Every year, on May 31st, the World Health Organisation (WHO) celebrates World No Tobacco Day. The reasons to quit smoking are quite obvious – health, money, your social life and overall wellbeing can all be affected by smoking-related illnesses. In fact, according to the WHO, tobacco kills more than 7 million people every year.
If you’re looking to quit, here are some practical steps towards a healthier life.
Quit Smoking Step #1: Know why you want to quit
There are many reasons why people start smoking. Maybe it was peer pressure, or they were just being rebellious. Maybe they saw someone they looked up to like a teacher or a parent smoking, and thought it looked ‘cool’. For other folks, it may have been boredom, acting out on emotions, or stress.
When it comes to quitting, the reasons are equally important. If you have the reasons clear in your head, you can keep going back to them, every time you feel tempted to light up.
To make a list of reasons, ask yourself questions such as why it’s bad to smoke, or what you don’t like about it. What happens to you if you don’t smoke, and what happens if you do keep smoking. Be truthful and make that list.
Your list might look like this:
- It’s bad to smoke because I, (or others around me) might get sick.
- It makes me and my house stink.
- I get bad breath.
- I have a hacking cough.
Next, underline the positives:
- I breathe easier.
- My chances of developing serious illnesses are reduced.
- My skin will look healthier and younger.
- I will have more money to spend.
- My food will taste better.
- I will set a great example for my loved ones who also smoke.
Be sure to also list the reasons why you want to smoke, e.g.:
- I don’t want to feel left out of the gang.
- I might miss out on chit chats with my boss where she confides in me and there may be promotion opportunities.
- It’s my form of stress relief.
This part is tough, but start brainstorming how you can get around this. If your group of friends will ridicule or isolate you if you decide to quit, are they true friends after all? If your boss really trusts you and confides in you, will she stop just because you don’t have those cigarette bonding breaks with her? Perhaps you could explain that you have quit smoking, but that you do appreciate your chats with her and arrange a weekly coffee/sushi/curry laksa session with her instead. Allow her to invite other colleagues too, so it doesn’t seem brown nose-y. Maybe a new form of stress-relief could be active sports or a new craft hobby. If you’re in a pinch, even deep breathing/meditation techniques for 5-10 minutes could take the place of smoking.
Make a list of all the reasons you want to be smoke-free and keep it in a place where you can see it often. Once it’s written, it holds more weight. When you feel the urge to smoke, refer to the list to remind yourself why you want to quit.
Quit Smoking Step #2: Make a Quit Plan
The next part is to declare it to yourself.
I have decided to quit smoking.
This may be obvious, but making up your mind to quit and sticking to that decision can make a difference.
Next, just as you do when you’re on a diet, you need to create a quit plan with goals you want to achieve within a certain period of time. A quit plan will help you chart your milestones, list your smoking triggers, how to manage cravings, and rewards whenever you reach a milestone.
Milestones include reducing the number of cigarettes you smoke each day, e.g. the Reduction Phase could be something like 5 cigarettes in Day 1, to 1 a day by Day 7. In your plan, you should also select a quit date, map out activities for each day, choose the people you will spend time with, what you can do to get through a craving and healthy ways to treat yourself when you hit a milestone, such as with a smoothie bowl, or a 30-minute neck and shoulder massage.
Be sure not to treat your cigarette breaks like rewards. The more you see them as undesirable, the better off you are. Keep a record of your plan and put it in a place where you can easily access it, so you can stay on track.
Quit Smoking Step #3: Choose a Quit Date
When you’re choosing a quit date, sooner is always better than later, that is to say – choosing to quit within two weeks is better than two years, for example.
Many quit clinics advocate quitting smoking within two weeks. This gives you enough time to prepare. Avoid choosing days where you know you will be busy or stressed, or where temptations are high (e.g. when there’s a big stressful project that always happens the same time every year, or when you have to attend your ex’s wedding!)
Highlight your quit day on all your calendars or place post-its with the date around your space so you will be reminded. All this helps you mentally and emotionally prepare as the quit date approaches.
Quit Smoking Step #4: Keep Triggers & Withdrawals Under Control
So, this is why we went through making the list of reasons of why we want to smoke. Understanding why you smoke is crucial for you to manage your triggers and withdrawals.
When you smoke, places, activities, feelings, and people become intrinsically linked. For some smokers, coffee is a trigger. Or being in a bar. These triggers create an urge to smoke.
The next step is to identify your triggers and try to minimise them. This could mean that until you have fully quit, you stick with places that don’t allow smoking, you spend more time with non-smokers, and a new hobby or sport to keep your hands busy. If emotions are your trigger, discover ways to reduce stress in your life in any way you can. Take the train to avoid driving in jams, pack lunches so you don’t need to navigate lunch crowds, wear the same outfit (like Steve Jobs) so you have to make less decisions, especially during your quit period.
Withdrawals are the next thing. Nicotine, the chemical in cigarettes, is what makes you addicted. Like heroin, the more you smoke‚ the more nicotine you will need. When your body doesn’t get nicotine, you feel uncomfortable and crave cigarettes. This is called withdrawal.
The good news is that most physical symptoms disappear within a week. However, cigarette cravings are connected to your mind and these may keep haunting you. Over-the-counter medication and changes in routine can help you manage the symptoms.
If you’re not comfortable with medication, explore other possibilities. For example, postponing cigarette breaks during the reduction phase of the quit plan. By constantly postponing your cigarette break, you may find you’re able to go through an entire day without cigarettes and with time, lose the need to smoke completely.
Remember that withdrawal symptoms‚ including cravings‚ will fade with every day that you stay smoke-free.
Quit Smoking Step #5: Get a Support Network
You don’t have to be alone. It’s a lot easier to quit smoking when you have support from the important people in your life. Let friends and family know ahead of your quit date and tell them how they can help you, such as being available to take your call when you have a craving and need someone to talk to.
You should also let your colleagues at work know. This is not about getting them to police you, but about getting their support and encouragement. Keeping your colleagues in the know can help when you get cranky from withdrawals or when situations get stressful at work. If they know, they may be more understanding and maybe even give you a hand with work stuff, or a word of encouragement.
Choose your support wisely. There is no sense in asking the snarkiest person in the office, or the aunt who can never be happy for your success. A good idea would be someone you can easily speak to whether it is a family member or friend, and an ex-smoker who has managed to quit may also be more empathetic and encouraging.
Support is one of the key strategies to successfully quitting.
Quit Smoking Step #6: Get Rid of Smoking Reminders
Once you you’re on your quit plan, get rid of smoking reminders. Cigarettes, matches, ashtrays, and lighters, the photograph of the person who gave you your first cigarette – they’ve all got to go! Make things clean, and fresh-smelling in your car‚ home and workspace. Sometimes, even the smell of cigarettes can cause a cigarette craving. Avoid passing that tobacco shop on your usual routes, and stay away from places where people gather to smoke. Don’t keep cigarettes lying around for “just in case” situations.
The less reminders you have of smoking, the better you will be able to stay on track.
Quit Smoking Step #7: Treat Yourself!
Yes, it is hard to quit smoking. And yes, you do deserve a prize!
It’s okay to treat yourself BUT, you have to make sure that the treat will further promote your health or well-being. Don’t binge on a whole box of doughnuts – or do anything that will further feed into an addictive personality.
Instead, celebrate milestones such as the 24-hour smoke-free mark, 1-week mark, 1-month mark, 3-month mark and so on with treats that will enhance yourself, e.g. a bike ride around FRIM, a flycycle class with that hottie instructor, a pokebowl at that new place, the new Murakami novel, a facial or a massage, a mani or pedi.
Depending on what your budget will allow (put cigarette money towards your little treats), do reward yourself for making a change during your quit period. After the first year, the treats can be less frequent, and when you’re settled in your new smoke-free life, you can relinquish them altogether.
Rewarding yourself for reaching quit milestones can make you feel empowered and motivated.
Quit Smoking Step #8: Get External Support Backup
While friends and family can be of support, if they’re not there (we all lead busy lives) you should have backups, especially during the first few weeks – the hardest part of your quit plan. There will be temptations, withdrawal symptoms, cravings and grumpiness. Today there are quite a number of resources that can help such as quit hotlines, mobile apps, and you should have these options handy:
- The National Cancer Society’s Quit Smoking Clinic – counselling and nicotine replacement therapy. +603 2630 6670 or email [email protected]
- Institut Jantung Negara’s Quit Smoking Clinic – counselling, support, lifestyle assessment, treatment & medication, nicotine & non-nicotine replacement therapy together with bi-monthly support group gatherings. +603 2617 8200
- MQuit – a quitline that you can call for support and information. Lines are open from 9am to 6pm. 04-653 5999. (At the time of publication, their website seems to have been hacked!)
Here’s to a new, healthier you!
Also See: Chic Eats: Tempeh Rendang
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