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Proven Strategies to Quit Smoking

When You're Ready to Get Serious

Quitting Tobacco: Help for the First Hard Days

Sip Cold Water and Eat Small Meals

Sipping cold water can help replace the act of sucking on a cigarette. New research shows that sipping cold water through a straw releases dopamine, a feel-good brain chemical that can help ease negative moods.

Eating small meals can also help you get past the urge to smoke. Choose lean, healthy foods to avoid any weight gain.

Recognize Instant Rewards

You don't have to wait long to begin enjoying the benefits of a smoke-free life. Keep a written list of the benefits as you begin to experience them. These may include feeling in control, saving money, smelling better, tasting food more vividly, and feeling more energetic. When the urge to smoke strikes, look at the benefits you're already experiencing.

Brush Your Teeth Frequently

One of the immediate benefits of quitting is that your mouth tastes better and your breath smells better. Brush your teeth frequently. That way, you'll be less inclined to light up a cigarette and foul that clean, fresh mouth.

Avoid Alcohol

Drinking alcohol is one of the most common reasons people go back to smoking. There are several reasons why. By breaking down inhibitions, the effect of alcohol can erode your commitment to quitting. The act of drinking alcohol is also associated with smoking for many people, so it may serve as a trigger.

Find Your Own No-Smoking Zones

When the urge to smoke strikes, go somewhere where you can't light up -- a movie, the library, or a store for example. The more distracting the location is, the easier it will be to ride out cravings.

Remember Your Reasons for Quitting

Write down a list of all your reasons for quitting. Make copies and post them wherever you spend time -- in the kitchen, at the office, beside the bathroom mirror. Be sure they are prominently displayed so that you are reminded wherever you go. Some ex-smokers say they found it useful to put photographs of family and loved ones alongside their reasons.

Be Active Every Day

Physical activity offers a powerful distraction from cravings. When your body is active, it sends out natural chemicals that help your mood and reduce your stress. Walking is one of the easiest exercises for most people, but choosing a variety of activities may help you stay motivated. Especially during the first few weeks after quitting, set aside time to be physically active every day.

Fill Your Calendar

During the first few weeks of quitting, make sure your days are filled with things you want or need to do. Make plans to eat meals with family or friends. Try to steer clear of smoking temptations. Also include activities that you enjoy. The busier you are, the more distracted you'll be from the urge to smoke.

Put Something Else in Your Mouth

Part of the urge to smoke is having something in your mouth. In place of a cigarette, pop sugar-free chewing gum, hard candy, or a healthy snack in your mouth when the urge strikes. Be sure to have something with you at all times. If you're concerned about gaining weight, stick with low-calorie alternatives.

Secure a Lifeline

Ask someone to be there for you when you need support. The best choice is a friend who is also a former smoker who has kicked the habit. But anyone who cares for you and wants you to quit smoking can help when times get tough.

Limit Caffeine

Caffeine helps some people get going in the morning and stay alert when they're tired. But caffeine can make some people feel tense, jittery, and stressed. These effects can be amplified when you’re in the process of breaking nicotine addiction. If caffeine negatively affects you, try cutting back to see if it helps reduce your anxiety.

Be Alert to Bad Moods

Negative emotions -- stress, anger, frustration -- are another common reason people go back to smoking. Bad moods happen to everyone. And chances are you'll experience more than your fair share of negative emotions during the first few weeks of quitting. Find ways to distract yourself. Useful strategies include getting together with friends or doing something you really enjoy.

Avoid Troublemakers

Although friends and family should be supportive, they aren't always. Some people may be threatened by your decision to quit. They may even try to undermine your best efforts. If you sense that there are people like this in your life, avoid them. If that isn't possible, sit down and explain to them why quitting is so important to you. Ask for their support.

Be Patient and Stay on Track

Once you make it through the first two weeks, you're on your way to a lifetime free of nicotine addiction. But be prepared in case you falter. Remember: one lapse does not signal a collapse. Analyze what went wrong. Then brainstorm strategies to prevent the same problem from happening again.

Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on March 12, 2014

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