Decided to quit smoking? Nice for you! Do you want to double your chances of never lighting again? Use this guide to kick your habit once and for all.
Why you should think about quitting smoking
First, it is a gateway for disease. Since it puts a strain on your cardiovascular system, you are at a higher risk of these types of diseases, which are the leading cause of death worldwide. Think heart disease and stroke. There are myriad negative effects of smoking on the body, from bad breath to gum disease to infertility.
This science-based, step-by-step guide will show you what to be prepared for when quitting smoking and give you some helpful tips.
Step one: Set a date
According to the National Council Against Smoking, setting a deadline to quit smoking is important so you can mentally and emotionally prepare for it. The good news: Picking the day is easy for women.
Why? US researchers found that women who quit smoking in the first half of their menstrual cycle may have an advantage over those who quit in the second half. In the study, tobacco withdrawal symptoms were less severe in women who quit between day 1 and day 14 of their cycle than in women who quit between day 14 and the start of their next period.
Do it! Track your cycle and mark the date on your calendar. Tell your friends, family, and co-workers when the big day is so they can encourage you to stick with it.
Step Two: Clean House
As a smoker you are never alone. The strong tobacco scent follows you in clothes, in the ashtray and even in the curtains – but if you’re serious about quitting smoking, you can’t leave it hanging around.
Why? Studies show that when exposed to familiar images of smoking, parts of the brain like the amygdala trigger craving responses. “Addictive behavior is associated with cues in one’s environment. These cues then act as triggers that induce cravings,” explains Candice Garrun, psychotherapist and founder of website Addictionology.co.za. “Don’t put yourself in situations that trigger you! If you go to the hairdresser often enough, eventually you will get your hair cut.”
Do it! Clean up. Throw away all smoking paraphernalia such as ashtrays and lighters. Clean your clothes, carpets, curtains and bedding. This strategy helped 30-year-old Marilize, who has been smoke-free for two years, after reading Allan Carr’s The Easy Way To Stop Smoking. “We cleared the house! The book walks you through the entire process,” she says. “After a while, smoking started to disgust me — the smell and everything about it.”
Step Three: Get a hobby
Make it something you can do as quickly as lighting up, and fall back on it when tempted.
Why? Embracing a new pastime is a great way to channel your thoughts and fill the void left by smoking.
“Habits actually change your brain in ways that can ease cravings and put you on the path to joy and hope,” says Johannesburg-based clinical psychologist Elizabeth Cambanis, who has worked with patients struggling with chemical and behavioral addictions have. WH reader Chantelle used this method two years ago to break the habit. “I’ve found a new hobby. Now I spend my time exercising and baking – and yes, I’ve actually gained some weight. But it’s worth it.”
Do it! Keep your hands busy with knitting, painting or playing a musical instrument. Not your pace? Participate in non-smoking activities such as bicycling or swimming. Moderate and vigorous exercise will help reduce cigarette cravings and make them last longer.
Step four: Control your triggers
To avoid relapse, it’s important to control the smoking triggers—specific people, places, or emotions that make you smoke.
Why? The longer you’ve smoked, the stronger the connections between these triggers and your cravings. For the long-term smoker Thokozile (29), it’s a TV show. “I still sigh with longing when I watch old episodes of Sex and the City,” she says. “I quit for months – even up to a year – but when I watch SJP I often think, ‘It’s been long enough, I’ve done well.'” Triggers can be being around other smokers , feeling stressed or excited, drinking coffee or tea, or enjoying a meal. You can’t always avoid triggering situations, but it’s important to recognize the thoughts you’re having about smoking because by acknowledging them, you can change your behavior, explains Cambanis.
Do it! Change up your routine. Notice how you feel just before smoking and find out what made you glow. If you are aware of these things, you can eliminate your trigger. Coffee time? Instead, drink a glass of water.
Step five: Prepare for the payout
The physical symptoms of nicotine withdrawal are severe but not life-threatening. However, if you’re not prepared, they can be just terrible enough to weaken your resolve.
Why? Because smoking is addictive. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA, nicotine addiction comes on quickly and is difficult to break. Nicotine stimulates your brain’s reward pathways, triggering pleasurable, happy feelings — and making it harder to quit. “The first few weeks are the hardest,” says Cambanis. “If you’re feeling nauseated, any fizzy drink should help, and the nausea only lasts a week or two.” A third of ex-smokers report headaches — often due to altered oxygen levels in the brain, according to Cambanis. Stay tuned – they will fade over time.
Do it! “Make sure you get more sleep, stretching, or practicing deep breathing and relaxation techniques,” recommends Cambanis. Quitting smoking happens every minute, hour and day. Don’t think long-term.
Step Six: Assemble your support group
Gather support from a close friend or family member.
Why? Friends can guide you through difficult situations. The first seven to 10 days are the worst, and smokers who relapse typically do so within the first three months. Advisors can help you identify your triggers and figure out which strategy is most likely to work for you. “Unfortunately, few people seek professional help and are more likely to try to quit on their own. It’s very difficult to do on your own, and it doesn’t have to be,” says Garrun. In addition, a meta-analysis found that counseling resulted in a higher rate of smoking cessation.
Do it! Get help. WH reader Joanne did – and was successful: “I stopped using a program called Smoke Enders after 10 years. It’s been five years and I’m still smoke-free.” Also, fuel your success with rewards. This is another strategy that has helped Marilize. “I made a deal where I can use the money I used to spend on cigarettes on magazines. What a joy!”