You’re ready to quit smoking. Chances are, you’ve been here before. Most smokers try many times before it sticks. Your brain has been trained to want nicotine, and smoking is now built into your daily routine. But millions of people have kicked the habit, and you can too.
Thoughtful preparation can set you up for success. Look at the times you’ve tried to quit before as practice, and put what you’ve learned into a plan to stop smoking for good.
List Your Reasons
You know you’ll be healthier and save money if you don’t smoke. But what are your personal reasons for quitting? Do you want to set a good example for your kids? Have better-looking skin? Write down exactly why you want to quit, and how your life will be better after you do. Keep the list handy. Read it often to stay motivated.
Decide How You’ll Quit
You can go about quitting in many ways: Cold turkey or tapering off. On your own or with medication or counseling. What have you tried before? What worked and what didn’t? Explore the different options and choose what fits your style:
- Self-help. You’ll find all kinds of resources online if you choose to manage the quitting process by yourself. Check out government websites like smokefree.gov, or the American Lung Association’s lung.org. Smartphone apps and texting programs can give you encouragement and advice.
- Behavioral Therapy. You can get coaching and counseling either in person or over the phone, or with a support group. Ask your doctor for a recommendation, or look online for resources in your area. The National Cancer Institute has telephone counseling at 877-44U-QUIT, and you can find telephone counseling in your state by calling 800-QUIT-NOW.
- Nicotine Replacement. Over-the-counter products like patches, gum, and lozenges satisfy your craving for nicotine while you work on quitting altogether. You can get inhalers and nasal sprays by prescription.
- Prescription drugs. Other drugs have no nicotine, but can also reduce your urge to smoke and help with withdrawal symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe bupropion (Zyban) or varenicline (Chantix).
People who take stop-smoking medications are about twice as likely to quit successfully. And research has shown the most effective way to quit is a combination of medicines and counseling.
Check with your health insurance -- they may even pay for it.
Choose a Good Time
Set a quit date and stick to it. It should be far enough out that you have time to plan, but not so far out that you change your mind.
Do you have a deadline coming up at work or a big social event? The first few days after you quit are going to be the hardest, so don’t pick a time when you’ll have extra stress or temptation. You’ll want to stay busy that first day. Go to a movie or hang out with your nonsmoking friends. Chew gum to keep your mouth busy and carry a pen or a squeeze ball to occupy your hands.
It may help to “practice” quitting for short periods of time while you get ready for the big day.
Line Up Support
Tell your family and friends you’re quitting. They’ll probably want to help. They can check in on you and keep you company with smoke-free activities.
See if the smokers in your life want to quit with you. If not, ask them not to smoke around you. Realize you may need to put some distance between yourself and people who don’t support your effort.
Prepare for Pitfalls
An important part of your quitting plan is to think about things that might trip you up and figure out ahead of time how you’ll manage them. Your earlier tries taught you what your challenges are. This time, arm yourself with ways to overcome them.
Triggers. While you’re getting ready to quit, make note of when you want a cigarette. Is it first thing in the morning? While you’re eating or drinking something specific? When you’re feeling stressed out? Then think about a way you can avoid that situation or manage it differently, including:
- Change your routine. If you normally have a smoke after dinner, brush your teeth instead.
- Keep your hands busy. If you’re used to smoking while you drive, watch TV, or talk on the phone, try squeezing a ball or spinning a pen or a coin.
- If you associate smoking with drinking coffee or alcohol, try switching up your beverage to water or juice.
- Learn new ways to manage stress. Exercise and deep breathing can help. So can talking about your feelings. Ask your nonsmoking friends what they do to deal with stress.
- Throw out your cigarettes, lighters, and ashtrays, and get the smoke smell out of your house and car.
- Stay out of places where you used to smoke, like bars, clubs, or the smoking area outside your office.
Withdrawal. You’ll probably have symptoms when you cut out nicotine, like strong cravings for a cigarette, insomnia, and jitters. Withdrawal can be very uncomfortable, but it won’t hurt you. The key to getting though it is to come up with strategies, such as:
- Distract yourself. When a craving strikes, text a friend or take a walk. Go someplace where they don’t allow smoking. If you can wait it out, the craving will pass.
- Exercise. Physical activity can reduce withdrawal symptoms.
- Limit your caffeine. It can make your insomnia and jitters worse.
- Try nicotine replacement medications.
- Remind yourself that withdrawal symptoms will go away as your body gets used to life without nicotine.
Psychological effects. You can expect to feel irritable, anxious and even depressed in the days after you quit. If it goes on longer than a couple of weeks, talk to your doctor about whether medication may help you. In the meantime:
- Be patient with yourself.
- Treat yourself to a fun activity.
- Let the people around you know why you’re in a bad mood and don’t be afraid to lean on them.
- Do something nice for someone else.
Weight gain. Fear of gaining weight can be a real barrier when you want to quit smoking. Your appetite may be bigger and food will taste better. Try these tips to limit weight gain:
- Stick to a healthy eating plan. Snack on things like carrot sticks, plain popcorn, or sugar-free gum.
- Drink lots of water.
- Bump up your exercise routine.
- Consider nicotine replacement medications.
Mark Your Success
Whenever you feel a craving and don’t give in, that’s progress. Set small goals, like a week without a cigarette, and celebrate when you get there. Use the money you save by not buying cigarettes to treat yourself.
Give Yourself a Break
Don’t beat yourself up if you slip up and have a cigarette. It doesn’t mean you have to go back to being a full-time smoker.
Take a step back and review your plan. What’s working and what isn’t? Remind yourself of why you want to quit, and try again as soon as possible.
Photo Credit: Photographer's Choice RF / Getty Images
Journal of Epidemiology and Public Health: “Predictors of past quit attempts and duration of abstinence among cigarette smokers.”
CDC: “Why Quitting Smoking is Hard,” “Smoking Cessation: A Report of the Surgeon General, 2020,” “Build Your Quit Plan,” “7 Common Withdrawal Symptoms.”
Smokefree.gov: “Why Do You Want to Quit?” “Explore Quit Methods,” “Prepare to Quit,” “Using Nicotine Replacement Therapy,” “Medications Can Help You Quit,” “Ask for Help,” “Know Your Triggers,” “Managing Withdrawal,” “How to Manage Cravings,” “Fight Cravings with Exercise,” “Coping With Stress Without Smoking,” “Smoking & Depression,” “Boost Your Mood,” “Nutrition & Appetite While Quitting,” “Tips for Slips.”
American Lung Association: “How to Quit Smoking,” “Top Tips for Quitting Smoking,” “What to Expect When Quitting,” “Be Prepared for Challenges.”
American Cancer Society: “Making a Plan to Quit and Planning Your Quit Day.”