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The mental side of quitting smoking

What to do when the urge to smoke strikes.

There's no doubt about it—quitting is no easy task.

For starters, you may have physical symptoms from adjusting to life without nicotine. But the biggest challenge of all may lie within your mind.

If you've been smoking for a while, the habit has probably become linked to many—if not most—of the things you do, from waking up in the morning to eating, reading, watching TV and sipping coffee.

It will take time to unlink smoking from these activities. And even if you're using some type of nicotine replacement, you may still have strong urges to smoke.

When the going gets tough, the following suggestions from the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute can help you cope with cravings and stick with your commitment to quit.

Spot rationalizations. These mistaken beliefs seem to make sense at the time but are not actually based on facts. Examples of rationalizations to smoke include:

  • I'll just use it to get through this rough spot.
  • Today's not a good day. I'll quit tomorrow.
  • Life is no fun without smoking.
  • How bad is tobacco, really? I know people who have smoked for years and lived to be over 90.

As you go through the first few days without smoking, write down any rationalizations as they come up. Then acknowledge them for what they are: messages that can trap you into using tobacco again.

Review and recite. Mentally remind yourself of your reasons for quitting and the benefits you'll gain as an ex-smoker. You may even want to write the reasons down and look at the list often.

Breathe deeply. When you were smoking, chances are you breathed deeply as you inhaled the smoke. But things are different now.

When the urge strikes, breathe deeply and picture your lungs filling with fresh, clean air.

Stall for time. If you feel that you are about to light up, delay. Tell yourself you must wait for at least 10 minutes. Often this will allow you to move beyond the strong urge to smoke.

Think positively. Focus on how great it is that you've stopped smoking, how food tastes better and how nice it is not to wake up coughing. Remind yourself how smoking stinks, stains your teeth and gives you bad breath.

And give yourself a pat on the back for making it so far.

Reviewed 9/20/2021

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