People have accomplished some weird and wonderful things in 24 hours: 640 successful parachute jumps, 526 haircuts, snowmobiling 3421.47 kilometres…you get the point.
Likewise, something amazing happens after you quit smoking for 24 hours: your heart attack risk starts to go down. And it gets better from there: Within days, circulation improves, and the risk of stroke and heart disease declines. Fast-forward 15 years, and the likelihood of developing heart disease is similar to someone who has never smoked. In a word: Wow!
As one of the registered counsellors providing private video appointments at TELUS Health MyCare™, I often hear from guys who are trying to quit smoking. I also lead a smoking cessation group at Vancouver General Hospital, so I’m very familiar with the most effective ways to kick the habit.
My approach to quitting smoking is a compassionate one. Your attachment to smoking didn’t happen overnight. Nobody comes into the group saying, “I wish I could do this forever.” Your habit has been many years in the making, so quitting doesn’t need to happen all at once, either. People that do have success make changes over time, so start small.
In my experience, making small changes over time and gradually kicking the habit is the most effective and easiest way to quit. Here are the tools you need to slowly cut smoking out of your life forever.
Don’t rely on a quit date
You might believe that choosing a date to quit and stopping abruptly on that day is the best approach. However, it’s not that simple for most people. While setting a specific date can be effective for some, it’s not the key to success for most. Quitting is a process, so take it slowly if you need to.
You’ve likely had years building a relationship with smoking, and for many people, it’s not even the nicotine that’s most difficult to give up. It’s the emotional attachment to a loyal companion that’s been with you through all of the good times and bad.
Many people feel fear and angst around quit dates, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Achieving small successes as you go supports the biggest success of all—quitting smoking—in the long run. When we feel capable, we stay motivated to get the job done. Feeling discouraged by not meeting a quit date can cause some people to give up altogether.
Use nicotine replacement therapy (NRT)
Nicotine itself is not harmful to you. It is addictive, but the clean forms found in various forms of NRT are not harmful, so people can stay on them long-term (whereas tobacco smoke has over 70 known carcinogens in it).
NRT reduces the withdrawal symptoms associated with quitting by replacing the nicotine in cigarettes with slow-release skin patches or faster-release chewing gums, nasal and oral sprays, inhalators or lozenges/tablets.
When you’re not having withdrawal cycles, you don’t crave cigarettes as much. And if you do end up smoking while using an NRT, it’s not a big deal. It’s a low-risk and helpful tool to try out when you’re going through the process of quitting.
Whatever method you choose, research shows that NRT improves the chances of stopping smoking by as much as 60 percent. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about NRT, which may be covered by your provincial health insurance.
Track your habit
Lighting up can become automatic over time. Keeping track of your smoking patterns helps you become aware of habits and triggers.
Certain people, places, situations, feelings or moods can trigger your need to smoke. Waking up in the morning with coffee, for instance, or having drinks with buddies during the big game. Other common triggers include meals, parties, social events, and breaks at work. Knowing your triggers helps you learn how to deal with them.
In my experience, people can identify about five daily cigarettes that they really don’t crave and that they smoke merely out of habit. These are often the easiest to cut out, so start with those ones first. This also helps you to focus on the ones you’re most attached to, which can then be eliminated near the end of your journey.
There are lots of apps available to make it easier to track, so check them out to see which one is the best fit for you.
Practice the “4 Ds”
One thing that often surprises people in my smoking cessation groups is that cigarette cravings only last 3 to 5 minutes. When you’re in that state of withdrawal, it can feel like forever! The key is to occupy yourself for 3 to 5 minutes when a craving pops up. You can better equip yourself to make the choice to not have a cigarette by practicing the 4 Ds.
Do something that delays you for 5 minutes when you feel the urge to smoke.
Distract helps with the delay by doing something else other than smoking. This can be as simple as getting up and going for a walk around the block, playing a game on your phone, working on a crossword puzzle or texting a friend.
Inhale through your nose and hold it for a count of 5. Slowly breathe out through your mouth for a count of 7. This will help you calm down and breathe through the uncomfortable feeling cravings can trigger. If cravings get really bad, take deep breaths as if you’re smoking a cigarette.
Drink a glass of water: This will change the feeling and taste in your mouth and help reduce cravings. At the same time, your body needs plenty of H2O to flush out cigarette toxins. Plus, you’re replacing the smoking habit with a healthy one.
Replace your cigarettes with Cheerios
The average smoker that comes to one of my groups usually has around 20 cigarettes a day. That is the equivalent of 400 hand-to-mouth movements every day.
A helpful trick to satisfy this hand-to-mouth movement is eating pieces of cereal one by one. I’ve even had clients who measured out 40 pieces of cereal, like Cheerios, into 20 separate bags for the day, then pulled out one of the bags of cereal whenever cigarette cravings struck.
If you’re a long-time smoker, you may also experience restless fingers and feel fidgety when you start to let go of the habit. This can feel uncomfortable. So things like stress balls, plasticine, and fidget spinners help keep your fingers occupied.
Healthy snacking is another great way to cope with nicotine cravings and the habit of always having something in your mouth. Try to fill the fridge with healthy snacks, such as ripe fruit and crisp veggies, to prevent weight gain.
Take it easy on yourself and accept how tough it is to quit
Giving in to cigarette cravings while you’re trying to quit isn’t the end of the world. After all, the intense cravings caused by nicotine can make smoking feel like an old friend. It can be hard to say goodbye to that buddy! In fact, there can be a lot of grief when letting go of that relationship.
In my experience, most people practice quitting at least 7 times before they start to feel like they have success. Good thing there’s plenty of support out there to help you say sayonara to smoking:
- Having a support group with people who might be quitting or have already quit can be helpful. Small groups combined with NRT and/or medication have been shown to double your chances of quitting versus relying solely on self-help.
- Online tools for quitting, such as MyQuit Coach and QuitNow!, provide round-the-clock encouragement and tips. Research shows that supportive text messages can double your chances of quitting.
- If you prefer to connect with helping hands over the phone, you can call 1-866-366-3667 to connect with an expert who can assess your readiness to quit and help establish a quit plan that includes tips and tools to get you ready.
Just a single call to these free services can increase your chance of quitting by up to 50 percent.
Get enough sleep
Healing your body is exhausting, so make sure you get enough sleep. Plus, napping can be a great alternative to a smoke break. The great news about sleep is that it improves when your body is not in nicotine withdrawal throughout the night. Men between the ages of 26 and 65 need between 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night.
Share your (awesome) goal
Sometimes people find it helpful to share their plans to quit so that others can get on board with support and to help create accountability. Even other smokers tend to support someone taking steps toward quitting. However, remember it is your goal, and you get to define the process by which you achieve it.
Now, let’s DO THIS!
There’s no such thing as too much help when it comes to quitting smoking, so click here to download the free “Kick-Butt Guide to Kicking Butts” ebook.
What has been the hardest part about quitting smoking for you? Feel free to share in the comments below.
What does your health future look like?
Learn your risk level for the 8 most common health conditions that impact men. Free, confidential and takes less than 10 minutes to complete. Take control of your health with Men’s Health Check.