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All you need to know about quitting smoking (for real this time)

Breaking the habit of smoking is a huge deal. If it wasn’t you wouldn’t be here. 

Factor in that habit being an addictive one with heavy physical, chemical, and mental implications, and the choice to stop smoking can seem overwhelming.

Nicotine addiction is tough to break. But the good news is; you’re capable.

It isn’t as easy to quit smoking as it is to start. It’ll take time and you’ll likely need a strategy to successfully quit. You need to manage your expectations.  It may take you a few weeks or even  months. You may struggle with intense cravings or fall off the wagon.

These things are normal.

However, if you stay committed to your decision to stop smoking, you can do it.

One way to keep you on track is to be informed about the path you’re on. Knowing how quitting smoking will benefit you, and how you may struggle will help make it a bit easier, mentally at least, to quit.

As they say, “knowing is half the battle”. So, when should you quit?

Well, there’s no time like the present, so let’s get started. 

Solidify your decision to quit smoking

Everyone knows smoking is bad for your health. You probably knew that when you started smoking. But, in a world where many of our daily choices aren’t necessarily “in our best interest”, that isn’t always a strong enough reason not to do it. 

So you started anyway, and now there’s something more pushing you to quit. It could be a loved one, doctors orders, or maybe you just can’t afford it anymore.

If you need further fuel for your fire, there’s also the stained teeth, constant stench of stale smoke, heart disease, lung cancer, lung disease, bad breath, wasted money, etc.

You don’t want this to be your life.

Make the decision to quit smoking. 

Cigarettes waste money AND time 

Did you know that smoking burns away more than just good health? 

Have you ever calculated how much money you spend on cigarettes?

Take what you spend per month on cigarettes. Multiply that by how many months you’ve been a smoker. Does that number look uncomfortably large?

Now, do the same with your time.

A cigarette takes about ten minutes to smoke. Six a day and that’s an hour each day, literally up in smoke. All the time spent puffing cigarettes could add up to days, weeks or more. These massive amounts of money and time spent smoking should be a wake up call to quit.

What are the side effects of smoking?

Smoking has heavy ramifications for everyone.

For instance, both men and women can suffer from vision impairment, arthritis, stroke, bladder cancer, bone deterioration and more.

Not to mention smoking causes hair loss, early greying, skin laxity, weight gain and yellowed teeth. 

But that's not all. It also impacts the sexes individually.

How smoking effects women

There are some side effects of smoking that affect only women - irregular and painful periods are most common. And they can be accompanied by mood swings, excessive fatigue, breast cancer, severe COPD, cervical cancer, and early menopause to name but a few female specific side effects. 

Smoking also severely affects fertility:

  • For women who don’t want kids, smoking is notorious for making birth control less effective as well as increasing its side effects. 

  • For women who want to increase fertility, you need to start by putting down the smokes. Consistent smoking can cause ectopic pregnancies, drastically reduced fertility, and even increase chances of having a miscarriage.

  • If you’re a pregnant smoker it’s in the best interest of you and your little one to stop immediately. Smoking while pregnant or even soon before can cause cleft palate/lip formation and premature birth. Prematurely born babies can have issues nursing, lifelong respiratory problems, cerebral palsy and developmental delays.

Even worse, these side effects aren’t limited to you. Think about the other women and pregnant people who breathe in your second hand smoke when you smoke around them. Exposure through passive smoking can also pass these health risks off to them. 

How smoking effects men

Men are already at a higher risk than women for having a heart attack and developing heart disease. Throw in cigarette smoke and that risk increases further, especially for frequent and long time smokers. 

Your quality of life can be affected in more immediate ways too. Erectile dysfunction, decreased sperm count, seizures, and early onset pattern balding are all smoking side effects that can hit quick. 

Looking at all of the side effects together could be a great way to reinforce your decision to stop smoking.

The majority of these health problems can be lifelong or life ending.

Simply put, they just aren’t worth it.  

Benefits of quitting smoking 

Smoking is a quick addiction to pick up and difficult to put down. It’s a journey that requires consistency, and strength. But if you can commit to quitting smoking, tobacco smoking cessation can impact your life for the better.

Once you’ve decided to stop, what can you look forward to?

Being aware of the health benefits is a great way to keep up motivation. Deciding to stop smoking can improve your quality of life and life expectancy.

Did you know - quitting can tack on up to ten years to your life?

Improved relationships

Relationships with friends and family are bound to improve without tobacco. Think of any requests you may have gotten to “step outside” when you need to smoke. Has anyone ever asked you to “air out” after you’re done smoking?

Not everyone wants to inhale secondhand smoke or revel in the stench that lingers after you've put out your cigarette. If you’re no longer smoking, they won’t have to! 

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You’ll have more money in your pocket to put toward other things by eliminating your monthly budget for cigarettes.

Productivity and free time will also be more abundant by cutting out breaks that were usually used for smoking a cigarette.

As an active smoker it can feel like you have to go smoke. Just imagine all the other things you could do with your time if you didn’t. 

Enhanced sensations

Don’t increased energy, improved physical appearance and hygiene all sound great? Those and normalised taste buds, improved sense of smell and improved respiratory function are among perks a life without smoking offers.

When you stop, your body will begin to heal and regenerate nerve endings. Seriously–food will even taste better. 

When will benefits come?

Science shows that benefits come as little as 20 minutes after your last cigarette. Your increased heart rate and blood pressure will drop, returning to normal range. Over time this lessens strain on your heart. That lessened stress cuts down risk for heart disease and heart attacks. 

Within days, your carbon monoxide levels will return to normal. Your first two weeks will give other benefits like improved circulation, lung function, and decreased “smokers cough”.

All of these things will help to improve your overall well being.

How to quit smoking

Once you’ve decided to stop, how are you going to do it?

Methods for smoking cessation are plenty. It’s important to consider your personality and self-discipline as you pick a way to quit. If you’re not extremely disciplined, deciding to quit cold turkey could be a bad idea. 

Nicotine replacement therapy

The majority of withdrawal symptoms when quitting come from the lack of nicotine your body usually receives. Nicotine replacement therapy gives you doses of nicotine in a way that’s free of cigarette chemicals. If you’re looking to manage withdrawal and still receive nicotine, these methods are for you.  

NRT can take on different forms. The most common are vaping, e cigarettes (electronic cigarettes), nicotine nasal spray, nicotine gum and nicotine patches.

Some are available at local pharmacies. Higher, stronger doses (usually for heavy smokers) can be obtained through the NHS.

Smokeless tobacco

This is a way to quit smoking that isn’t exactly effective in terms of eliminating the health issues that come from tobacco. But, it is helpful in terms of stopping the literal act of smoking.

Smokeless tobacco like chewing tobacco or snuff tobacco is ingesting the nicotine from tobacco through an oral method. However, these present health issues as well, like oral cancer, so, not a top recommendation.

Seek medical advice

To receive assistance with breaking the habit of smoking tobacco, help from professionals is an option.

Doctors are able to prescribe prescription medications to help manage cravings. Managing these cravings can reduce the effects of nicotine withdrawal. Common ones are bupropion, varenicline and higher dose nicotine replacement therapies 

Speak with a therapist

A doctor may also be able to refer you to other specialists, such as an addiction therapist/counsellor to make the process easier. A therapist can provide support and unearth any underlying themes that could contribute to a desire to smoke. 

Working with a therapist can help you with a quit date if your goal is time sensitive.  A therapist may introduce behavioural therapy to help manage stressful situations. Because stress is usually a way to provoke withdrawal symptoms.

Sessions with a counsellor can help you reimagine your daily routines without smoking. Combined with the support of family and friends, counselling can give you more ways to stay motivated and committed.

If one-on-one therapy is out of your comfort zone, support groups for smokers are also a common way to initiate talk therapy. These can connect you with other people that are in the process of stopping smoking.

Hearing from other tobacco dependent adults can help set a good example and encourage you to stay accountable. 

Why quitting smoking is so hard

So, we’ve covered why you shouldn’t smoke, the benefits you’ll receive when you stop smoking, and methods to do so.

But in between all of those is the pesky reality of dealing with withdrawal and cravings. Should withdrawal and cravings cease to exist, quitting might even be easy. 

When you inhale tobacco smoke you’re ingesting nicotine. Nicotine is a highly addictive chemical that releases dopamine–the happy chemical. Smoking carries nicotine to your brain at lightning speeds. Your brain will begin to associate dopamine release with nicotine. So when your brain needs more dopamine, you receive that need in the form of a desire to smoke. This process creates an addiction to nicotine and the feeling it gives, making it hard to quit.

And when you do try to quit, your dopamine regulation goes haywire. Which is where the majority of withdrawal symptoms stem from.

What does withdrawal look like?

It’s important to know just what those withdrawal symptoms could look like. Withdrawal can vary from person to person. Severity is usually impacted by things like how long you’ve been a smoker or how often you smoked.

Having a general idea of how symptoms could show up can help you recognize and manage them.

Withdrawal can present as…

  • Increased irritability/ feeling stressed

  • Insomnia

  • Anxiety

  • Restlessness

  • Increased appetite/gaining weight

  • Trouble concentrating

The onset of these withdrawal symptoms can sometimes make you feel ready to just grab a cigarette, an instinctual action to relax you.

Don’t do that

Managing smoking withdrawal symptoms

Methods that replace nicotine leave room for cravings and withdrawal. If you aren’t mindful, withdrawal can be the biggest risk for relapse.  

But that doesn’t have to be the case.

With knowledge and preparation, you can be as prepared as possible to deal with nicotine withdrawal.

Here are some things you can do to help ease withdrawal symptoms:

  • Snacking on sunflower seeds: this is great if smoking was a soothing oral fixation for you

  • Physical activity: go for a walk, run, do yoga or another favoured method of exercise

  • Deep breathing: try taking deep breaths in a patterned cycle, often known as breathwork

  • Utilise a nicotine replacement therapy method. Vape pens are a great place to start.

  • Pause: be patient with yourself. If you feel like you might “need” a smoke, take a second and level with yourself. Be present and tap into why you’ve made the decision to quit. Present, mindful thinking can help alleviate impulsive decisions.

  • Make the decision to stay away from tobacco smoke where possible: if you smoked socially at work, do something else on your breaks. 

There are an array of methods to use in reducing cravings and it's encouraged to find what works for you. Taking the time to try out different things that reduce cravings for nicotine will ultimately help you quit smoking.

The final step; stop smoking

You're going to stop smoking.

You have the why, the how, and everything in between. You’re fully empowered to stand firm in your decision. You even have options of how you’d like to quit.

If it helps, write your “quit plan” down and put it somewhere you can see it every day. Switch to a nicotine replacement method like a vape pen to ease the transition. If you don’t feel comfortable breaking such a huge habit alone, it’s fine to seek help. Your body, mind, friends and family will only thank you in the long run.

Ready, set, stop smoking.

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