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. As a smoker, 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, you'll find that it's less challenging than you might have expected.

Components of Recovering From Nicotine Addiction

There are two components of recovery from nicotine addiction: physical withdrawal from nicotine and healing the mind of the habits 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.
  • 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.
  • Take a daily multivitamin. Cigarettes deplete many nutrients and vitamins, so you'll want to start replenishing them with a good multivitamin. The boost can also help you rebound more quickly from nicotine withdrawal symptoms.

Cut Out Caffeine

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

If you're having trouble sleeping, try reducing your caffeine intake—or even cutting it out completely.

Once you're through the withdrawal process, you'll probably be able to drink coffee again—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.

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.

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. Allow more time for sleep if you need and can manage it. The weariness you're feeling won't last forever. Your energy will return soon.

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.

Focus on Today

We spend so much time thinking about everything but the day we have in front of us. Try not to worry about tomorrow (or forever). Try not to let yourself get lost in feelings of fear about never being able to smoke again.

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 baby steps! Try not to let feelings of worry about tomorrow intimidate you today.

Don't Take Yourself Too Seriously

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, your smoke-free life will flow with ease.

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 think: pamper. 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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  1. Cosci F, Pistelli F, Lazzarini N, Carrozzi L. Nicotine dependence and psychological distress: outcomes and clinical implications in smoking cessationPsychol Res Behav Manag. 2011;4:119–128. doi:10.2147/PRBM.S14243

  2. Smokefree. Coping with stress without smoking.

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