Successfully quit smoking by knowing what to expect in cessation

You are contemplating making a big life change, going from being a smoker to a non-smoker. This can be a difficult transition to make, but with the right tools you can improve your chances of staying smoke free. Quitting smoking will take discipline and determination on your part, but can be achieved through preparation and planning. The key is to know what to expect when quitting to provide you an opportunity to view your addiction and cessation in a realistic way.


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  • set a date
  • know your reasons for quitting
  • identify your smoking ritual
  • plan for withdrawal
  • understand cravings

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  • quit alone
  • replace nicotine with other harmful habits
  • allow a slip to become a relapse
  • ignore the opportunity to adopt new, healthy habits
  • forget to reward yourself

Heather Morris, Psy.D.‘s recommendation to ExpertBeacon readers: Do

Do set a date

Setting a date to quit smoking will help you plan the details to make your transition as smooth as possible. A quit date will allow you to know when your last cigarette will be and when you will be getting rid of all of your smoking necessities, such as cigarettes, lighters, and ashtrays. These items will only serve as triggers to smoke if you know they are still easily available to you. Having a date to quit smoking will also allow you to tell everyone important in your life about your goal in order to have the social support you will need to end your addiction.

Do know your reasons for quitting

It is important to know why you want to quit smoking and make yourself written lists of these reasons. This will allow you to have concrete reminder of why you have decided to make this change. Put the list on the bathroom mirror, on the refrigerator, near your computer, and anywhere else you frequently look. This way if you are having a craving or just a stressful day you will not have to look far to remind yourself what you are working for, whether it’s to become healthier, save money, set an example for your children, run a marathon or whatever your motivation may be.

Do identify your smoking ritual

Most people who are quitting smoking have had the habit for many years. It is key to know your smoking patterns if you are going to be successful in breaking them. Do you smoke first thing in the morning? At breaks with coworkers? After a stressful incident? Being familiar with your smoking rituals will allow you to plan for the times when cravings will be most likely and what you will do instead during these periods.

Do plan for withdrawal

Nicotine addiction is both physiological and psychological, making it an especially difficult habit to kick. Having some idea what these symptoms may look like allows you to prepare for the transition ahead. According to the American Cancer Society, within hours of your last cigarette you can begin to show physical symptoms of withdrawal from nicotine such as dizziness, headaches, sore throat, nasal drip, weight gain, and difficulty sleeping. These physical symptoms should peak and begin to remit 2-3 days after quitting. These physical symptoms in themselves can affect your mood, but there are also psychological symptoms of withdrawal. They may include depression, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and anxiety.

Do understand cravings

Nicotine cravings arrive via the same pathways in the brain that motivate our needs for food and sex. Cravings can be difficult to ignore, but being prepared can give you an advantage for when they occur. First, it is important to realize that most cravings will go away without satisfying them in a relatively short amount of time. The question then becomes “what do I do when I am experiencing a craving?” There are two basic options are to distract yourself or to face the craving head on. If you’re going to use the distraction method, try a change of scenery by going for a walk or talking to a friend. To face the craving directly, you can meditate on the feelings associated with the craving. This may be scanning your body for tension, picturing the craving leaving your body on your breath and so on. The head on technique may be most effective with some practice in the presence of a mental health professional.

Heather Morris, Psy.D.‘s professional advice to ExpertBeacon readers: Don't

Do not quit alone

Quitting smoking is difficult, but one of the best ways to be successful is to involve those you are closest with and maybe even an expert. When you set your quitting date, tell all those around you on a regular basis of your plans. This will provide you support to seek when you are having a craving and understanding when you are irritable. If you have a group of friends or coworkers you smoke with, telling them of your quitting plans. Hopefully they will be supportive of your healthy decision and discourage you from smoking if you slip. Another option is to seek professional help, which can come in many forms. You may benefit from seeing a specialized counselor that many healthcare programs employ, call a quitline, seek the help of a psychologist that specializes in addiction.

Do not replace nicotine with other harmful habits

It can be tempting to seek comfort from the psychological and physical effects of nicotine withdrawal by turning to another substance. Drugs or alcohol does not provide a solution to discomfort, as their effects are short-lived and unhealthy. Finding a new way to cope with stress without resorting to a cigarette is necessary for your success. This is a time to improve your health habits, not create another problem.

Do not allow a slip to become a relapse

The process of ending an addiction is tough, so leave room in your expectations for the possibility of relapse. It may seem counterintuitive that planning for relapse would improve your chances of quitting smoking, but understanding that one cigarette is not going to derail all of your efforts is important. If a relapse happens, take it for what it is, a mistake, not a catastrophe or an excuse to begin smoking regularly. Punishing yourself will not undo your mistake, but the guilty feeling you have created can lead to a full blown relapse. Let it go and move on.

Do not ignore the opportunity to adopt new, healthy habits

Quitting smoking is just the first step in pursuing a healthier lifestyle. Finding new ways to spend the time and energy spent smoking will be important for maintaining abstinence. Quitting smoking can allow you to start being more physically active as breathing will be easier. Finding a type of exercise that you enjoy will be key to making it a regular part of your lifestyle. Eating healthier is another change that will help your body recover from the damage of smoking and improve your body image. The biggest problem my clients run into when beginning exercise or changing their diet is the idea that these changes must be drastic. This is not the case and inhibits their ability to sustain these healthy changes. Your changes can be small, a 20 minute walk once a week is better than no exercise! Changing your eating does not have to mean eating well at all times, rather it can be subtle changes such as not having a second bowl of sugary cereal in the morning. If you make many small changes, you will see results.

Do not forget to reward yourself

Ending a smoking addiction is especially difficult because smoking has become a rewarding habit. When you are addicted to nicotine, smoking releases pleasurable neurotransmitters in your brain that encourage you to continue the behavior. The best way to overcome the rewards of smoking is to increase the rewards for not smoking. This may mean putting the money you would spend on cigarettes away each week and using it to treat yourself to something you enjoy whether that’s something material or an experience such as a dinner out. It may mean using your smoke break to read a magazine or chat on the phone with a friend. Finding a way to stay motivated to maintain your abstinence through rewards will be important for maintaining this change long term


You can be successful in your bid to quit smoking. The keys are to be prepared and have a realistic view of the process of quitting. This change will improve your health and can be the first in a series of changes that can improve your overall wellbeing. This will be a challenging time, but with the help of others and providing yourself rewards for success, you can make this change permanent.

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