How to Deal With Stress While You Quit Smoking

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What triggers the urge to smoke for you? Anger? Boredom? Fatigue? Joy? You may associate all of these feelings with smoking, but stress and anger might stand out as smoking triggers.

When you're stressed, the urge to smoke can be intense. You might think that you need cigarettes to keep calm. In fact, smoking tends to create more stress than it dispels.

Learning how to cope with stress without a cigarette is difficult when you first quit smoking. With a few tools and some practice, however, you'll find that it's less challenging than you might have expected.

Recovering From Nicotine Addiction

There are two primary components of recovery from nicotine addiction: physical withdrawal from nicotine and healing the mind of the ritual associated with smoking.

Managing Nicotine Withdrawal

Your body physically reacts to withdrawal from nicotine as well as the thousands of chemicals present in the cigarette smoke you inhale. This phase of recovery creates stress of its own that you must be prepared to cope with.

Having an awareness of how stress fits in as a byproduct of early recovery from nicotine addiction, as well as a few tools to deal with the discomfort, will help you manage it successfully.

Tackling Mental Challenges

On an emotional level, smoking cessation forces you to deal with the loss of cigarettes as a crutch you leaned on to manage your feelings. The mental challenges can be one of the most difficult aspects of smoking cessation.

Managing Stress When Quitting Nicotine

Here are 10 tips and strategies to help you cope with stress when you quit smoking.

Be patient with yourself and allow your recovery to unfold as it will. Release from nicotine addiction comes gradually. It happens as you erase old associations and habits one by one, replacing them with new, healthier choices.

In time, you'll likely find that stress is more easily managed smoke-free than it ever was when you were smoking.

Don't Neglect Yourself

Early cessation is a time when you should be taking extra care to make sure all of your needs are being met. Here are some simple guidelines to help you get through nicotine withdrawal more comfortably.

  • Eat a well-balanced diet. Your body needs good quality fuel as it works to flush the toxins out of your system. Cigarettes deplete many nutrients and vitamins, so you'll want to start replenishing them with a well-balanced diet.
  • Drink water. Water is a great quitting aid. It helps you detox more quickly and can work well as a craving-buster. By keeping yourself hydrated, you'll feel better overall.

Cut Out Caffeine

When you quit smoking, the amount of coffee or caffeinated soda you are typically accustomed to consuming might begin to make you jittery and anxious.

Reducing your caffeine intake—or even cutting it out completely—is especially helpful if you're having trouble sleeping.

Once you're through the withdrawal process, you'll probably be able to drink coffee again, if you choose, though perhaps not in the same quantity as you did before.

Take a Warm Bath

Enjoying a bath is a great way to relax and de-stress. Light a few candles, use some scented bath salts, and submerge.

One study found that people who regularly took baths had improved mental and physical health when compared to people who didn't. Bathing in warm water can improve fatigue and irritability, which are both common symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, and promote an overall sense of well-being.

If you don't have a bathtub, getting into a hot tub or even a sauna can help create the same effects of relaxation.

Get a Massage

Our bodies tend to hold the tension we feel in our muscles, so a good massage is worth its weight in gold as a means to relieve stress.

Enlist your partner or another willing pair of hands to help work the stress out of your muscles. A full body massage is great, but even 10 or 15 minutes spent on your neck, shoulders, face, and scalp can work wonders. You can also try a self-massage tool like a massage gun or even a massage pillow.

Instead of a massage, you might also try using a foam roller on your muscles, which has similar effects. Foam rolling can help circulate blood in your body and improve flexibility, all while releasing muscle tension. Stretching your muscles for a few minutes each day can also help release that tension.

Put on Your Walking Shoes

A short walk every day—even for just 15 minutes—will help you manage stress as you withdraw from nicotine. Walking reduces edginess and improves circulation.

Exercise releases endorphins (the "feel-good" hormone). When the urge to smoke strikes, head out for a walk around the block. You'll come back refreshed and relaxed.

Get Enough Sleep

The early days of smoking cessation can be tiring, as your body and your mind are stressed.

While you might feel exhausted at first, your energy will ultimately increase as a result of quitting smoking. About two to 12 weeks after quitting, your circulation improves and your body is receiving more oxygen.

This change often makes physical activity easier. It also boosts your immune system which can prevent illness and reduce tiredness.

You may also be emotionally exhausted when you quit smoking. The emotions you may have been coping with by smoking are now emotions you'll need to learn to address using healthy coping mechanisms.

Visualize

Close your eyes and create a place in your mind that you can go to when you need to slow down and relax.

It could be a real or imaginary location—just make it yours. Use the same place every time so it becomes familiar and comfortable. As you settle in, start to follow your breathing.

Slow your breath down gradually by breathing deeply in and out for 3 to 5 minutes.

Deep Breathing

Deep breathing is a quick way to calm edgy nerves and reduce stress. Breathe in through your nose for a count of three, then exhale through your mouth for a count of three. Repeat this for a few minutes. The tension in your body will begin to fall away.

You can even combine your deep breathing practice with meditation. Try focusing on your breath and allow your thoughts to come and go without fixating on a particular one. You can set a timer for five minutes a day to start.

Meditation is linked with improving self-control. It may help you overcome strong cravings during withdrawal.

You can even search online or on a meditation app for guided meditations. Many guided meditations that are available have specific themes, so you may be able to find one dedicated to helping you cope with nicotine withdrawal.

Focus on Today

Many of us spend a lot of our time thinking about everything but the day we have in front of us. When navigating nicotine withdrawal, try not to worry about tomorrow or next week or next year. Do your best not to let yourself get lost in feelings of fear about never being able to smoke again.

Instead, resolve to make the most of right now. Think instead of today. You have the ability to stay smoke-free just for today. That's all you need to do.

It might be a cliché, but the process really is a series of baby steps. Try not to let feelings of worry about tomorrow intimidate you today.

Be Kind to Yourself

Expect and accept that you will have bad days—both in smoking cessation and in life. When you have an off day, resolve to put yourself on "ignore." Sometimes, the best thing we can do is to get out of our own way.

Stress is a part of life. Learning how to manage it smoke-free is part of successful smoking cessation. With time and practice, you will learn to navigate stress without cigarettes.

Our minds can make small issues into big ones and turn every little thing into a drama when our moods are out of whack.

If you're having a bad day, pause and refocus. Be good to yourself, allow for a treat (or two), and try to put your thoughts on hold. Tomorrow is a new day, you will be feeling better—and grateful to still be smoke-free.

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