How to Curb Stress While You Quit Smoking

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on April 21, 2021

You’re going to want to be on top of your stress management skills when you work to stop smoking.

It’s a big effort, with a big payoff for your health. And if smoking was what you did when you were under pressure before, you’ll need other options now.

Start with these 10 stress-busting strategies.

1. Cut yourself plenty of slack.

Be good to yourself. Quitting isn’t easy, but try to keep an optimistic, “can-do” attitude. Believing that you can do something is a first step toward actually doing it. Even if you’ve tried before and started smoking again, remember that it’s possible. Most people have to try several times before they succeed.

2. Settle short-term problems in advance.

If you can handle any nagging issues that aren’t too big, do it before you quit. Fix that leaky faucet. Clean up the clutter that’s been bugging you. Clear away as many stressful issues as possible.

3. Focus your attention.

The first few weeks of quitting are the hardest. During that time, don’t try to take on other big issues. You can address long-term problems later, after you’ve made it through the first few weeks.

4. Notice your signs of stress.

The sooner you deal with stress, the better -- so it doesn’t make you light up. Stress can make you angry, anxious, or sad. You might get headaches or an upset stomach, or cravings for food that’s not good for you.

5. Do things you enjoy doing.

What do you love to do? It might be just the thing to help you relax. Listen to your favorite music. Watch a comedy. Take your dog out for a run. Connect with friends or family. Get outside in nature.

6. Get moving.

Being active is a great way to handle stress. You’ll get a boost of brain chemicals that help you feel good. Almost any type of exercise helps, and you’ll want to do it regularly. It could become part of your new life as a nonsmoker.

7. Practice relaxation.

Have you tried yoga, deep breathing exercises, and meditation? These are just a few ways to help you focus on the here and now. It’s a skill that comes in handy when you need to get through the cravings for a cigarette. No one technique works for everyone, so try a few to see what you like. If possible, get comfortable with a few stress reduction techniques before your quit date.

8. Put it in writing.

Find a quiet place and spend 15 minutes writing about what’s bugging you. Don’t reread or revise. Just write. Afterward, delete or tear up what you’ve written and toss it away. The act of writing might give you a new perspective.

9. Call on a friend.

Before you quit, make a list of the people you can turn to for support and a friendly conversation. Turn to them when you feel like it’s not going so well. Social support really does make a difference.

10. Expect tough moments.

The first few days of quitting can be really rocky. Almost all ex-smokers have moments when they doubt that they can do it. Remind yourself often: Nicotine withdrawal gets weaker every day that you don’t smoke. Every time you resist lighting up, you’re one step closer to a smoke-free life.

Even when you’re over the hardest first few weeks, expect to hit some rough patches. There will be times when you’ll really want to light up. But you can get through it. Stick with it, and you’ll be an ex-smoker before you know it.

WebMD Medical Reference



Steven Schroeder, MD, director, Smoking Cessation Leadership Center, University of California, San Francisco.

Bruce S. Rabin, MD, PhD, medical director, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Healthy Lifestyle Program.

Scott McIntosh, PhD, associate professor of community and preventive medicine, University of Rochester, New York; director, Greater Rochester Area Tobacco Cessation Center.

Asztalos, M. Public Health Nutrition, published online Dec. 17, 2009.

Addiction, December 2008; vol 103: pp 2024-2031.

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