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Quitting Smoking: Help for Cravings and Tough Situations

What does it take to stay tobacco-free?

Quitting smoking can be a long and hard process. But staying tobacco-free is the longest and most important part of it. Every day you must decide not to smoke today.

Each day that you don’t smoke is a small victory. These all add up to a huge victory over time. Many of the things you did to help you quit smoking can help you stay quit and gain that victory.

How do I get through the rough spots after I stop smoking?

  • For the first few days after you quit smoking, spend as much free time as you can in public places where smoking is not allowed. (Places like libraries, malls, museums, theaters, restaurants without bars, and churches are most often smoke-free.)
  • Take extra care of yourself. Drink water, eat well, and get enough sleep. This could help you have the energy you may need to handle extra stress.
  • Don’t drink alcohol, coffee, or any other drinks you link with smoking for at least a couple of months. Try something else instead – maybe different types of water, sports drinks, or 100% fruit juices. Try to choose drinks that are low- or no-calorie.
  • If you miss the feeling of having a cigarette in your hand, hold something else – a pencil, a paper clip, a coin, or a marble, for example.
  • If you miss the feeling of having something in your mouth, try toothpicks, cinnamon sticks, sugarless gum, sugar-free lollipops, or celery. Some people chew on a straw or stir stick.
  • Avoid temptation – stay away from people and places you link with smoking.
  • Create new habits and a non-smoking environment around you.
  • Get ready to face future situations or crises that might make you want to smoke again, and think of all the important reasons you’ve decided to quit. To remind yourself of these reasons, put a picture of the people who are the most important to you somewhere you see it every day, or keep one handy in your purse or wallet.
  • Take deep breaths to relax. Picture your lungs filling with fresh, clean air.
  • Remember your goal and the fact that the urges to smoke will lessen over time.
  • Think about how awesome it is that you are quitting smoking and getting healthy. If you start to weaken, remember your goal. Remember that quitting is a learning process. Be patient with yourself.
  • Brush your teeth and enjoy that fresh taste.
  • Exercise in short bursts (try alternately tensing and relaxing muscles, push-ups, lunges, walking up the stairs, or touching your toes).
  • Call a friend, family member, or a telephone stop-smoking help-line when you need extra help or support.
  • Eat 4 to 6 small meals during the day instead of 1 or 2 large ones. This keeps your blood sugar levels steady, your energy balanced, and helps prevent the urge to smoke. Avoid sugary or spicy foods that may trigger a desire to smoke.
  • Above all, reward yourself for doing your best. Give yourself rewards often if that’s what it takes to keep going. Plan to do something fun.

When you get the “crazies”

Cravings are real – it’s not just your imagination. When you feel the “crazies” you may also notice that your mood changes, and your heart rate and blood pressure may go up, too. Try these tips to get through these times, and hang in there – the cravings will get better:

  • Keep substitutes handy that you can suck or chew on, such as carrots, pickles, apples, celery, raisins, or sugar-free gum or hard candy.
  • Know that anger, frustration, anxiety, irritability, and even depression are normal after quitting and will get better as you learn ways to cope that don’t involve tobacco. See your doctor if these feelings last for more than a month.
  • Take 10 deep breaths, and hold the last one while lighting a match. Exhale slowly and blow out the match. Pretend it’s a cigarette and put it out in an ashtray.
  • Go for a walk. Exercise can improve your mood and relieve stress.
  • Take a shower or bath.
  • Learn to relax quickly and deeply. Go limp. Think about a soothing, pleasing situation, and imagine yourself there. Get away from it all for a moment. Focus on that peaceful place and nothing else.
  • Light incense or a candle instead of a cigarette.
  • Tell yourself “no.” Say it out loud. Practice doing this a few times, and listen to yourself. Some other things you can say to yourself might be, “I’m too strong to give in to smoking,” “I’m not a smoker now,” or “I will not let my friends and family down.” And most important, “I will not let myself down.”
  • Never let yourself think that “one cigarette won’t hurt,” because it very likely will.
  • Wear a rubber band around your wrist. Whenever you think about smoking, snap it against your wrist to remind yourself of all the reasons that made you want to quit in the first place. Then remember that you will not always need a rubber band to help you stay with your plans to quit.

Other ways to stay active

You might have a lot of pent-up energy while trying to quit and stay tobacco-free. Consider these activities when you’re looking for something to do besides smoking. Many of these things can help keep you from gaining weight after quitting, too.

Many of these activities are free. Others are fairly cheap. You can rent a DVD for beginner’s yoga, tai chi, or aerobics – or maybe even borrow one from the library. You can do some of the exercises at home. Or you can always make up your own activities – this is just a starter list of ideas. You will notice over time that it gets easier to do these things. And watch how much better you can breathe as each day passes without smoking.

Sports

  • Walking or jogging
  • Biking
  • Skating
  • Hiking
  • Swimming
  • Aerobics
  • Dancing
  • Bowling
  • Soccer
  • Tennis
  • Volleyball
  • Softball
  • Basketball
  • Martial arts
  • Yoga

Working around your home

  • Gardening and yard work
  • Cooking, grilling, or baking
  • Organizing/cleaning out the basement, garage, closet, or attic
  • Organizing a yard sale
  • Painting/re-decorating rooms
  • Washing/waxing the car
  • Vacuuming and dusting
  • Walking the dog (yours or a friend’s)

Going out

  • Fishing, hunting, or camping
  • Having a picnic
  • Shopping
  • Getting a manicure or pedicure
  • Going to a garage sale or yard sale
  • Going to a library or bookstore
  • Going to a museum
  • Going to a movie

Hobbies and crafts

  • Playing (or learning) a musical instrument
  • Starting a collection (stamps, coins, or shells, for example)
  • Puzzles (crossword or jigsaw)
  • Board games with family or friends
  • Starting a journal or scrapbook
  • Organizing photos
  • Woodwork, whittling
  • Knitting, crocheting, sewing, or other needlework
  • Writing (journaling, letters to the editor, poems, articles, or books)

Relaxing

  • Reading
  • Meditating
  • Listening to a relaxation CD
  • Taking a nap
  • Listening to music
  • Catching up on emails

Being with others

  • Calling an old friend
  • Having someone over for dinner or to watch movies
  • Going out to eat
  • Joining a group or club
  • Having a family get-together

Staying tobacco-free over holidays

The first few weeks after quitting smoking can be hard for anyone. And staying away from smoking may be extra tough during a holiday season, when stress and the temptation to overindulge are often worse. Some special efforts can help you celebrate the holidays without giving in to the urge to smoke. Many of these ideas can also be helpful throughout the year.

Celebrate being an ex-smoker and try these tips to keep your mind off smoking:

Be a host

Consider hosting the family dinner to keep yourself busy. Shopping and cooking will certainly take up a lot of your time. If you would prefer being a guest this year, maybe you can make a special dish to take with you.

Don’t overdo it

Without smoking, you might be inclined to go overboard with the holiday feasting. Be aware of how much you are eating and drinking; it may be easy to give in to these other temptations. If you do overdo it, forgive yourself. Remember, next year it won’t be as hard.

Try to stay away from alcohol

Stick to sugar-free seltzer, punch without alcohol, club soda, or apple cider. This will curb the urge to light up when drinking and can also help keep off extra pounds.

Avoid spicy and sugary foods

Spicy and sugary foods tend to make people crave cigarettes more.

Nibble on low-calorie foods

Low-calorie foods such as carrot sticks, apples, and other healthy snacks, can help satisfy your need for crunch without adding extra pounds.

Stretch out meals

Eat slowly and pause between bites to make a meal more satisfying. For dessert, grab an orange or tangerine, or crack some nuts – something that will keep your hands busy, too.

Keep busy at parties

Playing bartender, serving snacks, and meeting guests will help keep your mind off smoking. If the urge to smoke presents itself, put something in your hand other than a cigarette. A bartender’s mixing straw is a perfect substitute.

Treat yourself to something special

Celebrate staying quit. Think about buying yourself that special something you’ve been wanting.

Cope with frustration

Any added frustration can leave you wanting a cigarette. Take along your favorite magazine or book, check your email, or text a friend while waiting in lines. When you feel you are about to lose control, stop and think. Take hold of yourself and start talking with someone in line next to you, or start looking at what you brought with you.

More suggestions

If you have a weak moment and slip during the holidays, don’t panic. Take a deep breath. Remind yourself of your commitment to quit, and all the reasons you quit. Commit to going back to your quitting program right away. Destroy any cigarettes you have before you’re tempted to smoke another one. Try to figure out why you had a setback and learn from it. Here are more ideas that have helped smokers kick the habit for good:

Take one day at a time

When you wake up each morning, make the promise you won’t smoke a cigarette that day. A day at a time keeps the whole thing more manageable.

Picture your success

Plan ahead and think of how you will deal with stressful situations without turning to cigarettes.

Take a breather

Relaxation exercises can help relieve your urge to smoke. Take a deep breath, hold it for a second, then release it very slowly. Or, stand up and stretch while you take a few deep breaths. Remember, the urge to smoke is only temporary. It will pass.

Work out

Physical activity, such as swimming, running, and racquet sports, helps relieve tension and the urge to smoke. Exercise will also help burn off any extra pounds.

Make friends with ex-smokers and non-smokers

Ex-smokers and non-smokers can be your partners to help keep you busy and away from cigarettes. Plan time together and explore new outlets you might enjoy. Remember, you are learning to be a non-smoker, and you need to find new places and activities to replace your old smoking-centered ones.

Get support you can count on

If you’re thinking about reaching for a cigarette, reach for help instead. Ask your friends and family to encourage the new non-smoking you, reach out to a support group, visit Nicotine Anonymous, or call 1-800-QUIT NOW. You can always call your American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345. We want you to quit smoking and we’re here to support you!

To learn more

More information from your American Cancer Society

Here is more information you might find helpful. You also can order free copies of our documents from our toll-free number, 1-800-227-2345, or read them on our website, www.cancer.org.

More about quitting

Guide to Quitting Smoking (also in Spanish)

Quitting Smoking: Steps to Boost Success

Helping a Smoker Quit: Do’s and Don’ts

Smoking and health

Questions About Smoking, Tobacco, and Health (also in Spanish)

Cigarette Smoking (also in Spanish)

Cigar Smoking (also in Spanish)

Tobacco-Related Cancers Fact Sheet

The American Cancer Society also has books that you might find helpful. Call us at 1-800-227-2345 or visit our bookstore online at www.cancer.org to find out about costs or to place an order.

Kicking Butts

No Thanks, but I’d Love to Dance: Choosing to Live Smoke-Free (for kids ages 4-10)

Reduce Your Cancer Risk: Twelve Steps to a Healthier Life

National organizations and websites*

If you are trying to quit smoking and need help, contact the American Cancer Society or one of these other sources of information and support:

Nicotine Anonymous (NicA)
Toll-free number: 1-877-879-6422 (1-877-TRY-NICA)
Website: www.nicotine-anonymous.org

    Has quit-smoking information in many languages; has a list of 12-step NicA meetings worldwide for face-to-face peer support and information on how to start a group in your area; phone conference support meetings are also available

QuitNet
Website: www.quitnet.com

    Offers free, cutting edge, services to people trying to quit tobacco, including 24/7 online support and a directory of local support programs

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Office on Smoking and Health
Online help for quitting: www.cdc.gov/tobacco/quit_smoking/index.htm
Free quit support line for your state: 1-800-784-8669 (1-800-QUIT-NOW)
TTY: 1-800-332-8615

    The toll-free number takes you to your state’s free quit support line, which offers information on smoking and health as well as help with quitting all forms of tobacco. Languages, hours, and services vary by your state of residence; call for more information. The website links to online quitting resources, podcasts, e-cards, and other helpful tools.

National Cancer Institute
Toll-free number: 1-800-422-6237 (1-800-4-CANCER) for cancer information
Website: www.cancer.gov
Free tobacco quit line: 1-877-448-7848 (1-877-44U-QUIT) (also available in Spanish)
Smoking cessation online: www.smokefree.gov

    Trained counselors provide information and help you form a personalized quit plan Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time using the toll free number. Website also has quitting information, live chat, and tools for quitting. Sign up for SmokefreeTXT to get 24/7 encouragement, advice, and tips to help you quit for good. Separate websites for women, teens, and Spanish language are available.

American Heart Association
Toll-free number: 1-800-242-8721 (1-800-AHA-USA-1)
Website: www.americanheart.org (under “Getting Healthy” tab)

    Has tips on how to quit smoking and why you should do it

*Inclusion on this list does not imply endorsement by the American Cancer Society.

No matter who you are, we can help. Contact us anytime, day or night, for information and support. Call us at 1-800-227-2345 or visit www.cancer.org.

References

ACS Great American Smokeout – Promotion Guide, Nov. 16, 1989.

American Cancer Society. Kicking Butts: Quit Smoking and Take Charge of Your Health 2nd Ed. Atlanta, GA. American Cancer Society, 2010.

National Cancer Institute. How To Handle Withdrawal Symptoms and Triggers When You Decide To Quit Smoking. Accessed at www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Tobacco/symptoms-triggers-quitting on December 4, 2013.

Tobacco Control Research Branch of the National Cancer Institute. Stress and Smoking. Accessed at http://smokefree.gov/stress-and-smoking on December 4, 2013.


Last Medical Review: 12/05/2013
Last Revised: 12/05/2013