Quitting Smoking: Tips for Overcoming Cravings
More than one in five American men smokes, but over 70 percent of smokers want to quit. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the U.S. and is responsible for one in every five deaths in the country, a total of over 480,000 every year. Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do to improve your health, but it can be incredibly challenging. Here are several tips that can help you prepare for what’s to come and increase your chances of success.
Understand Your Addiction
Before you set a quit date and try to stop smoking, it helps to consider the type of smoker you are. For example, some smokers mainly light up on social occasions, while others smoke to deal with stress and negative emotions or in specific situations (such as when you see a particular friend or go out to a bar), and understanding these things helps you plan your quitting strategy.
Write Down Why You Want to Quit
It can also help to write down why you want to quit smoking. Do you want to quit so you can be around your loved ones without exposing them to secondhand smoke? Or is it to improve your health and reduce your chances of dying prematurely? Or are you trying to set a better example for your children? There are no wrong reasons to want to quit: just write down whatever is motivating your decision so that you can easily remember if you’re struggling with cravings.
START to Quit
The acronym START provides a good method for beginning your journey toward quitting smoking:
- Set a quit date. Choose a date in the next two weeks to quit. You can arrange this however it works best for you—for example, if you smoke more when you’re working, quit on the weekend so you can deal with the worst of the cravings without the extra pressure.
- Tell your friends and family you plan to quit. People will give you useful advice, offer you encouragement and even offer support when you’re struggling. Additionally, this helps cement your intentions and gives you a sense of accountability for the (excellent) decision you’ve made.
- Anticipate and plan for the challenges of quitting. By taking time to think about your addiction (as above), you’ll have a good idea of the times you’ll be most tempted to relapse. Remember that most people relapse in the first three months, when the cravings are strongest, so ensure that you have a plan for dealing with them.
- Remove all cigarettes (or other tobacco products) from your home, car and workplace. This is an easy one: if you want to quit smoking, you need to throw away all of your cigarettes, lighters, matches, ashtrays and any other smoking accessories.
- Talk to your doctor about getting support during the process. A big mistake many smokers make is trying to quit without support—there is plenty of help available for quitting smoking, and you’ll stand a much better chance of being successful if you use it.
Learn to Cope With Your Triggers
If you’ve already identified the times you’re most likely to smoke, you have a good understanding of your “triggers” for smoking. It can also help to keep a “craving journal,” where you make a note of where you were, what you were doing, how you were feeling, who you were with and what time it was when the craving struck, as well as how strong it was. This can give you insight into what drives you to smoke and may suggest things you can do to reduce your cravings in future.
If you always smoked after a meal, try having a piece of fruit, a stick of gum, a piece or chocolate or a healthy dessert instead, and if you smoke at bars, try going only to nonsmoking bars and snacking on chips instead of smoking. If you smoke when you’re stressed, use alternative stress relief methods such as exercising, meditating, listening to music or using relaxation techniques to cope.
Managing Cravings Effectively
Cravings are a natural part of quitting, and you’ll still get them even if you completely avoid your triggers. However, it’s important to remember that they will pass. When you have a craving, here are tips to help you cope.
- Distract yourself: It doesn’t matter what you do—switch on the TV, have a shower, do the dishes – do anything to take your mind off of smoking.
- Remember the reasons for quitting you wrote down. They will give you motivation to keep going when the cravings are tough to cope with.
- Remove yourself from the situation. Simply leaving the situation—especially if it’s one of your triggers—will help you cope with cravings.
What If You Relapse?
For all your efforts, it’s very possible that you’ll relapse at some point. The key thing to remember is that this is normal, and it doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to quit, that you’ve “failed” or anything of the sort. Most smokers try to quit several times before being successful, so don’t beat yourself up for not being able to do it perfectly on the first attempt.
The key thing is to learn from your mistakes. Did you run into a trigger without a coping strategy for it? Did you succumb to a craving? Identify what went wrong and think of what you should have done in that situation. Finally, remember that slipping up—even if you buy a pack of cigarettes—doesn’t mean you’re a smoker again: you’ve just made one mistake, not given up on stopping smoking altogether. Throw away whatever cigarettes you’ve bought and try again, keeping in mind the lesson you’ve learned.
Quitting Is Tough but Worthwhile
There will be roadblocks along the way, but when you’ve successfully kicked the habit, you’ll be glad you did. Remember what made you want to stop smoking and hold onto that motivation: you can get there, as long as you keep trying and get support when you need it. Use your personal support network, and consider attending counseling or using quit-lines to give you guidance when you’re struggling. And most importantly, congratulate yourself on every craving you successfully manage and every day you go without smoking. Quitting smoking is tough, and if you’re doing well, you should acknowledge that and be proud of yourself. It’ll get easier to keep going every single day.