Years of smoking taught us to react to literally everything by lighting a cigarette. When we were happy, we'd celebrate by lighting up. When we got angry, smoking would calm us down, or so we thought. Tired? Smoke a cigarette to stay awake. Hungry? Feed yourself a smoke. This list goes on and on.
Between the physical addiction to nicotine and the mental associations that tie what seems like all of our activities to cigarettes, it can feel as though we're chained to the habit with links of steel.
Successful recovery includes learning how to hear the message behind the urge to smoke and respond with more appropriate choices, such as a nap or a meal, for instance.
Have patience with yourself. This skill takes some time to hone, but you'll get better at it. Eventually, cigarettes will fade as a fix for physical and emotional needs, and you'll make choices that actually address the signal your body is sending without thinking twice about it.
When the Urge to Smoke Hits, Think H.A.L.T.
H.A.L.T. (Hungry,Angry,Lonely,Tired) is a powerful checklist to help you decode the urges to smoke that you experience. Nine times out of ten, a craving can be traced to one of these four things:
Have a snack or a meal. If you are hungry, food is the answer, not a cigarette. If you're concerned about weight gain, try drinking water before you eat a snack to help control the amount you eat. Keep healthy snacks on hand. Celery sticks, raw baby carrots and frozen grapes make good low calorie snacks.
Normal weight gain due to quitting smoking is 5-8 pounds. Metabolism does slow a bit initially, so some daily exercise is a good idea. Things will balance out and that quit-related weight will drop off within a couple of months as long as you're eating the same as you were before you stopped smoking.
Don't be too hard on yourself. Try to eat in moderation, but until you get your quit program under solid control, don't fret if you gain a few pounds. Quitting tobacco must be in the top slot of your priority list for as long as it takes. Weight can always be lost later.
Anger is a big trigger for most of us. Find healthy outlets for your feelings of frustration. If at all possible, deal with the situation that is bothering you head on and be done with it.
Talk to friends and family about your feelings or write in your journal. The important thing is not to let anger simmer and get the upper hand. Reaching for a cigarette can seem like a quick fix, but it is a false fix.
We may not always be able to choose the events that happen around us, but we do have control over how we let external situations affect us emotionally.
Come up with a few ideas of things you can do to help you shift negative energy that bubbles up before it has the chance to do any damage. That way, when a situation arises, you're prepared. It will help you maintain control and get through it without smoking.
Remind yourself that no one has the power to affect your emotions without your approval. You control your inner environment, for better or worse. Take responsibility for how you feel and it will empower you to control difficult emotions smoke-free.
For most ex-smokers, loneliness is more accurately described as boredom. Smoking was such a constant companion it was an activity in and of itself.
Early on in cessation, distraction is a useful tool that can help you manage feelings of boredom. Get out for a walk, watch a movie, or work on a hobby. Come up with a list of things you enjoy doing and do some of them. Make them fun and they will help you over the hump of this type of smoking trigger.
Depression also falls under this category. People quitting tobacco are especially susceptible to the blues, at least early on. Leaving cigarettes behind can feel like the loss of a friend, albeit a destructive, life-stealing friend. After years of smoking, most of us feel the loss of smoking in this way to some extent.
If you feel yourself slipping into a funk, take action. Change your environment(internal, external, or both) and it will help you change your attitude. It's ok to mourn the death of your smoking habit, but don't glorify it as something it was not. It was out to KILL you, remember that!
Fatigue can be a big trigger for the newly quit. Instead of lighting up when you're tired, give yourself permission to slow down and relax a little, take a nap, or go to bed early if you need to. Sounds so simple, yet people often push themselves too far with all of the demands of life these days.
Be aware and take care. Don't let yourself get run down. A tired you is going to be more susceptible to junkie thinking and the threat of relapse. Protect your quit by protecting your health, both physically and mentally.
It may feel like you'll never be free of cigarettes and thoughts of smoking will always plague you, but have some faith in yourself and the process, and please be patient. We taught ourselves to smoke, and we can teach ourselves to live comfortably without smokes too.
Soon enough, you'll get to a place where smoking cessation is no longer a daily effort. You may even wonder why you didn't quit sooner, because life without cigarettes has become natural and easy.
In the meantime, keep H.A.L.T. in your arsenal of quit tools and use it to decipher those urges as they come, one by one.