How to Cope With Stress When You Quit Smoking

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So, you’ve decided to quit smoking. Go you!

If you’ve tried quitting before, you already know the awful physical and emotional symptoms that come with this process.

Quitting smoking seven months ago was a huge learning experience for me. The process forced me to learn what it takes to fight cravings and deal with stress in healthier ways.

One of the most difficult parts of quitting smoking is stress. Your body and mind experience tremendous levels of it as they go through withdrawal.

In fact, many people who attempt to quit do so multiple times without success. It’s much easier to pick up a lighter than to face some seriously unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

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Quitting Smoking Is Anything but Easy

We all know that smoking is bad for us. So, why can’t we just tell ourselves to throw away our cigarettes and be done with it?

Unfortunately, most quitters can’t simply talk themselves out of the habit.

Look at the statistics. A 2016 study found that, on average, it took 30 attempts before smokers could successfully quit smoking.

A “successful quit” was defined as the quitter being tobacco-free at least a year.

The same study also claimed that around 37 percent of those quitters ended up relapsing later. Even when they’d gotten through a year without cigarettes, they were still drawn back in.

So, what should you take from this data?

Addiction of any type is no joke. If you’ve tried to quit before and returned to cigarettes, don’t lose hope. You’re among the many. Relapse is almost an inevitable part of the quitting process.

Because of the sneaky way nicotine pulls us in, you need a whole lot of willpower and stress-management skills to beat your addiction, once and for all.

How Nicotine Withdrawal Stresses You Out

As you probably already know, nicotine is the most addictive component of cigarettes. But the weird thing is that it affects new smokers and seasoned smokers differently.

In the first few weeks of smoking, nicotine speeds up the mind by increasing reaction time and attention span. It’s a great feeling that leads quickly to dependence.

But for those who have smoked more than a few weeks, the benefits of smoking are described as relaxing and stress-relieving.

How can one chemical make some people speed up and others slow down?

The answer to tobacco’s different effects is nicotine withdrawal. Just a few hours after their last cigarette, addicted smokers begin to experience withdrawal symptoms.

These symptoms include irritability, increased appetite, restlessness and concentration problems. All of these symptoms are the effects of nicotine withdrawal.

Instead of handling stress in a productive, more long-lasting way, smokers often pick up another cigarette. Instant relief is granted by nicotine, and the addiction has been satiated.

This is likely the reason why so many smokers associate smoking with stress relief. It’s why quitting is so difficult.

When smoking a cigarette is an easy and fast way to deal with withdrawal stress, you likely aren’t learning healthier, more permanent ways to handle it.

The problem is withdrawal symptoms will just come back in a few hours or overnight.

Find Better Ways to Deal With Stress than Cigarettes

The best way to deal with these negative effects and quit for good is by learning how to manage stress in healthier and more productive ways than smoking.

There are many ways to manage stress, and everyone is different. Techniques that work for one person may have no helpful benefits for another, and vice versa. We’re all unique, with different ways of thinking and coping.

Experiment with lots of relaxation techniques until you find one that works for you. It’s a learning curve that may take some time, but you can do it. Understanding where exactly the stress of withdrawal comes from is part of the battle.

Wouldn’t you like to be able to relax without using nicotine to feed a continuous withdrawal?

5 Healthy Ways to Deal With Stress When You Quit Smoking

Most people who quit tobacco experience nicotine cravings, which are stressful in themselves. However, while smoking may grant some temporary stress relief, you’ll be back at square one once the nicotine wears off.  

Another problem quitting smokers often face is finding new ways to deal with other stressors such as physical symptoms and everyday stress and anxiety.

Here’s a list of five tips to help you deal with all your stressors in healthier ways—ways that don’t require nicotine.

1. Lean on Your Loved Ones

While your family and friends can’t solve your problems for you, they can help relieve your stress levels.

Spending time with family and friends releases hormones that counteract the unpleasant ones released by your fight-or-flight response.

You could talk about your issues with a close friend, give your mom a call or go on a date with your partner.

Sometimes, just talking to others about what you’re going through can be stress-relieving. It feels good to know you’re not alone.

2. Go for a Walk

According to Smokefree.org, your cravings for nicotine will lower while you exercise, and they’ll be kept at bay for up to 50 minutes after you finish. Sounds like an easy way to fight cravings to me.

Exercise doesn’t have to be extreme. No one expects you to go run a marathon (unless that’s your thing). Start slowly by simply taking a 15 to 20-minute walk.

A great way to deal with the stress caused by cigarette cravings is to distract yourself. Getting outside for a walk or run gives you the benefit of distraction by your surroundings.

You’ll be soaking up sunlight (another stress reliever) and taking in the beauty of nature. For a bonus, take a walk with a friend, family member or pet.

3. Blow Bubbles

In 1974, a tobacco researcher, M.A.H. Russell, said, “If it were not for the nicotine in tobacco smoke, people would be little more inclined to smoke than they are to blow bubbles…”

So, take a trip down memory lane and blow some bubbles. It’s a great way to pass time as you quit smoking. Like deep breathing, this fun activity requires you to take in air deeply, slowing your breathing and lowering stress.

It’s just another distraction.

It can also be a meditative experience as you watch bubbles floating delicately upward in the wind. You can stare at their iridescent surface rainbows and work to create multi-bubble giants. You’ll be way too busy having fun to think about cigarettes.

4. Remind Yourself that it Won’t Last Forever

This was key for me in quitting smoking: the realization that each craving would eventually come to an end. All I had to do was fight through the difficult part until the craving eventually disappeared.

And you know what? Each craving did eventually come to an end. Nicotine cravings last only 10 to 20 minutes. If you remind yourself of that, you can keep pushing through, one step at a time.

Continue with this attitude and one day, you’ll be able to brush the cravings right off your shoulder. They may never completely disappear, but they will definitely fade and you’ll find other ways to deal with them.

5. Learn Quick Stress Responses

As a smoker, you’ve probably already learned one quick response to stress—the art of picking up a cigarette and lighting it.

When you inhale nicotine, it reaches your brain almost instantly. How easy.

When you remove that option by quitting, you’re going to need another quick way to relieve your stress in the moment.

One great way to do it is by taking one deep breath, and then another. You might listen to guided meditation on your phone or color in an adult coloring book.

One of my favorite ways to handle stress is squeezing and fidgeting with a stress ball. I’d always thought they sounded cheesy. But once I tried a stress ball, I learned that it was a great way to fight my jitters.

It doesn’t have to be complicated. Just keep trying different things until you find your new go-to healthy stress-relief method.

Coping With Stress When You Quit Smoking Isn’t Easy

This list has only a handful of stress-management techniques to use while you quit smoking. You can Google “stress relief techniques” to find loads of other ideas and suggestions.

There are also nicotine-replacement options such as patches and gum that can help you curb your cravings.

Many people rely on these to manage withdrawal, but remember, they are still feeding the addiction. If you use nicotine gum or patches, you’ll still have to face and deal with nicotine withdrawal at some point.

I hope you find some new ways to relieve stress and wish you the best as you manage your withdrawal. Remember, quitting can be a long process. Just take it one step at a time.

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Additional Resources

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About the author

Valerie Sizelove
Valerie Sizelove is a freelance content writer who specializes in health, mental health, self-improvement and parenting topics. She also loves to spill her guts on Medium. When she’s not wrangling her four kids or writing, you might find Valerie weeding in her amateur vegetable garden or baking some phenomenal cookies.

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