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MENTAL HEALTH

Addictions & Substance Use

Self-care

When you stop smoking, you may experience symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. Your body is accustomed to regular, high doses of nicotine. It sends out distress signals when those levels of nicotine aren't present. Use of medications will markedly reduce withdrawal. Even so, it's important to know how to manage withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms are usually the most intense during the first 3 to 7 days after you stop smoking. But they may continue for several weeks, although at a declining level of intensity. You may experience unexpected changes in these levels during the first 3 months. Although most nicotine withdrawal symptoms pass within 4 weeks, you may experience periodic cravings, or strong urges to smoke, even months after stopping. Triggers or cues that were associated with smoking can provoke the cravings.

Most people who try to stop smoking experience a range of withdrawal signs and symptoms. Here are some of the more common ones and things you can do to deal with them:

Physical discomfort or depression

  • Exercise. Even taking a brisk, 30-minute walk can help.

  • Talk to a support person.

Insomnia

  • Reduce or avoid caffeine or other stimulants.

  •  Relax before going to bed.

  •  Don't eat, watch television or discuss problems in bed.

  •  Make your bedroom quiet and comfortable.

  • Keep a regular bedtime routine.

  • Write down your worries on a piece of paper and leave them in another room.

Irritability, frustration, anger

  • Use relaxation techniques.

  • Exercise regularly.

  • Try deep breathing.

  • Reduce caffeine or other stimulants.

  • Avoid stressful situations.

Anxiety, nervousness

  • Use relaxation techniques.

  • Exercise regularly.

  •  Try deep breathing.

  • Reduce caffeine or other stimulants.

  • Talk to a support person.

  • Use distractions.

Difficulty concentrating

  • Adjust your schedule to a lighter workload.

  • Lower expectations on the amount of work you can do.

  • Understand the amount of energy and time it takes to stop smoking.

Restlessness, impatience

  • Take short exercise breaks. This not only takes you away from the situation, but helps relieve withdrawal symptoms.

  • Try deep breathing.

  • Avoid caffeine or other stimulants.

  • Change focus of attention frequently.

Increased appetite

  • Eat healthful snacks.

  • Don't delay regular meals.

  • Drink more water.

  • Exercise regularly.

Cravings for tobacco, desire to smoke

  •  Wait out the craving, which is usually less than 5 minutes.

  • Try deep breathing.

  • Use distractions.

Change in bowel habits, such as constipation

  • Maintain diet of regular meals.

  • Use bulk-producing foods.

  • Limit gas-producing foods.

  • Limit gum chewing.

Fatigue

  • Exercise regularly.

  • Eat regular meals.

  • Plan more rest and take short naps.

Cough, dry throat, nasal drip, clearing throat

  • Drink water.

  • Use cough drops to relieve throat irritation.

Coping skills

Many smokers yearn to stop but find it hard because of nicotine's powerful addictive hold. You may need more than one attempt before you successfully stop.

Maybe you want to stop smoking but don't feel ready to stop right now. Many smokers experience similar feelings. Although they want to stop, most also have reasons to put off taking action. The good news is, most smokers eventually do stop. But how can you build the motivation to make the change now?

Start by addressing the mixed feelings you may have about smoking. Identify the reasons why you'd like to continue and the reasons why you'd like to stop. Make a list of your barriers and benefits to making a change. Continue to update the list as you think of more reasons.

Identify barriers
These barriers are real for you and may make you hesitant to change your smoking behavior. But by identifying barriers before you try to stop smoking, you can:

  • Start thinking of ways to overcome these barriers. You may even decide that some barriers are not as big as you had originally thought. You may be able to control weight gain with just a little extra exercise.

  • Already start working on overcoming certain barriers. For example, if you're concerned about a lack of social support, talk to a friend who used to smoke or a health care professional. If you're worried about the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms, consider the use of nicotine replacement or bupropion to help.

  • Develop strategies to build your confidence to overcome these barriers. For example, in situations that trigger your urge to smoke, think of alternatives.

  • Set smoke-free boundaries. If there's another smoker in your household, set boundaries by making your home and car smoke-free.

Identify benefits
Giving up smoking is a good change for many reasons. Identify the reasons that are important to you.

  • Think of short-term benefits (such as breathing easier, saving money, no more smoky-smelling clothes) and long-term benefits (lower risk of disease, increase chances for a longer life, no secondhand smoke affecting the health of your loved ones).

  • Whether your list is long or short, the better you're able to identify the benefits of stopping, the stronger your reasons are to stop.

  • These reasons build your motivation to make a change. Remind yourself of these reasons regularly, especially when you feel your motivation lagging.

Build self-confidence
You may have little confidence in your ability to stop smoking. You may have tried to stop many times. If so, try to change your perspective. Instead of thinking of stopping as a huge, impassable obstacle, focus on the smaller details. Identify specific situations in your day that could help or harm your attempt to stop.

  • You may feel confident that you can stay smoke-free in certain situations, such as at your work desk, and less confident about other situations, such as at a party.

  • Identify your major areas of concern. This will help you problem-solve and develop strategies to stop smoking.

  • Identify the situations in which you have some confidence. You'll find that you have many situations in which you're already able to stay smoke-free.

  • As you work on stopping, seek the social support you need and practice your new coping skills. In this way, you'll increase your confidence in being able to make a move toward being smoke-free.

Are you giving yourself enough support and encouragement? Make sure to send yourself positive messages about stopping.

  • Develop a positive attitude by practicing positive self-talk. Start by looking in the mirror and saying, "I can stop smoking" or "I can be smoke-free."

  • Think of one or two phrases to use repeatedly for encouragement, such as "I can make it" or "Keep it up."

Complementary and alternative medicine

Aside from medications, these approaches may help you relax and relieve anxiety:

  • Behavior therapy. A form of counseling, behavior therapy helps you change the behaviors and thoughts that contribute to anxiety. You can better understand your anxiety triggers, develop coping skills and learn relaxation techniques.

  • Relaxation techniques. An approach such as meditation may reduce your level of stress. Meditation involves focusing on a word or object in a quiet environment to provide relaxation.

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
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