Many people avoid quitting tobacco because they fear what the withdrawal symptoms may do to their emotional state. Others have deep-seated emotional traumas which tobacco helps to seemingly cover up. In either case, tobacco use is not a real solution for stress, anxiety, or lingering feelings of depression or mourning. Tobacco is a crutch that will only prevent you from obtaining the help you really need, whether you’re just dealing with day to day stresses or more severe issues.
Not only does use of tobacco products not solve your problems, but it has been shown in recent studies to cause more stress than it alleviates. This is compounded by the threat of very real, and often life threatening, health conditions caused by tobacco products.
Even if you’ve relied on cigarettes to alleviate stress for many years, you can find healthier ways to deal with your emotions and finally kick the habit.
Recognize When you Feel the Urge to Smoke
Many smokers find that they have specific triggers that cause them to reach for a smoke. These may be simple day to day stresses, such as smoking on the way home from work. Or, some may be more tempted to smoke during times of upheaval, such as during periods of financial strain or divorce. Others smoke as a force of habit, and find themselves stressed simply because they haven’t had a cigarette in a while.
The first step in learning to cope without tobacco is to recognize when you crave cigarettes most. This will allow you to be prepared with alternative coping techniques when you need them. For instance, if you’re someone who smokes on the way home from work, make sure you have gum, or another distraction to keep you occupied during this time. You might also use nicotine replacement products to help you deal with withdrawal symptoms until you are better accustomed to life without tobacco.
Whether you have a professional counselor, or friends and family members, it is important that you enlist the help of someone who can hold you accountable while also lending a sympathetic ear. This will help you get through smoking withdrawal-related symptoms, as well as emotional issues that may make you want to smoke. If possible, find someone who is willing to be available to you at any time. That means if you find yourself anxious, you can call this person and talk things through before you turn to cigarettes.
Remind Yourself of Your Reasons for Quitting
Knowing why you want to give up cigarettes, and reminding yourself of those reasons, will help you stay on track. Look at the big picture. Whatever you are dealing with, smoking won’t help you solve it. Not only that, but smoking will cause more problems than it fixes in the long run. Eventually, you may end up with a more serious problem than what you are currently facing, such as a life-threatening, smoking related illness. Smoking has also been shown to increase one’s risk for depression, stress, and other mood related issues, according to the Mental Health Foundation.
Remember That you are Normal
The mood swings, withdrawal cravings, and irritability you may be feeling are all normal parts of quitting. While they may be uncomfortable, they can actually be a good sign. They signal the fact that your brain is weaning itself off of nicotine, and your addiction is waning. Your lungs and cardiovascular system is also healing itself internally, even though you can’t feel it from the outside.
What you are experiencing is common, and uncomfortable sensations will subside with time. If you can focus on the big picture, rather than your temporary discomfort, you may feel better about what you are going through during the quitting process.
Be Kind to Yourself
When you are in the middle of a battle, debriding yourself for your issues won’t help you to reach your ultimate goal of winning. The same can be said for quitting smoking. It is extremely important that you be patient and understanding with yourself. Your stress levels may magnify any issues that you have, making them seem much larger than they realistically are. You may feel as if you want to become angry at the slightest issue, but this is likely just a result of your newly adjusted brain chemicals. Remind yourself that this is a product of quitting smoking, and it need not be a permanent issue for you. This is something that will melt away with time; the further you get from smoking, the less likely this problem is to flare up.
Work Out Near-Future Issues
Taking the first tip in mind, you should try to work out any near-future issues before you begin the process of quitting smoking. The less triggers you have, the more easy it will be for you to handle the stress that comes with smoking. This may include paying bills, fixing items at home, or having talks with loved ones.
Don’t Worry About The Long Future
While you should try to work out issues that may crop up in the near-future, you should try to refrain from worrying about issues that will not occur for months or years. Worrying about what you’ll do or where you’ll be 5 years from now won’t help you to get through the present. If the problem is not immediate, it can wait until you’ve regained your footing and you are better equipped to consider it.
Get to Know Your Emotions
There is no universal set of emotional symptoms; each person generally has their own specific symptoms that will be recognized if they become upset. However, there are usually a few standard common symptoms that people who are in the process of quitting smoking experience. These symptoms may include:
- Aggressive behavior
- Mood changes
- Feeling “out of control”
At the first sign of any of these symptoms, you need to put coping skills other than smoking into practice.
Make a List of Activities You Enjoy
Quitting smoking is a really good time to get to know yourself, and what you really love to do. What is it that you are passionate about? What little things do you look forward to every single day? Perhaps you enjoy playing with the family pet, walking the dog, brushing the cat, or playing with your children. Maybe for you, it’s curling up with a great movie or a book. Some people enjoy playing video games; others may prefer to get mired in their work. All of these can distract you from your cravings and stress, and can help to remind you that smoking was only one small part of your life.
Get Your Body Moving
While being in a high-anxiety or high-stress situation often feels like the last moment that you would want to exercise, getting moving has been shown to have a positive effect on the quitting process. In fact, exercise releases a brain chemical known as “endorphins.” Endorphins are “feel-good” chemicals; they have a direct ability to reduce pain and focus you. Exercising can also give you somewhere to discharge your nervous energy. You don’t need to strap on sneakers and run ten miles; in fact, you shouldn’t if you are new to regular exercise. Even taking a 20-minute walk around the block can help to calm you down. Of course, you should always check with your physician before beginning an exercise regimen.
Practice Mindfulness and Calmness
While exercise can be a great way to immediately discharge nervous energy, mindfulness meditation and other calming techniques can be a great way to create a more permanent, positive change in how you think. There are a myriad of ways that ex-smokers can cultivate mindfulness; breathing exercises can have a significant effect on some individuals. Others may find benefit even further from mindfulness meditation, which can help ex-smokers to focus on the moment, rather than the future or past. It’s much easier to quit when you only have to refrain from smoking for “just this moment,” rather than thinking about how you may never smoke again. Taking things “one day at a time” has been shown to be much more effective.
Keep a Journal
Keeping a diary, journal, or other written dialogue with yourself can be extremely helpful when you are quitting smoking. In fact, having the ability to write down what’s causing you stress can help you to rationalize it, deal with it, and let go of it much faster. Free writing can be particularly helpful for those quitting smoking; in free writing, you simply sit down and start writing whatever thoughts are in your head, allowing one thought to continue into another. Many people are surprised at what is revealed in their writing after 15 or 20 minutes. Once your writing is done, you can crumple it or even burn it to symbolically “release” the stress.
Create a Support Plan
Having friends, therapists, or other supportive individuals in your life will help you to stay on track. Make a list of supports that you can turn to in times of great need; if you find yourself in crisis, you can start with the first on the list, and work your way down. This list may also include supports that are not individuals; for some people, listening to their favorite music, taking a bath, or petting their cat may be relaxing and helpful. Others may prefer to express themselves creatively. The point is to have at least several different coping skills and helpful actions you can remind yourself to take part in, should you become extremely stressed. This takes away the need to come up with solutions in “the heat of the moment.”
These tips can help to ensure that you make it through quitting smoking successfully, coming out on the other side healthier. Above all else, make sure to remind yourself frequently that smoking is an addiction, and addictions take time to break. The first few weeks are likely to be the most difficult for you. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it is possible to walk through the tunnel without experiencing severe anxiety.
Remember that quitting isn’t only a one-time event. The choice to abstain from smoking is one you make every day, and it is one you can continue to make with the right support and plan.