Extinguishing The Smoking Habit- Personal Tips, Insights, and Frustrations
Let's Be Honest
Yes, I am a smoker that has finally decided to take the plunge. And yes, I am struggling a bit along the way. But I am hoping that by writing this, I will find some peace in knowing that sharing this very personal journey will not only serve to enlighten others, but in some way will also enlighten myself.
So, let's be honest- how many of us are out there? And by "us", I mean smokers who really just don't want to be smokers anymore. You may have decided that it's about that time, and whereas we've all enjoyed that years-long romance with the cigarette, that soothing and oftentimes bittersweet journey has come to an end.
For those of us who aren't familiar with biology or brain chemistry, let's begin by stating that all smokers are- in some way or another- addicted to smoking. The vast majority of us are addicted to the substances in cigarettes, and there may even be a few of us that are just simply addicted to the very concept of smoking. There are triggers that exist for such addictions- a stressful day at work (mine), an annoyingly messy roommate (mine), and overwhelming amounts of college-level homework that we simply could not care less about (mine). Whatever these triggers may be, it is important to acknowledge them beforehand. Anticipate when your body and mind will be the weakest depending on the stressful situations you may find yourself in.
It became much easier for me once I started to view smoking as an addiction, and once I started to acknowledge that in this case, my brain is the enemy. Smoking facilitates the release of neurotransmitters responsible for activating the brain's pleasure centers; this is why a cigarette feels so damn good after a long and obnoxious day. And, after a few occasions of smoking after stressful events that occur in our daily lives, our brain begins to forge a connection beween point A (stressful event) and point B (relief in the form of smoking.) Eliminating this connection is what usually proves to be the most difficult step in the quitting process.
Once you realize that your addiction- and, as residual effects, your cravings- is not a representation of YOU but a physical manifestation of what your brain demands to experience pleasure, your burden will be lightened and your journey will become a little bit easier.
Some Things To Help Along The Way
The things included in the following list are the ones that have helped me the most. I have dramatically decreased the amount of cigarettes that I smoke (about 80%) in a period of five days simply by taking advantage of the items or ideas that I have listed below.
Your body is going to hate you when it begins to realize that it will no longer be receiving the nicotine found in cigarettes. Many people who have quit have reported experiencing stomach cramps or constant and severe hunger pangs in their stomach area. Whereas this is uncomfortable, it is normal. There are many ways in which to anticipate the possibility that you will, at some point during the recovery process, experience intense abdominal pains that may border on the point of what feels like starvation. This is because nicotine can stop your body's naturally-occuring hunger prompts for up to one hour after first consumed. In order to address these almost-unavoidable and unpleasant side effects, stock up on the healthy snacks that you enjoy eating. My go-to craving foods are carrots, which contain mostly water and are relatively inexpensive. Other great ideas include celery, whole wheat crackers, and apples. Immediately reaching for that favorite healthy snack when you start to feel the onset of a hunger/craving pang will do wonders for the overall intensity of the feeling, oftentimes lessening it so that it becomes bearable. In addition to this, remember to drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. Doing so will also help with the physical side effects of nicotine withdrawal.
2. Revamping Your Coping Skills
Up until this point, it's been really easy to smoke a cigarette in an effort to alleviate your stress level. And believe me, I get this. But now is the time to develop the life skills that will enable you to pursue other methods of de-stressing. Actvities such as walking, running, yoga, or even just deep-breathing techniques will allow you to soothe yourself without the aid of a cigarette or two. While involved in these exercises, allow your body to become aware of the difference between the way it feels after being exposed to nicotine, and now completely without it. Involve your brain and nonverbally self-talk, making sure to note how clear-headed and in control of yourself you feel. Associate the sensory feelings of not smoking with your relaxed state of being- for example, "i can stretch my fingers better when they are not holding a cigarette", or "i can detect the different notes of a scent better without the smell of nicotine inside of my nose". These differences will be subtle at first, but farther along down the road you will regain the full height of your senses that have been dulled with nicotine use, resulting in the ability to fully smell and taste again.
3. Remove Yourself
The factor that I have discovered to be the one most contributing to rebound usage is physical exposure to the substance. If you are around friends who smoke, your chances of lighting up have tripled, as your brain has now re-identified the smells and tastes associated with its desired nicotine. This doesn't mean that you can no longer spend time with people who smoke; instead, remain inside when others go outside. Use that opportunity to grab a snack, call a friend, or even just walk a lap around wherever you are. Simple, quick activities that can be done in the time it takes to smoke a cigarette will help your mind stay focused on recovery. And, the more you do this, the sooner your body will associate these activities with you reassuming control over these potentially-stressful situations.
4. Abstain From Alcohol
If you are anything like me, you love smoking while drinking. The two go hand in hand; cigarettes enhance the effects of alcohol, and vice versa. Sometimes, it is just better to abstain from drinking until you can reach the point in your recoverywhen you're comfortable with throwing 'em back without smoking. This period of time differs from person to person; for some, it may be months, and for others, merely weeks.
Giving Yourself A Break
This is probably the most important part of this entire Hub. I have seen many people attempting to quit smoking, only to see them despairing and hating themselves days later when they "mess up." It is perfectly normal (and not to mention perfectly human) to relapse several times over the course of your entire recovery process. Smoking one cigarette while trying to quit does not make you a bad person; it does not mean that you are weak, or hopeless. If you are truly trying to quit, you will. But you must believe in this- and ultimately, in yourself- in order to be successful in your endeavor. Know that you are making the best decision for yourself, and acknowledge that you may make a mistake or two in the process. But at the end of that mistake, climb back up onto that evil-colored horse and most importantly- forgive yourself.
Have you successfully quit smoking?
Please feel free to share your personal tips, insights, and/or frustrations concerning the quitting process- your personal experiences may help another quitter. Good luck!
- How to Quit Smoking: Guide to quitting and kicking the habit for good
Smokefree.gov, a government-based website, can help you or someone you care about quit smoking.