It’s a truth universally acknowledged that the first few weeks of quitting tobacco are the hardest. It’s a habit, and for many it’s a habit they’ve been maintaining for years, so to suddenly stop completely is a very big ask. “People will suffer from nicotine withdrawal symptoms as well as the psychological challenges of ending something that may have been a big part of their daily life”, says Brian Jones, a councillor at Quit, a national charity that helps people kick their tobacco habit for good.
Nicotine withdrawal is at its peak in the first three weeks, and a tobacco-smoker will often only start to feel comfortable with this life change by the 8-10 weeks mark. It’s important, however, to see withdrawal as ‘recovery’, rather than you lacking something.
If this is a second, third, or even twentieth attempt to quit then you’ll probably start to find it easier each time. Most people need a few attempts before they kick the habit for good, so don’t worry if this is a conversation you’ve had with yourself a few times.
So how do you make it easier on yourself? Well, the truth is, it’ll never be easy, but you can make your chances of success much higher.
Some say there’s never a good time, and you’re going to experience stress and irritation regardless, but there are certainly occasions where you’re setting yourself up for failure. “If you try to quit in the middle of a stressful work project, for example, you will reduce your chances”, according to Doireann Maddock from the British Heart Foundation.
It’s important, however, that work doesn’t become one of those repeated excuses and causes you to put off quitting for months on end. The NHS, who are of course committed to encouraging people to quit tobacco, have outlined several key occasions where quitting is important and you’ll have that extra push to do it, such as when you or your partner have children, any bad experiences with your health (as smoking tobacco will certainly make whatever it is worse), or having a particular fitness goal, because you’ll struggle to run that marathon before you kick the habit.
The above ties in very well with another key factor - having the right motivation. This will be different for everyone, and what has worked for a friend won’t necessarily work for you. The key events listed above can be brilliant motivators, but if you have no plans to have children or run a marathon, what can you do to make sure you’re head’s in the right place to quit tobacco?
One helpful technique is to write down all the reasons that you want to quit tobacco when you’re feeling profound cravings and just about ready to cave in. Most people have unfortunately been touched by cancer in some way, either personally or through a family member, so keep it in mind that you’re making yourself healthier every day. Think about your children or family members, anyone you know who has suffered badly as a result of smoking tobacco, and all those who are concerned about your own health. And if you need an extra push, there’s always the good old fashioned thought of how much money you’re going to be saving. Add it up! The mental maths and the pleasant surprise will be quite the diversion.
Change Your Routine
Pay close attention to when and where you usually smoke tobacco, and “when you commit to quitting, take steps to avoid spending time in those places. Choose to go somewhere else instead.” Thankfully, we can’t smoke indoors anymore, so you won’t be surrounded by people puffing away in your office, and you’ll probably find your boss is thrilled that you’re not taking as regular breaks anymore.
However, there will be places and circumstances that you unavoidably find yourself in that you’ve always associated with being able to smoke, such as your home or car, straight after a meal or when you’re out drinking. It’s important to replace the old activity with a new one, or at least change it a bit. Instead of smoking in your car, have a supply of chewing gum or nicotine gum ready for when that craving starts to take hold. Make a phone call after a meal or change the time that you usually cook, rather than fixating on the time you’re usually going outside to smoke tobacco. A new routine will take hold quickly.
It’s a huge thing to go completely cold turkey from nicotine, and for a lot of people the cravings are just too much for them to stay away from tobacco products for good.
To make things easier on yourself, e-cigarettes are a healthier source of nicotine and a quitting aid. You can use them to moderate your nicotine intake and gradually wean yourself off by reducing the strength of your e-liquids as you progress. Plus, you'll save money and can vape a variety of different flavours, from bubblegum if you fancy something sweet and different, to tobacco, so you can really replace it for good.
So start today! It will be one of the most difficult but rewarding things you ever do, and there's no time like the present.