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.

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. (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 might 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 activities, 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 on your phone.
  • Take deep breaths to relax. Picture your lungs filling with fresh, clean air.
  • Remember your goal and the fact that the urge to smoke will lessen over time.
  • Think about how awesome it is that you’re 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 could 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 won’t 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. When you’re looking for something to do besides smoking, think about ways you can be active and productive, or maybe you can try something new! Do some yardwork or housework. Organize or clean out a closet, a room, or even the entire basement. Get involved in a new sport or hobby you like. Some of these “distractions” can help keep you from gaining weight after quitting, too.

Find activities that are free or fairly cheap. You can rent a DVD for beginner’s yoga, tai chi, or aerobics – or maybe even borrow one from the library. A walk in a park, a local mall, or around your neighborhood is a good way to get moving, too. You’ll 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.

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 help 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’d 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’re 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’re 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 quit 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’ll 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 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’re 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 help you do it!

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

ACS Great American Smokeout – Promotion Guide, 2008.

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 October 7, 2016.

Tobacco Control Research Branch of the National Cancer Institute. Conquer Stress. Accessed at http://smokefree.gov/stress-and-smoking on October 7, 2016.

Last Medical Review: October 7, 2016 Last Revised: October 7, 2016

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