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Proven Strategies to Quit Smoking

When You're Ready to Get Serious

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Surviving Without Smoke: Month 1

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Be Prepared

You should actually start making plans before you quit, says Coral Arvon, PhD, MFT, LCSW, a behavioral health specialist at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami, who is also a former smoker. During the week before your Quit Day, make the following preparations:

  • Put together a list of all the reasons you want to quit smoking. Print it out on index cards and stash the cards where you used to put your cigarettes -- in your purse, in your desk drawer, in your nightstand.
  • Pay attention to when you smoke, where, and with whom. Then make specific plans for what you can do instead. Do you usually have a cigarette with a cup of coffee in the morning? Do you take a “smoke break” mid-morning with a co-worker? Write down alternatives that will keep your mind and body occupied. Don’t wait until after you’ve quit and the craving strikes!
  • Pick a good “quit day.” We’re all under stress in our busy lives, but some times are more stressful than others. Don’t choose a day to quit smoking that’s in the middle of your most intense month at work, or right before finals, or while a loved one is seriously ill. “Try to quit at a time when you can avoid major stress for at least a week or two,” says Arvon.
  • For one week, gather the contents of your ashtrays. Put them in a jar with a lid, and pour some water on the resulting mess. Seal the jar. We’ll talk about what to do with it later.

After You Quit Smoking

So you’ve made your preparations, you’ve thrown away your packs, and you’ve smoked your last cigarette. Now it’s time to act like an ex-smoker. What next?

First, you need to learn to delay the urge. There will be an urge to smoke -- almost immediately. Any given urge to smoke lasts about 30 seconds before diminishing again, Arvon says, so you need to do things to keep your mind and body busy until the urge fades again. Some options:

  • Take 10 deep breaths, walk to the sink, pour yourself a glass of ice water, and drink it slowly.
  • Fix a healthy snack. Something that makes your breath and teeth feel fresh is great, such as carrot sticks or a citrus fruit. Or suck on a peppermint.
  • Keep a paperback book with you on a subject you want to learn about. When you feel the urge to smoke, pull the book out along with a pen or highlighter and read a few pages while making notes or highlighting passages. “You’re occupying your mind and your hands with something other than a cigarette,” says Arvon.
  • Take out your list of reasons why you’re no longer a smoker and read it to yourself. Out loud if you have to.
  • Call a friend or a family member who supports your efforts to quit smoking. You don’t have to talk to them about smoking or quitting -- just hold the phone in your hand instead of a cigarette, and talk about sports, the weather, or your next vacation until the craving passes.
  • Go high-tech. Download a quit smoking application for your smartphone that helps you delay your urges. Try Quitter, which tracks how long you’ve been smoke-free and shows you the money you’ve saved. Next time you want a cigarette, check out your riches instead.
  • Remember that jar with all your old ashtray contents? Keep it handy, in your desk drawer or under the kitchen sink. When a craving hits hard, pull out that jar, open it up and take a big whiff. “It’s really disgusting,” says Arvon. “It makes you want to never see a cigarette again.”
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