Ways to Help Manage Nicotine Withdrawal
The first week after you quit smoking can feel like a roller coaster. Both your body and mind are being denied something they’ve become accustomed to. While that can create some undesirable physical and psychological symptoms, there are things you can do to make the week after quitting smoking easier to bear.
What to Expect From Nicotine Withdrawal
Whether you use a quit aid or go cold turkey, you’re going to feel some discomfort due to nicotine withdrawal when you quit smoking. Physically, your body is reacting to the absence of not only nicotine, but all of the other chemicals in cigarettes that you’ve been regularly inhaling. When the supply gets cut off, you can expect to feel the effects of that.
Flu-like symptoms are common during the first couple of weeks of smoking cessation. In addition, you may experience irritability, anxiousness, and increased appetite, among other symptoms of withdrawal.1 The amount of discomfort you’ll face depends in part on how well you take care of yourself during this phase.
Minimizing the Effects of Nicotine Withdrawal
Deciding to quit smoking is the first step in the process. And while you can’t avoid the physical and mental effects of withdrawal from nicotine, you can work to minimize them.
Create a list of reasons for quitting and read it every day. It will help you remember why you’re doing this on the days when things get tough. Also consider working these strategies into your routine.
Eat a Well-Balanced Diet
Your body is working hard to expel toxins during the withdrawal process, and that takes energy. Choose foods that will provide you with the high-quality fuel you need—fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins—and avoid the empty calories of junk food.2
Keeping sensible snacks handy for when hunger strikes can help. Have small bags of bite-size fresh veggies within easy reach; celery and carrot sticks with low-fat ranch dressing or tzatziki sauce for dipping makes a good snack. Fresh fruit, such as pineapple chunks, berries, or other seasonal fruits, will satisfy your sweet tooth if they’re clean and ready to eat when you’re looking for a snack.
Don’t Skip Meals
Doing so will probably leave you with low blood sugar, which will trigger the urge to smoke. It usually also leads to more snacking, which is something you’ll want to avoid. Aim to have three larger or five smaller meals per day, depending on your preference.
A short walk, even for as little as 15 minutes, can work wonders for beating back smoking urges and improving your mood.3 Exercise releases endorphins, the “feel-good” hormone, so head out for a walk around the block once or twice a day. You’ll come back refreshed and relaxed.
Drink Lots of Water
Water helps you flush residual toxins from smoking out of your body more quickly. It also works well as a craving buster, filling you up so you’ll eat less. And since water is an important part of your diet regardless of your smoking status, staying hydrated will help you feel better overall, which will make it easier to manage withdrawal symptoms.
You can try herbal teas or fruit juices, too. Limit coffee, soft drinks, and alcohol. Caffeine and alcohol can negatively affect your mood and they are often associated with times when you would light up (such as social engagements), so they can increase the urge to smoke.4
Keep Supplies in Your Car
If you spend a lot of time driving (and formerly smoked while you did), have some items handy to help make time in the car more comfortable. Drink water while you’re driving, and keep an extra bottle or two in the car at all times. Store a bag of hard candies and lollipops in the glove compartment and have some straws or cinnamon sticks available to chew on to help fight cravings.5
Do Some Deep Breathing
Try not to panic when you get a craving to smoke. Take a few moments to concentrate on your breathing. Close your eyes, if possible, and breathe in and out slowly. Let the craving wash over you like a wave while you focus on your breathing. The urge will pass and you’ll be left feeling stronger for having overcome it successfully.
Cravings usually are the most intense during the first three days and will fade over time. Typically, they last just two to three minutes.6
What you choose to pay attention to has a habit of growing. Don’t let thoughts of smoking run unchecked through your mind. Instead, nip them in the bud by identifying them and taking action to change your mindset. Make a list of healthy and productive activities you can do when the urge hits, like household projects or hobbies you enjoy.
Come up with a list of small gifts that you can give yourself every day you don’t smoke, like taking a hot bath, buying a new candle, reading a fun magazine, or enlisting someone else in the family to cook dinner. Small daily rewards will boost your spirits and fortify your resolve to stay smoke-free.
Get More Sleep
Smoking cessation is tiring, especially at the beginning. Your body is stressed and so is your mind. Allow more time to sleep if you need it, and try not to worry—your energy will return soon.
Change Your Habits
Smoking likely wasn’t the only habit in your life, so shake up your other routines to avoid backsliding. Take a different route to work, eat breakfast in a different place, or get up and jump into the shower before that first cup of coffee.
Expect to feel awkward to begin with, but don’t panic. The more practice you put into new routines, the more comfortable they will become. Eventually, those new routines will become the norm.
Cigarettes were probably your go-to stress neutralizer and now you have to begin the work of managing tension in new ways.7 Try catching up on the phone with a friend, reading a book, or getting outside for a quick walk around the block when you feel yourself starting to tense up.