7 Tips For Surviving Nicotine Withdrawal

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Nicotine Withdrawal. Stockbyte/Getty Images

Nicotine withdrawal is a short phase overall, but it can be intense.

Empower yourself with knowledge about what to expect as you go through the early days of smoking cessation and you'll find it manageable. 

1. Review Your Reasons to Quit Smoking

We all have them. Many of my reasons for wanting to quit smoking are probably the same as yours. Some of them will be different and unique to our own situations.

Commit your reasons to paper and carry it with you, adding to it as more reasons pop into your mind. Read it often! Your list is a valuable tool to help you overcome the urge to smoke.

Read Zoe’s List of Pros and Cons to see an in-depth list of reasons put together by a successful long-term quitter.

2. Know When You're Rationalizing

Thoughts of smoking ”just one” cigarette are going to happen as you make your way through the early days of nicotine withdrawal. In fact, during the first week or two of smoking cessation, you may feel as though you’re thinking of nothing BUT smoking.

Addiction has an even stronger hold on us mentally than it does physically, and once you quit, your mind will turn itself inside out trying to convince you that you MUST smoke again.

Be prepared for the mental chatter. Every new ex-smoker smoking goes through some of it. Understand that it’s a part of the process of recovery from nicotine addiction and don’t let it throw you.

Usually by the end of the first smoke free month, the worst of it is over for most people.

Read Rationalizations for Smoking and Nicotine Withdrawal and Junkie Thinking for ideas about how to redirect your thoughts and get you out of the junkie thinking danger zone.

3. Triggers to Smoke – Be Prepared to Defeat Them

Physical withdrawal from nicotine triggers the urge to smoke for all of us.

Once nicotine is gone from the bloodstream however, triggers shift over to the mental associations we’ve built up over the years.  From the first cup of coffee in the morning to the last thing we do before bed, smoking has become a part of who we are.

Be aware...triggers will often appear seemingly out of the blue and cause powerful urges to smoke that can make you feel like you're back in the midst of physical withdrawal, even though there is no nicotine present in your body any longer. With practice, you can break down old habits and create new ones that are much healthier.

Try some of the following ideas to help you overcome smoking triggers:

  • Distract yourself. Keep your hands busy with a hobby. Take a look at this list of 101 Things to Do Instead of Smoking.
  • Keep healthy snacks on hand to help you with the hand-to-mouth association of smoking.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol and/or putting yourself in an environment too soon where there are smokers. The time will come when drinking or being around people smoking won’t bother you, but don’t expect it within the first several weeks, or even months of smoking cessation.
  • Read 4 Steps to Defeat the Urge to Smoke. This article will help you begin to understand what your body is signaling when you experience an urge to smoke and gives you tools to make better choices that will, in time, become automatic.

4. Support, Support, Support.

Your ability to quit smoking permanently will be much easier to sustain if you have strong, positive support around you. Friends and family can be helpful, but they may not understand the depth of what quitting smoking means to you, especially if they’ve never smoked.

Take some time to browse through the current discussions at the About Smoking Cessation support forum.  This community of ex-smokers will understand what you're feeling and how to move forward with cessation.  Best of all, the light is on 24/7, with folks visiting from all over the world.

5. Reward Yourself

Every single day you complete smoke free early on is a huge accomplishment. You may not think so, but every day you put between you and that last cigarette you smoked is working to strengthen your resolve. Little by little, you’re teaching yourself how to live without cigarettes. Honor that effort daily for the first month or so by pampering yourself at least once a day. Don’t wait for others to pat you on the back - do it for yourself.

Daily rewards don’t need to be elaborate. Something simple like time alone to relax with a good book, or a hot bath at the end of the day can go a long way toward helping you feel good about the work you’re putting into smoking cessation. If you can choose rewards that also help you release tension, all the better.

6. If You Want to Change Your Life, Change Your Mind.

It has been said that the average person has approximately 60,000 thoughts a day. Our minds are constantly active.  

You’d probably be surprised at how much of what we think is negative and directed at ourselves. And worse, most of us repeat those self-defeating thoughts over and over and over again.

Our mind believe what we tell it, so pay attention to what you’re thinking. When you hear a self-defeating thought pop up, replace it immediately with one that is supportive. Replace thoughts of I can’t with statements of I can and I am. Give yourself positive cues.

For example, you may think:

"All I can think about is smoking. I'll never stop missing cigarettes."

Correct the statement with something like this:

"I know that I'm missing cigarettes right now because I'm addicted to nicotine.  Once I recover from that, I won't miss smoking anymore."

The life you want begins with your thoughts. Don't buy into a negative, self-defeating mindset. Train your brain to help you.

If you want to change your life, change your mind.

Read How to Build Strong Quit Muscles for more on how to condition your mind to help you recover from nicotine addiction.

7. Think of Momentum as a Tool

We all start our quit programs on day one. We all have to endure hell and heck weeks and the discomforts beyond them. Every smoke free day makes you stronger and more able to succeed. The gains are imperceptible at first, but they're happening all the same.

Day by day you're building momentum and it will propel you forward with greater ease as time goes by. That momentum will carry over into other areas of your life as well. You'll use it to achieve other goals you once thought of as unattainable. We can always do more than we think we can.

BONUS: 8. Smoking Cessation is Not a Race

People who quit smoking want all of the discomforts associated with recovery from nicotine addiction to be over with quickly. It’s understandable, but not realistic. Recovery takes time, so the more you can relax and use time to your advantage, the better you’ll do.

Be patient with yourself and understand that you’re going through a healing process that is personal. How long it takes to put smoking behind you is how long it takes.  In other words, don't compare yourself with anyone else. Trust in the process and give yourself the time you need to heal.

Get up every day determined not to smoke and be grateful and proud of every smoke free day you complete. Time will take you further and further away from the familiarity of smoking, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

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