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If you've ever tried to quit smoking, you know working through withdrawal isn't easy. You feel dizzy and frustrated, you can't sleep or concentrate, you're irritable and angry and yearn for just one little puff. Even when your cravings seem overpowering, you can get through them with a little planning. Here's how to overcome your most vulnerable moments so you'll stay quit:
Deal with the physical addiction. "Within the first 24 to 48 hours of quitting, your body is experiencing the physical withdrawal from nicotine," says Dawn Wiatrek, Ph.D., director of the American Cancer Society Quitline. "Nicotine replacement therapy such as a patch, gum, nasal spray, inhaler or lozenges can help you cope with these cravings." Prescription drugs such as bupropion and varenicline can also help.
Get ready for the second wave. "After the first few weeks, the physical addiction wanes and cravings are tied more to the rituals of smoking," says Bill Blatt, director of tobacco programs with the American Lung Association. "You've got to change patterns of behavior that you mentally link with smoking." For example, eat breakfast at a different place in your home, take a walk instead of a coffee break or drive a new route home from work.
Throw away your cigarettes and ashtrays. "Keeping them around "just in case" sends a message to yourself that you're not going to succeed," says Wiatrek. "It's also easier to light up when the urge hits if you have a pack in your purse, rather than if you have to go to the store and buy a new one."
Stay away from situations that will tempt you. Spending time in places where you used to smoke can stimulate a desire to light up. "Later on, you may be able to hang around other smokers at the bar or outside during work breaks, but for now you need to steer clear of places you associate with smoking," says Blatt.
Distract yourself. When a craving hits, call a friend, leave the room, meditate or pray, take a walk around the block, chew on a straw or munch on celery sticks. Most cravings last no more than 10 to 15 minutes and fade as the months pass. "It's easy to think during a craving that this feeling is never going away, but cravings do become less intense and less frequent over time," says Wiatrek.
Avoid rationalizations. When you get stressed and think you're going to cave in, skip telling yourself things like "I'll have just one" or "I'll quit tomorrow." As these thoughts occur to you, write them down and acknowledge them as tricks that lure you back into smoking.
Remind yourself why you're doing this. Write down the top five reasons you want to quit, suggests Blatt, like your health, your family, your finances. Keep these on a card in your purse, post it on the fridge and tape it to the dashboard in your car. Review it when you feel overwhelmed.
Accept an occasional slip. A slip is a one-time mistake; don't give up on yourself and let it become an excuse to go back to smoking. "People have quit, do quit and stay quit forever, but they worked through it," says Wiatrek. "Your goal is to stay smoke-free in the long run, but to do so you have to face one craving at a time."