Overall cigarette use in the U.S. has dropped from its peak in the sixties, thanks to health campaigns, cultural changes, and laws being implemented. And yet, 12.5 percent of U.S. adults still smoke cigarettes. Teenagers continue to try cigarettes for the first time, and some children start before middle school. Today, 2000 adolescents will try their first cigarette, and tomorrow, 2000 more. Packs are sold every day at corner stores and passed around groups of friends and between family, despite having fatal consequences and the overall reduction in use—cigarettes are very much a commonplace addiction in America.
Not everyone who smokes, however, wants to continue to do so—68% of cigarette smokers say they’d like to quit for the sake of their finances and their health. It is no wonder many people wish to stop—cigarettes are a leading cause of lung and heart diseases and cancers, and one in five deaths in the U.S. are caused from smoking.
Once reaching a level of dependency, it can be hard for someone to quit—while many people make efforts to stop, it can take several attempts. Nicotine stimulates the release of dopamine in the brain, and this rush of pleasure that normally comes with each cigarette smoked is noticeably missing. But each new attempt at quitting builds on your commitment and confidence, as the skills it takes to foster a resistance to cravings evolve.
There are strategies in place that you can follow in order to quit smoking and lead a healthier life. Having a clear quit plan in place before you stop smoking can help you keep track of your process, update your needs, and end your relationship with cigarettes.
An effective quit plan for smoking cigarettes looks like:
- Identifying your triggers
- Coming up with healthier coping mechanisms
- Setting a realistic timeline to quit
- Letting people close to you know you are quitting
- Taking downfalls and accomplishments as they come
Identify Your Triggers
After a long day, do you take out your lighter and head to the porch, like clockwork, when something stresses you out? Do you find yourself smoking more with other people, at parties and at the beach, or do you crave a cigarette every time you eat and drink? What sets you off is an important part of managing your urges and can help you know when you are most vulnerable.
Your triggers represent a discomfort—whether you are smoking to fit in socially with a crowd or to calm yourself down, you are replacing your discomfort with the safety and security of nicotine. Identify when you want to smoke the most, who you are with, where you are, and what you are feeling. Emotional triggers, such as stress, anger, and sadness, make you turn to cigarettes for comfort. Environmental triggers can include people smoking nearby, as the smell might make you want to take a smoke break. And triggers probably live in your house, on your desk or in your car. Lighters, ashtrays, cigarette packs, even empty ones, can make you miss it. Don’t risk it—just trash it.
Find Healthy Coping Mechanisms
A healthy coping mechanism is a safer alternative that self-soothes and/or allows for self-regulation. Essentially, it helps you ground yourself without relying on a shock factor or a substance. These actions should be kind to your body and emotions and work to minimize your reactions to the triggers you identified.
If you often smoke due to stress, try holistic approaches for relieving tension such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing techniques, and progressive muscle relaxation. Go for a walk, get a workout in, or blast music and dance—letting go and letting loose is a great way to distract yourself and let your endorphins out. If you feel like your smoking cravings are hard to resist without keeping busy, get your hands moving with housework, yardwork, artwork, or something as simple as a fidget toy.
Replace your old habit (smoking) with a coping mechanism that brings betterment to your life. Replacing cigarettes with candy, for example: not the best choice, at least for your next dentist visit. Some people find that they need to begin with nicotine gum in order to taper down their levels, but lighter smokers often replace cigarettes with sugar-free chewing gum. Candy is appealing because it’s sweet and full of flavor, but you can also try sunflower seeds, carrot sticks, fruit, trail mix, or even brushing your teeth to satisfy your oral fixation.
A healthy coping mechanism is only as effective as its use. If you don’t find that something is helping you resist cravings, try something new. If it’s not working for you, you don’t need to force it.
Set a Quit Day
Your quit day will reflect when you feel ready not just to quit, but to cope with the change. And once you pick it, commit. You may find that putting this start date as your phone background can work as a reminder, encouraging you to pursue your goal. Or you might want to circle the date on your calendar, put a note on your bathroom mirror, or talk about it with someone close to you. You need to remind yourself that you are making a big change to your life and need to take the time to prepare along the way.
If you smoke often at work, put your quit date on the weekend. You may find yourself distracted during the first few days, so having enough time to center yourself may be beneficial. If you smoke a lot and are planning on quitting cold turkey, plan on having an adventure that first day, such as a museum tour or a trip to the botanical garden—having space from stressful environments and triggers may be extremely pertinent to keeping you grounded.
Seek Support from Others
Everyone’s journey to quit smoking is unique, but contingent on the support of others as well self-determination. Without the right mindset, it can feel impossible. Having the care of loved ones, close friends, family, and others who are on the same journey as you can provide much needed encouragement. Being able to talk openly about what you are feeling can help others understand where you are at and allow them to offer better guidance and support. Care can come in many forms, such as someone offering to go into a gas station for you if you are usually tempted to buy cigarettes inside, or if your friend has quit in the past, offering their tips on how they got through it.
Be realistic about what personal boundaries you will be able to uphold; If you know that you smoke with other people, avoid social situations, particularly at places where you usually find yourself smoking, if you do not feel ready to assert your needs. And when you do spend time with others, let them know you stopped smoking. People may try to offer you cigarettes or ask you to join them. You need the willpower to say “no” and walk away from a situation if necessary.
Even if it feels like you’re the only person trying to quit, you’re not. Nicotine Anonymous (NicA) is a 12-step program for those looking to quit nicotine through group support. Find an online community of people going through the motions with you so you don’t feel so alone. Talk to your medical providers about how you want to quit or have quit so they can offer resources, advice, and possible treatment. And remember that you are not alone—over half of people who smoke cigarettes not only want to quit, but continue to try to overcome their addiction.
Build up your own confidence with acts of self-care. Show yourself that quitting is possible in tangible ways. Take time to scroll through #quitsmoking on social media, read words of encouragement from others who have been able to quit, and journal your own journey. Adopt a mantra about progress that speaks to you and remind yourself of it throughout the day. Writing out your successes daily and processing your emotions on paper can help you not only keep track of what works for you, but creates a new daily habit that keeps your hands busy and mind clear.
A good source of encouragement is writing out positive affirmations. By personalizing your positive qualities and goals, you can validate your growth. Tell yourself, either in writing or to the mirror: I am confident in my progress. I can accomplish my goal. I am making the right decision for myself. This is a good change, and I am capable.
Celebrate your successes; even one day without smoking is a good day. One week is an accomplishment. So is eight, nine, ten days. Every day that you can get by without smoking matters. And even if you do slip and need to start over, you didn’t fail; instead, use it as an opportunity to learn what triggered you, what didn’t work this time around, and use that to better fortify your healthy coping mechanisms.
Recovery from anything is non-linear, full of intention. The driving force is your determination— that you are willing to make a positive change in your life. With an action plan in place, a mindful approach, and a support system, you can recover from your nicotine addiction.