How to Overcome Smoking Urges in Just 5 Minutes

When you first quit cigarettes, it may feel as if every waking moment is consumed with one thought and one thought alone: the urge to smoke. If you pay close attention though, you'll notice that most cravings last only around three to five minutes. They tend to come on strong and decrease gradually until they're finally gone.

The best rule of thumb is to deal with nicotine cravings as they come, one by one. This approach forces you to interrupt your thought pattern the moment the craving hits. All you need to do is shift gears and do something entirely different for a few minutes.

By changing your focus, you can redirect your focus from the physical or psychological craving as opposed to allowing it to consume your thoughts.

how to fight off cigarette cravings

Verywell / JR Bee

Types of Cigarette Cravings

There are two types of cravings people experience in the early days of smoking cessation:

  • Physical cravings: Your body's reaction to nicotine withdrawal can be felt physically. Physical cravings are usually experienced as a tightness in the throat or belly, accompanied by feelings of tension or anxiety.
  • Psychological cravings: These are triggered by everyday events. People who smoke develop a number of cues that signal the need for a cigarette. Perhaps you light up whenever facing stress or smoke while driving, eating, drinking, or socializing. When you quit, those subconscious cues trigger profound urges.

Tips for Conquering Your Cravings

Here are 12 simple ways to manage physical and psychological cravings and gain more control over your ability to quit.

Go for a Walk

Sitting still only allows you to stew in your emotions. Get up and move about. If you can, go outside and take a five-minute walk around the block, breathing deeply as you go.

A simple trick is to breathe with your diaphragm rather than your chest (a technique known as "belly breathing"). You'll be able to get more air in and out of the lungs if you do, and it may even help ease the physical symptoms of craving.

Take a Mental Vacation

Close your eyes. Now, create a place or situation in your mind that is calming and can divert your thoughts from the discomfort you may be feeling. This is a practice better known as guided imagery.

It is a stress-reduction technique best done in a room that is quiet and not overly bright. The aim of the practice is to learn how to control your emotions rather than letting your emotions control you.

Take Some Deep Breaths

Breathing is one of those unconscious functions we take for granted. But, if you take a few minutes to control the rate and method of your breathing, inhaling and exhaling with mindfulness, it can become a powerful tool to help you overcome cravings.

This is a form of mind-body therapy in yoga known as pranayama in which you focus on the sensation of breathing as you control the pace of your inhalations and exhalations. Doing this for five minutes not only has a meditative effect but can leave you feeling calmer and fully refreshed.

Drink a Tall Glass of Water

It can be easy not to realize how dehydrated you can get during the course of a day. When this happens, it can trigger feelings of anxiety which, in turn, can trigger the urge to smoke. If a craving suddenly strikes, try drinking a tall glass of water.

List Your Reasons for Quitting

Listing your reasons can become a simple affirmation that allows you to overcome your ill emotions with hard intellect. By weighing the pros and cons, you remind yourself that there are benefits and consequences to every action. Writing it down helps reaffirm why you began this journey and what you need to do to succeed.

Moreover, putting it on paper will not only clarify your thoughts but prevent you from rationalizing any slips you may experience (such as "it was only one cigarette.")

If you make a habit of penning the list in a journal or diary every time an urge hits, you may even be able to see how much progress you are making.

Have a Portable Hobby

This strategy is all about distraction. Find something you enjoy doing that's easy to pick up and put down at a moment's notice. You could work a crossword puzzle or read a few pages from a novel. If you knit or crochet, you carry around a simple project to keep your hands busy and away from cigarettes.

Avoid action-packed video games or any activity that is more likely to raise your blood pressure than lower it. Anxiety or excitement can be a prime trigger for smoking that you need to avoid rather than incite.

Eat a Healthy Snack

When blood sugar levels drop, the urge to smoke can seem stronger than ever. It can even be hard sometimes to distinguish between the craving for sugar and the craving for tobacco.

If faced with the urge to smoke, grab a nutritious snack like a piece of fruit, a cup of yogurt, or a tablespoon of peanut butter on a couple of saltines.

On the other hand, avoid baked goods, chips, and candy bars that are often packed with saturated fats, high-fructose corn syrup, or refined carbohydrates. These snacks can send your blood sugar on a rollercoaster ride and make cravings worse.

Go to a Smoke-Free Location

Being around others when they're smoking can trigger your own cigarette cravings. If you find that someone lights up a cigarette near you, change locations. If you're standing outside and someone is smoking near you, put some distance between you and that person by stepping into the closest store or shop to browse the aisles instead.

Try Nicotine Replacement Therapy

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is an option to help reduce cravings. NRT administers small amounts of nicotine without the other toxins in cigarettes. NRT comes in gum, patches for your skin, lozenges, mouth spray, and other forms. Talk to a doctor about whether NRT is the right choice for you.

Call a Friend

If you are in distress, why go it alone? Instead, take a few minutes to connect with someone you care about. Not only will your spirits be lifted, but your mind will also be distracted from any thoughts of smoking.

Moreover, if you share your feelings with a friend or loved one, you allow them to be part of the solution. Doing so may also lift their spirits, as well.

Find Online Support

If you can't get away from your desk but are near a computer, you can access a number of smoking cessation forums and read how others have dealt with and survived nicotine withdrawal in the early days of quitting. You can even post a message if there is something specific you want to discuss. You'll be surprised at how willing people are to offer support if you ask.

Knowing that someone has experienced the same things as you—and has succeeded in kicking the habit—may be just the affirmation you need to push past the craving.

Practice Gratitude

Take a few minutes to reflect on all of the things in your life that you're grateful for. It's a simple yet powerful way to pull yourself out of a slump and renew your motivation.

A Word From Verywell

In the end, it is important to remind yourself that a craving is a call, not a command. By focusing on what really matters—your family, your friends, and your future—you can reframe a short-term craving as a means to a better end. The important thing is to keep positive. You will get there.

9 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Terry Martin
Terry Martin quit smoking after 26 years and is now an advocate for those seeking freedom from nicotine addiction.