Managing your cravings
Tobacco contains a highly addictive drug called nicotine. When you stop smoking you may experience temporary withdrawal symptoms. These can be uncomfortable but it is important for you to understand that what you are going through is actually a positive thing. These symptoms don't last for long and your body is getting better.
Knowing your triggers helps you stay in control. You can choose to avoid them or keep your mind distracted and busy during difficult times.
Help and advice
In addition to nicotine cravings, triggers in your day-to-day activities may remind you of when you used to smoke. Triggers could be moods, feelings, places or things you do in your daily life that result in an increased desire to smoke.
Some common triggers may include:
- being around smokers
- starting the day
- feeling stressed
- being in a car
- drinking coffee or tea
- enjoying a meal
- drinking alcohol
- feeling bored
The urge to smoke will come and go. As the days and weeks pass, cravings will get further apart.
Some common tips that can help you deal with your cravings are:
- pick a date - choose a date to stop smoking and promise yourself you will not have a single puff from this day on
- remind yourself that cravings will pass
- avoid situations and activities that you used to associate with smoking and only take part when feeling in control
- distract yourself - think about what you can do to take your mind off cigarettes
- go for a walk / exercise
- have a (healthy) snack. Keeping your mouth busy may reduce the urge to smoke
- slowly sip a (non-alcoholic) drink
- spend time outdoors, preferably with nature
- have a bath
- take a deep breath through your nose and blow out slowly through your mouth. Repeat 10 times.
- use your stop smoking medication/ electronic cigarette properly and regularly
Most people find it best to get rid of their cigarettes and remove all smoking-related things from the house. Others may not find this useful and prefer to keep hold of the cigarettes. They keep them in places that out of reach. Suggestions made by quitters are in the shed, in the loft or in a bag/box in the spare room.
When you stop smoking you may feel tense and cranky, and you may want to give up on tasks more quickly than usual. You may get into more arguments as you feel less tolerant. These negative feelings usually peak in the first week of quitting and may last for a few weeks. You may find it useful to:
- remind yourself that these feelings are temporary
- use physical activity to ease your tension
- reduce caffeine intake
- try meditation or other relaxation techniques - getting a massage, soaking in a hot bath or deep breathing work well for some
- set aside some quiet time every morning and evening - a time when you can be alone in a quiet environment
It is normal to feel sad for a period of time after you first quit smoking. Some people experience mild depression. This feeling can take a few weeks to subside.
Studies have found that people with a history of severe depression can experience a new episode after quitting smoking. For individuals with no history of depression incidence is usually mild and quite rare. Feeling depressed can lead to strong urges to smoke.
Some suggestions to help are:
- talk to a friend
- plan an outing with family and friends
- identify your specific feelings at the time that you seem depressed. Are you actually feeling tired, lonely, bored, or hungry? Focus on and address these specific needs
- engage into a physical activity. This will help to improve your mood and lift your depression
- breathe deeply
- make a list of things that are upsetting you and write down solutions for them
- see your doctor if depression continues for more than a month
It is an unfortunate fact that when smokers kick the habit, they often gain weight - a side effect that many smokers use as a reason for not quitting. Gaining weight is common after quitting.
Studies have shown that nicotine binds to receptors on appetite-regulating neurons, which aren't involved in addiction. These neurons, located in the hypothalamus, send the "I'm full" message after a meal, helping to regulate how much you eat. This helps explain why smokers aren't as hungry when they smoke, and why they tend to stay thinner. When they quit, smokers tend to eat more.
Although most smokers gain fewer than 10 pounds after they quit smoking, the weight gain can be upsetting for some. However, the health benefits of quitting far outweigh the health risks of the extra weight gain.
- regular physical activity and healthy food choices can help you maintain a healthy weight
- you can talk to your stop smoking advisor about support to maintain healthy weight
- following the recommended use of stop smoking medications can help counter weight gain
Watching people smoke triggers an urge to smoke. Be prepared for such situations. Think about why these situations trigger the urge? Does being around other smokers make you happy? Or, is there something special about being around the people you usually smoked with? Also, do you find it tempting to join others for routine smoke breaks?
- consider limiting your contact with smokers, especially in the early weeks of quitting
- do not buy, carry, light, or hold cigarettes for others
- ask people not to smoke in your house
- ask your friends and family to help by not smoking around you
- focus on what you've achieved or will achieve by quitting smoking
- think about your reasons to quit
- treat yourself with the money you save
Many people smoke right after they wake up. Nicotine levels in smokers drop overnight after six to eight hours of sleep and result in the need for a boost of nicotine to start the day. Once quit, it is important to overcome the physical need as well as changing the routine of smoking first thing in the morning
- keep cigarettes out of your reach. Make sure they are not easily available for you
- before going to bed, think about things you need to avoid in the morning that trigger your urge to smoke
- try deep breathing exercises to relax
- drinking water can help to reduce the urge to smoke
- plan a morning activity that will distract you from thoughts of smoking
- remember that cravings last for an average of 3-10 minutes. If you can get past this you can move on
One of the most commonly reported reasons for smoking is stress. Smoking appears to relieve some feelings of tension, but this is because tension is one of the withdrawal symptoms from nicotine. Relying on nicotine to deal with stress results in increased smoking-related harm in stressful conditions. Remember, smoking exposes your body to 4,000 or more chemicals that can cause severe illnesses. Nicotine is one of the chemicals that may be less harmful than others but keeps you strongly addicted to the cigarette. Once you stop smoking, you become more aware of stress and the longer you go without smoking, you get better at handling stress. You can also try some stress reduction and relaxation techniques to help you overcome stress.
- identify causes of stress in your life
- think about your signs of stress (headaches, nervousness, trouble sleeping or any other symptoms that you might experience)
- be aware of your high-risk trigger situations and think about ways you plan to handle them
- set aside some time to get away
- try some relaxation techniques such as yoga, breathing exercises or mindfulness
- you may find reading a book or going for walk helpful in handling stress
It is common for smokers to get into the habit of smoking while driving, either to relax in a traffic jam or to stay alert on a long drive. You may smoke when driving to and from work to relieve stress, stay alert, relax, or just pass the time. There is some evidence that intake of nicotine can make you feel more awake and alert, but smoking while driving can be distracting.
- take an alternative route to work or try car sharing.
- turn on your favourite music and sing along
- clean your car
- remove the ashtray, lighter, and cigarettes from your car
- "This urge will only last for few minutes."
- "My car smells clean and fresh!"
- "I'm a better driver now that I'm not distracting myself with smoking while driving."
- "I'm not enjoying this car journey, but it won't last forever!"
When with other people:
- ask passengers not to smoke in your car
- if you're not driving, find something to do with your hands
- remember that it is illegal to smoke or allow smoking with under 18s in the vehicle
The desire to smoke is stronger and more frequent on longer trips.
- take a stretch break
- stop for refreshments
- drink some water
- take healthy snacks
You may be used to smoking with a hot drink. This does not mean you have to give these up to quit smoking, but you will need to get used to them tasting differently.
- if you are having coffee or tea with other smokers,consider telling them you have quit or are trying to quit to ensure they are not offering you a cigarette
- try switching to decaffeinated coffee or tea for a while, particularly if quitting has made you irritable or nervous
- keep your hands busy by eating some healthy snacks with your drinks
- change locations for having your drinks
- focus on what you've gained or will gain from quitting smoking
- take deep breaths to inhale the aroma of drinks to keep you distracted
Your urges to smoke may be stronger with certain foods (spicy or sweet) and also at different meal times. Your desire to smoke after meals may also depend on whether you are alone, with smokers, or with non-smokers.
- remember that your appetite increases and food tastes better after you quit smoking
- keep track if the types of foods that increase your urge to smoke - avoid or reduce their intake
- talk to a friend or go for a walk after your meals
- brush your teeth or use mouthwash after meals
- wash the dishes by hand after eating - you can't smoke with wet hands
- drink water after meals
You may be used to smoking when drinking. When you try to quit smoking, drinking alcohol may make it even tougher to cope.
- switch every other drink to non-alcoholic
- try a different drink that does not remind you of smoking
- avoid drinking alone. Drink with non-smoking friends/relatives
- temporarily avoid drinking at places that you usually associated with smoking
- plan more activities
- list things you can do in your free time
- distract yourself with a book, puzzle or a game when waiting for something or someone
- play games on your phone keep your hands busy
- listen to music
- move around, go outdoors but avoid places you associate with smoking