Quitting smoking for good can be a challenge, but your health and lifestyle will reap the rewards.
Just 20 minutes after you quit, your heart rate and blood pressure both drop. Within two to three months, your heart attack risk starts to fall and your lung function starts to improve.
“Quitting smoking isn’t a one-time event. It’s more of a process over time,” says Amanda Mathew, PhD, a specialist in addictive behaviors and smoking cessation. “You don’t just do it once. It requires a lot of effort and ongoing persistence.”
For some, quitting cold turkey is the best route, but many find this difficult. Short-acting treatments like nicotine lozenges and gum can help with immediate cravings, while longer-acting medications like the nicotine patch and Chantix can lessen the desire to smoke.
“Most people want to quit. They just don’t feel like they’re able to,” Mathew says. “Taking a gradual approach is what most people go for instead of quitting abruptly. It helps build up that confidence and readiness and gives you the opportunity to test out skills and strategies before going to zero cigarettes.”
When you are ready to quit smoking, these tips can help:
1. Start to smoke less
Taking small steps toward quitting, even if it’s not permanent or even long term, can help you find the best methods that work for you. For example, try swapping out a single cigarette for gum every day or extend the time between cigarettes a little at a time.
“Essentially, you are testing out the coping skills you’ll need when you quit for good,” Mathew says. “If you normally smoke every two hours, wait an extra 15 minutes each time or build in small delays when you have a craving to smoke. If you extend the time between the craving and smoking, you’ll start to break down the habitual process.”
2. Make your as home as smoke-free as possible
While couples who quit smoking together have a better chance of success, if your partner isn’t ready to quit, make sure you lay down ground rules about smoking.
“Having another smoker in the house increases the risk of going back,” Mathew says. “If they’re not ready to quit, try to make your car and your house, at least certain areas, non-smoking zones, so you don’t get thrown off track.”
3. Give yourself a fresh start
Throw away any remaining packs, lighters and ashtrays in your home and/or office. Get your car detailed (or just give it a thorough scrubbing), and wash your clothes and linens to get rid of the smoky smell.
Not only will this help reduce triggers and reminders of smoking, but maintaining your newly clean home may keep you from smoking in your home.
4. Give yourself healthy substitutes
In addition to the nicotine addiction that comes with smoking cigarettes, there’s also the hand-to-mouth habit that people struggle with. Many smokers are concerned that they’ll gain weight after quitting, which can happen for several reasons.
“When people quit, they usually still have the craving for the hand-to-mouth movement and frequently substitute snacking for smoking,” Mathew says. “In addition, your senses of smell and taste begin to come back, making food taste better and leading many to overindulge.”
To avoid significant weight gain while you’re quitting, prep vegetable sticks, so they’re as convenient to grab as chips. Use straws, flavored toothpicks and cough drops as other substitutions to curb the habit.
5. Keep track of your savings
Not only is smoking bad for your health, it’s also extremely expensive. There are apps available to help you track how much money you would have spent on cigarettes. Save what you would have spent on smoking on a treat for yourself.
6. Let everyone know
It's important to surround yourself with supportive people, so inform your family, friends and co-workers that you’re giving up the habit. And ask fellow smokers to quit with you, including your significant other, if they smoke, too. Let others know specifically what they can do to help – whether that’s checking in, providing some fun distractions or just being patient with you if you have a shorter fuse than usual.
7. Change your routine
Make small changes to those times in your daily routine when you've typically smoked. For instance, if you always have a cigarette with a cup of coffee at home in the mornings, try taking a thermos of coffee with you to work instead.
8. Seek support
Ask your doctor for a referral to a local smoking cessation program or use a telephone-based program. Toll-free tobacco quit lines are available in every state.
You can find smoking cessation resources via Smokefree.gov, the CDC, the American Lung Association, the Illinois Tobacco Quitline and the Respiratory Health Association.
9. Try, try again
Everyone slips up. In fact, most people make around 10 attempts to quit smoking before they finally succeed. Every attempt is an opportunity to learn more about your smoking patterns, your experience with nicotine withdrawal symptoms and what tripped you up. That puts you in a more prepared place to quit next time. Look at what went wrong, learn from it and try again.
10. Be patient with yourself
Focus on your progress. Each day of changing your smoking habits and routines brings you closer to your goal.
If you need help quitting smoking, contact your primary care physician or consider joining a smoking cessation program.