Quitting smoking cold turkey is not easy. It requires will power and not everyone succeeds but not everyone can handle the nicotine gum or patches without getting sick. One of the worst parts of quitting are the cravings. They get easier over time, but in the beginning they get intense. The first three days are breaking a physical addiction, so once you get over the 72-hour mark, you will find that you’re not feeling physical withdrawal but you are still feeling desperate for a cigarette. That’s because addiction changes your brain chemistry so your brain is trying to get that hit to relieve the withdrawal.
Normally when you quit, you will experience cravings. Those will be like hunger pangs and won’t last long. The best thing to do is try to wait out a craving- it can be as little as a few seconds (just count to ten and see if they go away) to an hour or two. If they don’t go away with counting to ten, try to distract yourself.
Ways To Distract Yourself
- Go out and prep dinner
- Bake something
- Read a couple pages of an interesting book or blog
- Watch part of a TV show
- Take up knitting/crocheting
- Take up loom knitting
- Take up making earrings or jewelry
- Start sewing
- Do a small craft
- If you’re a writer, start writing something- a book, short story, blog, article for a client- anything
- Play a game with your kids
- Play a video game
One of the reasons many people light up is because of boredom. You tend to feel bored when you have nothing to do. If you find something to do, you’ll be less likely to pick a cigarette up and more able to fight a craving.
You will find that you’ll go through some pretty bad withdrawal symptoms while you’re trying to quit. Withdrawal can be very annoying and can make you feel desperate for a cigarette but if you know what to expect and prepare ahead of time, you should be able to fight back against the symptoms to be more successful.
Symptoms of Withdrawal
- Cravings– they can vary in severity but typically only last a few seconds to a few minutes. If you can distract yourself long enough, they usually go away on their own but will come back. The best game plan is to decide how you will distract yourself. Come up with a list of things you can quickly switch to doing and do them when a craving hits. Try to also come up with why you crave them.
Common reasons people have cravings- people they usually smoke with, memories or positive feelings associated with smoking, being hungry or overly tired or being stressed. Different people can have different triggers but it’s best to try to either avoid triggers or reduce them as much as possible.
- Mood swings– there isn’t much you can do. There are some methods to controlling anger or emotional outbursts- like stopping and counting to three, walking away from whatever is about to make you snap or using a stress ball. Like dealing with triggers, different methods work for different people at different times. If you normally use video games to relax and you’re at work, you won’t have an option to play. You might find that taking a stress ball to work helps ease the tension enough to get you through your shift.
- Feeling anxious and restless– cigarettes give you stuff to do with your hands. Many people find that stuff like suckers and tooth picks help with calming the hand to mouth habit. Chewing gum and brushing your teeth can also help- both give you a fresh feeling in your mouth that will feel better than the stale feeling of cigarettes.
- Lightheadedness– Make sure to eat and when this symptom hits, remember that your blood pressure is dropping and some lightheadedness will be common. This should go away by the time the nicotine is fully out of your system. Try to avoid doing anything dangerous while dealing with this symptom; even if that means pulling over into a parking lot while driving.
- Being hungry/weight gain– Nicotine is a stimulant and appetite suppressant. It both helps metabolism and decreases your appetite. The best thing to do to handle both of these side effects is to make sure you have plenty of fruits and vegetables/nuts and other healthy items to snack on and to exercise. Also, eat very slow so you will avoid eating past the point of feeling full. The first few bites of a super sweet item typically are the positive bites- the rest isn’t needed and won’t feel any better.
- Feeling depressed or lethargic– you may feel down. You may feel more stressed and you may feel that you’ve lost a good friend. All these are normal. You may even feel grief- it could be understood because in a way, it’s like losing a long term friend. Cigarettes were always there when you “needed” one so it’s normal to feel like you’re losing a part of you. It’s best to remember in times like this that you are getting out of an “abusive” relationship. Cigarettes may always be there but they are contributing nothing and they are killing you. If you met friends or bonded with people over cigarettes, the memories may come rushing back. Remember the memories with the people and not the activity. You miss the bonding with people, not the smoking. To try to remedy this, find things to do with those same friends that don’t involve smoking. If they are true friends, they won’t leave you when you quit. They will support you.
Also where Nicotine is a stimulant, it may mask depression symptoms. It may also suddenly make you feel depressed. The best way to fight that is to either get help for depression, or if it’s situational depression; go out and do things you like. Eat as healthy as you can and make sure to get plenty of sun. Do things like work out that help with those same receptors in your brain but make sure not to replace an addiction with another addiction.
Keep in mind that slips may happen and relapses almost always happen before the final quit, but if you’re able to quit you will need persistence. Make a plan, plan how to handle triggers and ways you can distract yourself. Don’t beat yourself up over a relapse and try to learn from it.
If you have successful quit, what advice would you give to a long time smoker trying to quit?