With 2020 just a few weeks away, many of us are beginning to take stock of our lives so we can identify undesirable behaviors that we’d like to leave behind in the new year. For many, that will mean resolving to finally quit cigarette smoking. But, as anyone who has tried to abandon a bad habit can attest, quitting smoking “cold turkey” is no easy undertaking.
The reasons for quitting smoking are easy to identify. We’ve all heard, for example, that cigarette smoke contains thousands of nasty chemicals and that smoking contributes to a wide range of health problems, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, and many other forms of cancer.
Still, quitting any addictive behavior, no matter how harmful it may be to your health, takes more than willpower. If you’re going to “kick the butt” in 2020, you’re going to need a solid strategy that addresses all aspects of your lifestyle. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the five following steps are keys to quitting that have helped many smokers join the ranks of non-smokers:
Prepare yourself and your environment
First, get your calendar and choose a firm date for quitting. January 1 may be a good choice for you, but if your New Year’s Day consists of back-to-back parties where other smokers will be puffing away and temptation will be running high, it might be prudent to schedule quitting on a different day.
Next, clear your living space, working space, and vehicle of all cigarettes and cigarette-related paraphernalia, including lighters and ashtrays. Ask that others respect your new smoke-free environment by refraining from smoking in your home or workspace.
If you’ve resolved to quit smoking, chances are you’ve tried and failed to quit before. Before trying again, evaluate your prior attempts at quitting to determine what sabotaged your efforts in the past and resolve not to repeat those mistakes.
When your quit date arrives, stop smoking completely. Don’t allow yourself “just one or two” cigarettes or even a single puff.
Line up support
Having family, friends, and coworkers on board with your smoking-cessation plan is critical. Let them in on your plan and ask that they help in any way they can—primarily by avoiding smoking around you or leaving cigarettes out where you can get your hands on them.
You’ll also need professional support. Talk to your doctor about quitting, and avail yourself of an individual, group, or telephone counseling program. Working with a counselor or smoking-cessation coach can actually double your chances of quitting successfully. The Toledo-Lucas County Health Department provides a list of local smoking-cessation programs and services on its website at lucascountyhealth.com/#/health/tobacco-prevention.
Substitute healthy activities
If smoking has been a part of your daily routine for some time, you’ll need something healthy to do when you would otherwise be smoking. Change your routine, such as the route you take to work, where you take breaks in the workplace, and where you eat meals, especially when that routine puts you in situations where you’d usually smoke. Plan regular walks or other enjoyable activities. Try sipping water instead of puffing on a cigarette. If you start to feel stressed, try exercise or take a hot shower or bath.
Consider making medication part of your plan
Used properly and under the supervision of a physician, certain prescription and over-the-counter smoking-cessation medications can significantly reduce the desire to smoke and improve your likelihood of quitting for good, especially when combined with counseling. However, be sure to consult with your doctor before using any smoking-cessation medication. He or she can help determine whether you are a good candidate for medication and help you choose a medication that is best for you.
Don’t give up if you slip up!
Relapse is common when trying to quit smoking, especially within the first three months of quitting. In fact, most successful quitters made several attempts before finally kicking the habit. If you find yourself puffing away again, don’t lose heart. “Get back on the horse” and start again. Also, be aware that certain situations contribute to relapse. If you can learn how to avoid these “hot button” situations, you’ll be less likely to find yourself on the slippery slope to smoking again.
Drinking alcohol, for instance, lowers your inhibitions, which increases your chances of reaching for a cigarette. Spending time in the company of other smokers—especially in situations where alcohol is being consumed—can also sabotage your smoking-cessation efforts.
The onset of difficult emotions, such as irritability and depression, after quitting can also make it very difficult to stay the course. When a smoker knows that a better mood is just a few puffs away, the urge to give in can be almost overwhelming. If you experience such feelings, it’s time to get a move on! Exercise, such as brisk walking, is the best way to boost your mood.
Some smokers let the worry of weight gain after quitting derail their efforts to quit. While many smokers do gain weight after cutting out cigarettes, the maximum weight gain is typically less than ten pounds. By eating healthy and staying active, you can help keep these post-quitting pounds from piling on.