Resolutions are in the air, making January the perfect time to kick that smoking habit once and for all. Read on for information and tips for becoming and staying smoke-free in 2013.
Smoke Signals—The Need-to-Know
Sometimes being number one isn’t such a good thing. Smoking is currently of preventable deaths in the U.S. over 392,000 people die from tobacco-related diseases and 8.6 million Americans suffer from at least one serious illness or condition caused by smoking. The good news is that smoking prevalence is : In 2010, there were 45.3 million smokers in the U.S. (about nineteen percent of adults)—a 50 percent from the 1960s.
Going cold turkey is notoriously tough because nicotine, the main chemical in tobacco, is an incredibly . Nicotine , leading to feelings of well-being, stimulated memory and alertness, increased heart rate, decreased appetite, and elevated blood sugar.
Nicotine can make a person feel great while it’s in the body, but not so much when that person decides to quit. The absence of nicotine produces acute, uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms which can take between a few hours and a few days to set in. Withdrawal cravings, anxiety, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, nightmares or trouble sleeping, headaches, increased appetite, irritability, and depression, which can then fuel a person to want a cigarette even more.
Clearing the Smoke—Your Action Plan
Once the , it’s time to do some homework. Knowing as much as possible about the process beforehand makes it easier to prevent slip-ups and quit successfully.
Decide to Quit
What are the pros and cons of quitting? Write down specific and keep the list in view. Motivating factors can range from personal health (the tar and carbon monoxide in cigarettes of heart disease, lung cancer, strokes, and emphysema; specific include blood clots, brittle bones, and infertility) to more “aesthetic” reasons (a long-term smoking habit to cataracts, gum disease, tooth decay, wrinkled skin, and yellow teeth and nails. Sexy, right?).
Personal relationships can also motivate someone to quit. Every year, die from exposure to secondhand smoke—meaning the decision to quit has a direct effect on the people around us. Smoking even affects unborn fetuses: Smoking while pregnant is , low birth weight, and birth defects like heart issues or cleft palates.
Once you’ve clarified your reasons for quitting, it’s time to commit to a plan of action.
Pick a Quit Day and Make Preparations
- Tell family and friends, , and schedule alerts into the cell phone and computer. Make it or back out at the last minute.
- Sign up for a group program and schedule a first meeting or pick out a .
- Talk to a doctor about whether to consider (NRT) to curb cravings . Silagy C, Lancaster T, Stead L, Mant D, Fowler G. University of Oxford, Department of Primary Health Care, Headington, Oxford, UK. Cochrane Database System Review. 2008 Jan 23;(1):CD000146.. NRT releases small amounts of nicotine—but none of the other chemicals found in cigarettes—via a patch, gum, lozenge, spray, or inhaler.
- Also discuss using to make the transition easier. Medications function by reducing nicotine cravings or blocking nicotine receptors (making smoking less pleasurable and withdrawal symptoms less painful).
- Get rid of smoking paraphernalia and stock up on like gum, hard candy, and carrot sticks.
- Tried to quit before? Think about what went wrong and . For example, if cold turkey didn’t work, try using NRT or medications the second time around.
- Pack your schedule around Quit Day and the week afterwards. Plan to spend as much time as possible in public spaces where (libraries, museums, restaurants, etc.) and commit to healthier activities that make you feel good.
Plan to Cope with Withdrawal
- Don’t smoke. Not even once.
- Stay active, drink lots of water, and ditch alcohol, which lowers resolve and is often associated with smoking.
- Try to avoid triggering activities like , drinking coffee, or watching TV.
- If you decide to take or prescription drugs, use them correctly and consistently.
- Attend , make use of , and read self-help books.
- Mix up your by trying out different , foods, or routes around town.
- Avoid or people who are known smokers. Instead, rely on a support system of friends and family who will encourage you to stay on track.
- Sometimes you can’t avoid the people or places that may trigger you to want a cigarette. In these cases, try to prepare in advance for refraining from smoking even in difficult situations.
- Keep for cigarettes on hand at all times. Gum, candy, and straws or toothpicks work for the oral component. Fill an empty hand with a pencil, stress ball, or marble.
- Don’t rationalize! Write down any (ex: “I just need one to get me through this tough spot”). Once you’ve recognized the urge, find a distraction and move on.
- Use the to recognize a cigarette craving. Many people feel the urge to smoke when they are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. Be aware of these triggers and deal with them by eating, calling a supportive friend, visiting a loved one, or going to bed.
- Practice . Take deep breaths and spend a moment or two recognizing a craving when it strikes. Be aware of the desire for a cigarette, accept it, and move on. This can be extremely helpful for developing awareness of triggers and helping you to "surf your urges."
- Celebrate with small treats like a nice dinner out, a trip to a museum, a yoga class, or a new book.
Address Slip-Ups and Relapses
- A slip-up is a one-time cigarette; a relapse is returning to a smoking habit. In , try not to be too hard on yourself. Instead, resolve to get back on track—right away.
- Most importantly, . Did something trigger a craving? Did a withdrawal management technique fail? Use the slip-up to improve your commitment to staying smoke-free.
But What About…
Some people delay quitting smoking because they . Many smokers do get heavier when quitting (since appetite rises again once nicotine leaves the body), but most gain fewer than 10 pounds. Focus on maintaining a healthy overall lifestyle by eating well, exercising, and avoiding junk food. Take quitting one day at a time and worry about losing weight (if necessary) later.
Along with learning to manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings, ex-smokers must find a way to deal with stress without lighting up. The good news? A found that people who successfully quit smoking were less anxious than smokers. Regardless of the science, some ex-smokers find they need a new way to cope with nerves. Physical activity is a great de-stressor, as are breathing techniques and meditation. Consider signing up for a class to help blow off some steam.
Even when a smoking habit is a thing of the past, it’s important to associated with cigarettes. Keep the doctor informed about any health issues, especially lung or heart problems like a troublesome cough or chest pain.
A smoking addiction is both . Medications and NRT can help with the physical withdrawal symptoms, but successfully quitting requires , too. Talk to family and friends before beginning the process and set up a network of people to call or visit when cravings strike. Consider joining a quitting program like , , , or a local program through a hospital, workplace, or house of worship. It can often be helpful to surround yourself with people who have also quit smoking and can provide psychological support. If getting to a meeting is difficult, consider for advice.
No (Cigarette) Butts About It — The Takeaway
Quitting isn’t a walk in the park, but the long-term health advantages far outweigh the struggle of fighting a nicotine addiction. The best way to successfully stop smoking is to prepare and plan for every situation so the temptation to light up never catches flame. Talk to doctors, friends, family, and addiction specialists to figure out the best way to kick the habit and take control of your health. Regardless of whether a smoking habit is brand new or 50 years strong, it’s never too late to stop smoking and reap big health benefits.
For more information and resources to help quit smoking, check out the , , , or .
Have you ever tried to quit smoking? What was the hardest part for you? Share your story in the comments below or tweet the author at .