Tips for Fighting the Urge to Smoke

Know the triggers for the urge to smoke and fight them

Young woman has a headache at the office
valentinrussanov/Getty Images

Quitting tobacco is a process. It doesn't happen overnight, but compared to the amount of time most of us spent smoking, recovery from nicotine addiction is relatively short. 

Successful recovery involves learning how to identify the urge to smoke and the trigger behind it, and how to respond with better choices, such as a nap, a meal, or exercise, for instance.

Associations Between Activities, Emotions, and Smoking

Years of smoking have taught us to react to literally everything by lighting a cigarette.

When we were happy, we'd celebrate by lighting up. When we got angry, smoking would calm us down—or so we thought. Tired? Smoke a cigarette to stay awake. Hungry? Feed yourself a smoke. This list goes on and on.

Between the physical addiction to nicotine and the mental associations that tie what seems like all of our activities to cigarettes, it can feel as though we're chained to smoking with links of steel.

Have patience with yourself. This skill of being aware of our behaviors and associations takes some time to develop, and you will get better at it. Eventually, cigarettes will fade as a fix for physical and emotional needs, and you'll make choices that actually address the signal your body is sending without thinking twice about it.

When the Urge to Smoke Hits, Think H.A.L.T.

H.A.L.T. (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired) is a powerful checklist to help you decode the urges to smoke that you experience.

Nine times out of ten, a craving can be traced to one of these four states:

Have a snack or a meal. If you are hungry, food is the answer, not a cigarette. If you're concerned about weight gain, try drinking water before you eat a snack to help control the amount you eat. Keep healthy snacks on hand.

Celery sticks, raw baby carrots, and frozen grapes make good low-calorie snacks.

Normal weight gain due to quitting smoking is 5 to 8 pounds. Metabolism does slow a bit initially, so some daily exercise is a good idea. Things will balance out, and that quit-related weight will drop off within a couple of months as long as you're eating the same as you were before you stopped smoking.

Don't be too hard on yourself. Try to eat in moderation, but until you get your quit program under solid control, don't fret if you gain a few pounds. Quitting tobacco must be your top priority for as long as it takes. Weight can always be lost later.

Anger is a big trigger for most of us. Find healthy outlets for your feelings of frustration. If at all possible, deal head-on with the situation that is bothering you and be done with it.

Talk to friends and family about your feelings or write in your journal. The important thing is not to let anger simmer and get the upper hand. Reaching for a cigarette can seem like a quick fix, but it is a false fix.

We can't always choose the events that happen around us, but we do have control over how external situations affect us emotionally.

Come up with a few ideas of things you can do to help you shift negative energy that bubbles up before it has the chance to do any damage. That way, when a situation arises, you're prepared. It will help you maintain control and get through it without smoking.

Remind yourself that no one has the power to affect your emotions without your approval. You control your inner environment. Take responsibility for how you feel, and it will empower you to control difficult emotions smoke-free.

For most ex-smokers, loneliness may actually be boredom. Smoking was such a regular activity that now without it, we suddenly have time to fill. 

Early on in cessation, distraction is a useful tool that can help you manage feelings of boredom. Get out for a walk, watch a movie or work on a hobby. Come up with a list of activities you enjoy and do some of them. Make them fun and they will help you over the hump of this type of smoking trigger.

Depression also falls into this category. People quitting tobacco are especially susceptible to the blues, at least early on. Smoking wasn't just an activity, it was also like a companion who was always there. Leaving cigarettes behind can feel like the loss of a friend, albeit a destructive, life-stealing friend. After years of smoking, most of us feel the loss of smoking in this way to some extent.

If you feel yourself slipping into a funk, take action. Change your environment—be it internal, external or both—and it will help you change your attitude. It's ok to mourn the death of your smoking habit, but don't glorify it as something it was not. It was out to KILL you, remember that!

Fatigue can be a big trigger for those who have recently quit smoking. Instead of lighting up when you're tired, give yourself permission to slow down and relax, take a nap, or go to bed early if you need to. Sounds so simple, yet people often push themselves too far with all of the demands of life these days.

Don't let yourself get run down. When you're tired your resolve weakens, and you're more susceptible to junkie thinking, the urge to smoke and the threat of relapse. Protect your quit by protecting your health, both physically and mentally.

You Will Be Free

It may feel like you'll never be free of cigarettes and thoughts of smoking will always plague you, but have faith in yourself and the process—it works. Be committed, but also please be patient with yourself. We taught ourselves to smoke, and we can teach ourselves to live comfortably without smokes, too.

Soon enough, you'll get to a place where smoking cessation is no longer a daily effort and the urge to smoke fades. You may even wonder why you didn't quit sooner because life without cigarettes has become natural and easy.

In the meantime, keep H.A.L.T. in your arsenal of quit tools and use it to decipher those urges as they come, one by one.

Continue Reading