Withdrawal from nicotine has 2 parts – the physical and the psychological. The physical symptoms, while annoying, are not life threatening. Nicotine replacement can help reduce many of these physical symptoms. But most smokers find that the bigger challenge is the mental part of quitting.
If you have been smoking for any length of time, smoking has become linked with nearly everything you do – waking up in the morning, eating, reading, watching TV, and drinking coffee, for example. It will take time to “un-link” smoking from these activities. That is why, even if you are using a nicotine replacement, you may still have strong urges to smoke.
One way to overcome these urges or cravings is to identify rationalizations as they come up. A rationalization is a mistaken belief that seems to make sense at the time but is not based on facts. If you have tried to quit before, you will probably recognize many of these common rationalizations:
- I’ll just have one to get through this rough spot.
- Today is not a good day; I’ll quit tomorrow.
- It’s my only vice.
- How bad is smoking, really? Uncle Harry smoked all his life and he lived to be over 90.
- Air pollution is probably just as bad.
- You’ve got to die of something.
- Life is no fun without smoking.
You probably can add more to the list. As you go through the first few days without smoking, write down any rationalizations as they come up and recognize them for what they are: messages that can trap you into going back to smoking. Use the ideas below to help you keep your commitment to quitting.
- Avoid people and places where you are tempted to smoke. Later on you will be able to handle these with more confidence.
- Alter your habits. Switch to juices or water instead of alcohol or coffee. Take a different route to work. Take a brisk walk instead of a coffee break.
Alternatives: Use oral substitutes such as sugarless gum or hard candy, raw vegetables such as carrot sticks, or sunflower seeds.
Activities: Do something to reduce your stress. Exercise or do hobbies that keep your hands busy, such as needlework or woodworking, which can help distract you from the urge to smoke. Take a hot bath, exercise, read a book.
Deep breathing: When you were smoking, you breathed deeply as you inhaled the smoke. When the urge strikes now, breathe deeply and picture your lungs filling with fresh, clean air. Remind yourself of your reasons for quitting and the benefits you’ll gain as an ex-smoker.
Delay: If you feel that you are about to light up, delay. Tell yourself you must wait at least 10 minutes. Often this simple trick will allow you to move beyond the strong urge to smoke.
What you’re doing is not easy, so you deserve a reward. Put the money you would have spent on tobacco in a jar every day and then buy yourself a weekly treat. Buy a magazine, go out to eat, call a friend long-distance. Or save the money for a major purchase. You can also reward yourself in ways that doesn’t cost money: visit a park or the library, develop a new hobby, or take a yoga class.