You've done your homework, made your plan, tossed out all your cigarettes and now the big day is here. It's day one of your plan to quit smoking. You've probably heard that nicotine withdrawal is unpleasant and that most people need to quit several times before they reach their goal. But if you can make it through this first day and this first week, when nicotine withdrawal symptoms are at their worst, you will be on your way to success.
One of the most important things you can do right now is remind the people around you that today is the day you are quitting cigarettes and ask for their help. This might mean asking some people not to smoke around you, so that you aren't tempted to give in to a craving.
You may have a range of nicotine withdrawal symptoms today or during this first week. It's not unusual to have 4 or more of these reactions:
Cravings for cigarettes (nicotine)
You can reduce these symptoms by using nicotine replacement products. These products can help relieve some of the symptoms so that you can focus on the emotional aspects of quitting. They can also increase your likelihood of successfully quitting. Some of these products are over-the-counter (gum, patches, lozenges) while others need a prescription (inhalers, nasal sprays). If you use an over-the-counter product, be sure you are using the appropriate strength based on your smoking history. If your healthcare provider has prescribed nicotine replacement products, be sure to use them as directed to help relieve symptoms. If he or she suggested antidepressants, which are sometimes helpful, make sure you understand how and when exactly to take them.
Here are no-cost or low-cost strategies for meeting today's challenges:
Plan a new morning ritual. If smoking was a big part of how you started every day, create new positive habits, like making a healthy breakfast from scratch. Ideally, the activity should last an hour or more. It should keep you busy and distracted.
Plan activities. Schedule activities that you enjoy (but that you don't associate with smoking) to stay occupied and avoid feelings of boredom or frustration. It's OK to bribe yourself a little bit, too. Reward yourself after you get through the afternoon without a cigarette by going to the movies or getting a manicure.
Lean on others for support. Ask friends and family to help motivate you. Reach out to support groups available both in person and online. Don't be afraid to contact them. You want to create a network of cheerleaders who will keep you on track.
Drive differently. If you smoked in your car — on your way to work or just the supermarket, for example — you might need to change your route, listen to new music, or find another way to drive without smoking. You might even consider joining a carpool or taking a train to shake up your daily commute.
Get physical. Taking a walk or jog or engaging in any kind of physical activity that you really like can reduce feelings of anxiety, anger, frustration, and stress that are often part of nicotine withdrawal.
Fiddle. If you enjoyed the feeling of a cigarette in your hand, find a small object, like a paperclip, pencil, or even a squishy stress ball, that you can play with instead.
Keep your mouth busy. Try chewing sugar-free gum, sucking on hard candy, or snacking on fruits and veggies whenever you get a craving. Have all these choices handy at all times.
Take a deep breath. Do deep breathing exercises as often as you need them to relieve stress. Every time you exhale, remind yourself that the urge to smoke will pass.
Seek out smoke-free distractions. Take advantage of public smoking bans by enjoying smoke-free places in your community. Savor the fresh air filling your lungs.
Create a plan to manage triggers. You probably have favorite times and places to smoke or certain stressful (but predictable) events that cause you to want to light up. Plan your day so that you avoid as many of your trigger situations as possible. Have a substitute activity you can do when a trigger is unavoidable, like drinking a glass of water rather than smoking during scheduled coffee breaks.
Cut back on alcohol. Not only does alcohol weaken your determination to follow a number of healthy lifestyle choices, it also often acts as a trigger for smoking. In particular, avoid any specific drinks you used to enjoy with a cigarette.
Distract yourself. If you find you have time on your hands, keep those hands busy with an interesting book or magazine to read or a puzzle to solve.
Know key contacts. If you have a weak moment, get encouragement so that you do not reach for a cigarette. Call a friend, a loved one, the American Lung Association helpline (800-548-8252), or the National Cancer Institute helpline (877-448-7848).
© 2015 The University of Chicago Medical Center. All rights reserved.
The University of Chicago Medicine
5841 S. Maryland Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637 | 773-702-1000
Appointments: Call UCM Connect at 1-888-824-0200