You’re officially a former smoker. Congratulations! Beating nicotine addiction is a huge accomplishment. But you know it’s only half the battle. Now you have to keep it up.
There’s no magic formula that will ensure you stay smoke-free. It’s about choosing your new lifestyle every day, and leaning on the strategies that helped you quit in the first place.
Remember Your Reasons
Before you quit, you may have made a list of why you wanted to, and how it would make your life better. If not, do it now. Keep the list handy and read it often to stay motivated.
List Your Gains
Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do to improve your health. Write down the ways your body is benefitting. Your list may include:
- Better breathing
- Less chance for heart disease, stroke, many kinds of cancer, and diabetes
- Lower cholesterol
- Stronger bones
- Better sex life
- Younger-looking skin
Do you really want to give up the gains you worked so hard for?
Watch Those Triggers
Whether you quit last month or 5 years ago, you’ll still have times when you want to reach for a cigarette. Know what triggers your urge to smoke and be ready to handle it.
- Avoid temptation. Get rid of ash trays, lighters, and any hidden cigarettes. Clean the smell out of your house, clothes, and car. Stay out of places where you used to smoke.
- Embrace new routines. Patterns that were tied to smoking need to change. For example, if you used to have a cigarette after dinner, take a walk or brush your teeth instead.
- Manage stress. Take care of yourself to lower your stress levels. Get enough sleep and eat well. When you get anxious, try physical activity or deep breathing.
As time goes by, you’ll feel the need for nicotine less and less. Keep a list of what’s helped you resist cravings. It may include:
- Distractions. Call a friend or take a walk. Go somewhere smoking isn’t allowed until the craving passes.
- Substitutes. Chew on gum or carrot sticks to keep your mouth busy. Squeeze a ball, click a pen, or play a game on your phone to occupy your hands.
- Nicotine replacement medicines. Products like patches, gum, and lozenges can satisfy your desire for nicotine more safely than cigarettes. You may need to take them for 6 months or more to get past the cravings.
Tap Your Support Network
The same people who wanted to help you quit will also want to help keep you a nonsmoker.
- Let friends and family members know if you’re struggling. They can encourage you and distract you from cravings.
- Ask friends who smoke not to do it around you, and never to offer you a cigarette. You may have to distance yourself from people who can’t support you.
- Counselors and support groups -- whether in-person, online, or over the phone -- can help get you through a rough patch. Texting programs, like the ones available at smokefree.org, offer tips and encouragement. The National Cancer Institute runs a phone counseling program at 877-44U-QUIT, and each state has its own quit line you can connect with at 800-QUIT-NOW.
Giving up smoking is a lifelong process, but you only have to handle one day at a time. Believe that you can do it.
Celebrate your success, and reward yourself when you reach a milestone.
If you slip up and have a cigarette, don’t beat yourself up. It doesn’t mean you’ll go back to being a full-time smoker. Most people have to try many times before they quit for good. Figure out what went wrong, and recommit as quickly as possible to a smoke-free life.
Photo Credit: praetorianphoto / Getty Images
American Cancer Society: “Staying Tobacco-free After You Quit,” “Help for Cravings and Tough Situations While You're Quitting Tobacco.”
CDC: “Benefits of Quitting.”
Smokefree.gov “Benefits of Quitting,” “Coping With Stress Without Smoking,” “How to Stay Smokefree,” “How to Manage Cravings,” “Fight Cravings with Exercise,” “Tips for Slips.”
The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center: “How to stay away from cigarettes after you’ve quit.”