What triggers the urge to smoke the most for you? Anger? Boredom? Fatigue? Joy? If you're like most people, you associate all of these feelings with smoking, but stress/anger probably stands out as your number one smoking trigger. When we're stressed, the urge to smoke can be intense. As smokers, we think we need cigarettes to calm us. But in fact, smoking creates more stress than it dispels.
Learning how to cope with stress without a cigarette in hand is difficult when we first quit smoking. But with a few tools and some practice, you'll find it's less challenging than you might have expected.
Recovering from Nicotine Addiction
There are two main components of recovery from nicotine addiction: physical withdrawal from nicotine and healing the mind of the habits associated with smoking.
Physically, our bodies are reacting to withdrawal from nicotine as well as the thousands of chemicals present in the cigarette smoke we inhaled. This phase of recovery creates a stress of its own that we must be prepared to cope with. Having an awareness of how stress fits in as by-product of early recovery from nicotine addiction and having a few tools at hand to deal with the discomforts will help you manage it successfully.
Healing the Mind
On an emotional level, smoking cessation forces us to deal with the loss of our cigarettes as a crutch we leaned on as a way to manage our feelings. And that, for most of us, is where the real work of smoking cessation lies.
Use the tips below to help you cope with stress when you quit smoking. Be patient with yourself and allow recovery to unfold for you as it will. Remember, release from nicotine addiction comes gradually, as you erase old associations and habits one by one, replacing them with new, healthier choices. In time, you'll find that stress is more easily managed smoke-free than it ever was when you were smoking.
1) Don't Neglect Yourself
Early cessation is a time when you should be taking extra care to make sure all of your needs are being met. Following these simple guidelines will help you weather nicotine withdrawal more comfortably:
- Eat a well-balanced diet. Your body needs good quality fuel now as it works to flush the toxins out of your system.
- Drink water. Water is a great quitting aid. It helps you detox more quickly and works well as a craving-buster. And by keeping yourself hydrated, you'll feel better overall. Drink plenty of water throughout the day.
- Take a daily multivitamin. Give your body the boost that a good multivitamin provides for the duration of the withdrawal process. Cigarettes deplete so many nutrients, and vitamins may help you rebound more quickly from the nicotine withdrawal symptoms that you experience.
2) Cut Out Caffeine
When you quit smoking, the amount of coffee or caffeinated colas you're accustomed to might now make you jittery and anxious. Reduce caffeine intake, or cut it out completely for a while, especially if you're having trouble sleeping through the night. Chances are, once you're through the withdrawal process, you'll be able to drink coffee again, though perhaps not in the same quantity as before quitting.
3) Take a Warm Bath
This is one of my favorite ways to relax and de-stress. I recommend it often, and yes, it's good for the guys too. Light a few candles, use some scented bath salts, and submerge.
4) Get a Massage
Enlist your spouse or another willing pair of hands to help work the stress out of your muscles. If you can get a full body massage, great, but even 10 or 15 minutes spent on your neck, shoulders, face and scalp can work wonders. Our bodies tend to hold onto the tension we feel in our muscles, and a good massage is worth its weight in gold as a means to relieve stress.
5) Put on Your Walking Shoes
A short walk every day -- even for 15 minutes -- will help you manage stress as you withdraw from nicotine. Walking reduces edginess and improves circulation. Exercise releases endorphins, the "feel good" hormone. So, when the urge to smoke strikes, head out for a walk around the block. You'll come back refreshed and relaxed.
6) Get Enough Sleep
The early days of smoking cessation are tiring. Your body is stressed and so is your mind. Allow more time for sleep if you need it and can manage it. Don't worry: The weariness you're feeling won't last forever. Your energy will return soon.
Close your eyes and create a place in your mind that you can go to when you need to slow down and relax. It could be a real location or imaginary, but make it yours. Use the same place every time so it becomes familiar and comfortable. As you settle in, start to follow your breathing, and slow it down gradually. Breathe deeply in and out for 3 to 5 minutes.
8) Deep Breathing
Deep breathing is a quick way to calm edgy nerves and reduce stress. Breathe in through your nose for a count of three and exhale through your mouth for a count of three. Repeat this for a few minutes, and the tension in your body will begin to fall away.
9) Focus on Today
We spend so much time thinking about everything but the day we have in front of us. Don't worry about tomorrow or forever. Don't get lost in feelings of fear about never being able to smoke again. Think instead about today and resolve to make the most of it. You have the ability to stay smoke free just for today, don't you? That's all you need to do. Baby steps! Don't let feelings of worry about tomorrow intimidate you today.
10) Don't Take Yourself Too Seriously
You will have bad days. Expect and accept that. Such is smoking cessation, and such is life. On those off days, resolve to put yourself on ignore. Sometimes the best thing we can do is to get out of our own way. Our minds can make small issues huge, and make a drama out of every little thing when our moods are out of whack. When you're having a bad day, think pamper. Be good to yourself; allow for a treat or two, and put your thoughts on hold. Tomorrow will find you feeling better and grateful to still be smoke-free.
Stress is part of life, and learning how to manage it smoke-free is part of successful cessation. With time and practice, your smoke-free life will flow with ease.