Quitting smoking is not the end of your journey as a non-smoker. You can’t simply quit smoking, and expect to go about your life as if you were never a smoker. Addictions require lifelong maintenance. This is not to say that staying away from cigarettes will always be difficult for you. However, many people experience cravings for quite some time, sometimes occasionally for the rest of their lives.
By preparing yourself in advance to stay away from cigarettes, you can ensure that you remain a non-smoker for the rest of your life, never turning back to cigarettes. The best way to prepare yourself to stay away from cigarettes is to recognize triggering issues that you might come across as a non-smoker. For example, if you frequently smoked when you drank alcohol, you may need to avoid drinking temporarily. You may also need to stop drinking altogether in order to avoid smoking. Alternatively, you may need to remind those around you not to smoke around you while you are drinking. Making healthy choices about the actions you will take in the future to prevent a relapse is the best way to keep yourself from going back to cigarettes.
Relenting to Cigarettes
For most people who smoke, a relapse will usually occur within the first week after quitting. A slip can be anything from smoking a full cigarette, to having just a single puff of the cigarette. For others, a slip may mean that they become full-time smokers again. Slips and relapses are extremely common within any addiction. Having a slip doesn’t mean that you have failed; it means you need to address the issues that cause you to slip and start the process again. The great thing about relapsing, if there is anything great about relapsing at all, is that there is always the opportunity to jump right back in the game and learn from your mistakes.
Don’t fall prey to the games your mind will play after you quit. “Just One Cigarette” is never just one cigarette. It almost always inevitably leads to further smoking. You may choose to have one cigarette, and then have a negative reaction to the fact that you have failed. This may lead to self-criticism, depression, anxiety, and other strong emotions that can be difficult to deal with. This stress reaction itself can cause you to begin smoking again. This is especially true if you have had several slips in a row. You may assume that you should just go back to smoking, and that quitting smoking is far too difficult. When temptations become serious, bring out your coping skills. You may want to add the following list of coping skills to your “bag of tricks.”
- Be sure to remind yourself that not smoking is making you healthier
- Remind yourself that even just one cigarette is not a good idea
- Remind yourself that quitting has been difficult; if you choose to smoke, you will need to go through that process all over again.
When You Do Slip
When you do have slips, it is important not to panic. Don’t let yourself become locked into negative thinking patterns. Acknowledge the slip, try to determine what it is that led to the slip, and then move on from it. Forgive yourself for slipping. Realize that having a slip doesn’t mean that you have begun smoking again, but it does mean that you are on the path to beginning to smoke again. Next, review the following tips.
- Contact your support system, if you have experienced a slip. This may be your doctor, a family member, friend, or therapist. If you feel that you cannot handle the quitting process yourself, and you haven’t reached out to a therapist, consider doing so now.
- Don’t buy cigarettes. No matter how strong the temptation, do not purchase that pack. Refuse to buy cigarettes for other people as well; this can be enough of the temptation to make you start again.
- If you are extremely tempted to have a cigarette, make yourself wait at least two hours. This is usually enough time for your craving to pass.
- Carry a journal with you. Within this journal, write down all of your information that you have compiled before quitting. Include your reasons for quitting, and a list of coping skills, you can turn to when things get rough. Include pictures of people you are quitting for, including yourself. You may even want to include reminders of situations in the past where you have overcome great difficulty.
If you have experience or full relapse, whether it is two days after you quit smoking or 10 years, try to find the reason that brought you back to smoking. Most people find that have been in a highly stressful situation at the same time. Others may find that they were simply surrounded and inundated by smokers. It is these unexpected sudden urges that can be the most risky for ex-smokers. In addition to these situations, any of the following can be triggers to relapse:
- Being around tobacco users
- Drinking alcohol
- Feeling hurried, overwhelmed or stressed
- Being overconfident
- Being isolated from supportive friends and loved ones
- Having feelings of anger, self-pity or entitlement
- Not complying with treatment recommendations
- Feeling tired, poor sleep quality
- Not taking time for yourself
- Negative, pessimistic attitude
When this happens, turn to the same methods as you did to quit in order to get you through. Remember that you did it once, and you can do it again. Instead of simply giving in and and continuing to smoke, use the reasons that brought you back to smoking to plan for the future. Gain strength from your relapse, rather than failure.
If you think that you are about to relapse, then you need to begin the process of reaching out for support immediately. As mentioned before, if you haven’t signed on for therapy up until this point, you may want to consider doing so. Also, consider contacting friends, family, or the other loved ones for a long, friendly chat. Sometimes just talking things out with a friend can be enough to set you back on the right path. Your family doctor can also be a great source of support for you during this process.
Try not to get discouraged by the quitting process. If you do relapse, have slips, or even if you go back to smoking for a long time, recognize that this is simply part of the process. Rather than giving up and continuing to smoke, try again. It is common for smokers to make several attempts before succeeding at quitting. This is true of all addictions. Remember that nicotine is a drug, and it will take time for your body to move back into a natural state. What you are doing is the right thing to do, both for your body and for your mind. Quitting smoking is good self-care.
If you have concerns about the side effects of quitting smoking, recognize these concerns. For some individuals, weight gain is a serious concern. It can be enough to prevent people from quitting smoking. However, smoking-related weight gain is a condition that can be managed. Your physician can help you to ensure that you stay within a healthy range for your personal body type. Consider that quitting smoking has more health benefits than gaining or losing a few pounds. Additionally, you can always work on losing the few pounds you may gain once you are away from cigarettes.
Instead of focusing on or obsessing about the way you may gain, do what you can to control what you eat and how much exercise you get. Focus on eating lots of fruits and vegetables, as this will both limit weight gain and provide you with the nutrition you need to get healthy again. Also, remember to drink plenty of water. Water is important for optimal hydration, and optimal hydration is required by the body in order to burn fat correctly.
Many smokers are also concerned about the level of stress they may experience once they quit smoking, or during the smoking process. Recognize that you have used nicotine to handle stress, and that there are better ways to handle your emotions. Consider reviewing your behaviors and reactions to the many day to day situations that you consider stressful. Use this information to spur on personal growth, and develop new coping skills.
It’s also fine to consider using nicotine replacement therapy in order to ease or wean you down from cigarettes. While you will still be using nicotine briefly, you are also removing all of the harmful chemicals found in cigarettes. This is preferable to smoking, even though it may mean not making a clean break from nicotine. Consider an e-cigarette, a nicotine inhaler, nicotine gum, or even a nicotine patch.
Develop new ways to deal with stress. Try to remember that exercise can reduce stress. There is an easy way to address two issues at once by exercising; you can both reduce weight gain and reduce stress by engaging in even 30 minutes of exercise each day. If you still find that you are stressed out, consider taking stress management classes. Visiting your church, spending time with friends, or attending group therapy can also be a great way to learn new skills. Breathing exercises and meditation can be extremely beneficial for some individuals; these two coping skills can be practiced just about anywhere.
The Importance of Self-Care
Self-care is also extremely important. Self-care describes the process of treating yourself with kindness and respect, and it includes caring for your body and engaging in preventative strategies. You can start developing good self-care skills by being honest with your doctor about your activities in the past as they relate to smoking, drugs, or alcohol. Your doctor’s job is to ensure that you are healthy; without all the correct information, your doctor cannot treat you properly. It is important that he or she is aware of your full health situation, including your history as a smoker.
Remember that smoking can lead to illness; the rate of cancer in those who smoke is significantly higher. This risk does drop over time when you quit smoking, but will still be with you for some time. Check your mouth frequently for signs of ulcerations, and see a dentist after you quit. Have your physician give you a full physical examination at least twice per year for the first five years after smoking. If you develop a cough, chest pain, loss of appetite, weight loss, exhaustion, or wheezing, seek medical attention immediately. Likewise, if you have other sudden symptoms, seek care from a physician.