Stopping smoking often brings on cravings for that foregone cigarette. There’s no one magic method for dealing with withdrawal cravings that works for every individual. Each person employs a different stop-smoking method and each one will react differently as nicotine levels are reduced. But there are a handful of techniques that have proved effective for a wide group.
Cigarette smoking is a habit. As such, when you quit, you want to continue the habit, by definition. For the first two weeks, as the body flushes the chemical products of smoking out of your body, it reacts by trying to return to the status quo. That’s a biological mechanism that works in a number of circumstances.
The technical term is homeostasis. The body tries to maintain a kind of equilibrium. When something changes drastically, it reacts to return things to ‘normal’. Recognizing that it is an in-built mechanism can actually be used to your advantage.
Part of the difficulty of quitting smoking is the anxiety and guilt that often accompany the effort. One feels out of control, uncertain whether we can stick to the decision. That perceived lack of control increases stress, which encourages us to smoke a cigarette to counteract it. That sets up a cycle that’s difficult to break.
That situation is hardest the first couple of weeks as those physical changes take place. Understanding that they are, in fact, beyond one’s control at least, by sheer willpower – but that the commitment is still up to us – can help see you through that difficult period.
During that period, try to minimize any other potential stress-inducing factors. Avoid starting a quit-smoking program when starting a new job. Don’t begin that long-term commitment when a child is about to undergo a serious medical procedure.
Make use of every healthy distraction.
Have small pieces of fresh fruit on hand. When you feel the urge to reach for that cigarette, pop one instead. It helps if the fruit is tangy rather than just sweet or bland. Pineapple and orange work well, but choose your favorite.
When you feel the urge to light up, turn on one of your favorite tunes. A song lasts about the same length of time as a cigarette and, like smoking, you can continue doing what you were while listening. Let the music you love carry you through that period. Pick something elevating. Don’t reinforce negative moods with negative music.
Find small exercises to do with your hands. That may be something as simple as squeezing a tennis ball or using a stress-relieving hand spring. Work up to exercises involving the whole arm, shoulder and back. That helps two ways: it eliminates that harmful cigarette and gets your circulatory system back in shape.
Do something that requires intense concentration, such as trimming a beard, fixing your hair exactly, making a sketch, working a math problem – whatever suits your personality and circumstances. It should be short, but leave little room to think about anything else, including that cigarette you want so much.
Before long, the cravings will decrease to a minimum. They’ll recur from time to time at random over the next few months. Repeat the rituals you used the first couple of weeks, if necessary. Think about the long term good you’re doing for yourself. Before long, it will outweigh the short-term advantages of lighting up.