just one would be OK’ or ‘It'd be great to smoke just one a month or one a week’. But why weren't you smoking just one a week before you quit? The answer is because tobacco is extremely addictive. That's why you've had to work so hard to quit. Don't let nicotine control you again!
You're really missing smoking and question whether quitting is worth the effort. Sometimes quitting can be really tough, but you can get through it. Find other ways to treat yourself and keep doing things that you enjoy every day.
You take puffs of other people's cigarettes but excuse it as ‘not really smoking'. You know it's only a matter of time before you find yourself buying a pack. Ask your friends and family not to give you cigarettes, no matter what.
Did you have one of these warning signs when you quit last? Remember, you can get help from the Quitline if they start to build up or things go wrong next time you quit.
If you have a cigaretteDon't let one cigarette lead you back into full-time smoking. Think of how long you have gone without a cigarette and tell yourself ‘I am determined to quit. I have only slipped up once. In the past, I would have smoked 15 a day. I can get back on track and give it up’.
If you go back to regular smokingDon't despair. Plan another date to quit as soon as possible. Most people who have quit smoking for good have made several serious attempts. It may take you a while to learn to be a non-smoker. Although you may be feeling disappointed, you should take pride in what you have achieved. Every day you spent smoke-free made your body healthier and helped to break your habit and weaken your addiction.
Keeping your good habits will help weaken your addiction for your next attempt. If you have made your home and car smoke-free, keep them that way. Try to delay your first cigarette of the day by keeping your new morning routine, for example, have a shower and breakfast first.
Acknowledgement –The information on Quitting Strategies been supplied by Quit Victoria and Quit South Australia.
For more information visit Coping Strategies at Quit.org