The Icky Threes of Smoking Cessation

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When you quit smoking, you may experience the “icky threes”: extra challenges at day 3, week 3, and month 3 of not smoking. Not everyone experiences the icky threes. And if you do, they might happen at slightly different time intervals. But these tough times are common enough to take note of and be prepared for in case you experience them.

Day 3 of Not Smoking

The first three days of smoking cessation are intense for most ex-smokers, and day 3 is when many people experience the discomforts of physical withdrawal. During this time, the adrenaline felt from taking the initial plunge into smoking cessation begins to be replaced by the intensity of nicotine withdrawal, which can include flu-like symptoms, irritability, anxiousness, insomnia, and increased appetite.

What to Do

They key to surviving day three is to understand the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal and what you can do to keep them at bay.

  • Eat five small meals per day to prevent mistaking hunger for a cigarette craving.
  • Drink lots of water. Limit coffee, soft drinks, and alcohol, which are often associated with lighting up.
  • Take a walk or do a short bout of exercise to boost your mood and sweat out some of the angst of nicotine withdrawal. A long walk prior to bedtime might also help fend off quit-related insomnia.
  • Close your eyes and breathe through your cravings, which generally subside about three to four weeks after quitting.
  • If you're feeling fatigue, which is common during this phase of smoking cessation, take a quick nap during the day or go to bed a little earlier than usual.

Week 3 of Not Smoking

At three weeks, you've likely gotten through the shock of physical withdrawal. Now you're beginning to tackle the mental side of nicotine addiction, or psychological withdrawal. This turn of events often triggers cravings to smoke that can feel like you're back at square one.

Be aware that even though nicotine might be out of your system by this point, psychological cravings can produce real physical reactions, making a mental trigger feel like physical withdrawal.

Thinking about that smoke break you used to take at a certain time of the day can cause tension that makes your stomach churn and leaves you on edge. It feels like a physical craving, and in a way it is... but the source is a thought, not a physical need for nicotine.

What to Do

One of the first (and perhaps simplest) steps to survive week 3 is to remind yourself of the reasons why you decided to quit in the first place. Better yet, take out a piece of paper and jot down all of the reasons that quitting will benefit you and your life.

This quick exercise will help you fend off any "junkie thinking," or romanticizing smoking or rationalizing one last cigarette. You can also try these strategies to help combat thoughts of smoking and build a strong mindset for smoking cessation.

  • Put negative thoughts on ignore. While you can't control your thoughts, you can make a choice to ignore them or redirect your attention to something more healthy or productive, like a hobby or household project you enjoy.
  • Identify your triggers. Use the acronym H.A.L.T, which stands for hungry, angry, lonely, and tired, to help decipher what is driving your urge to smoke.
  • Stay committed, but have patience. Healing from nicotine addiction is a gradual process, so be patient with yourself and the way your recovery unfolds.
  • Seek support. Get a dose of encouragement from a trusted friend or visit an online smoking cessation support group.

Month 3 of Not Smoking

At three months, the novelty of the quit program is wearing off. Many ex-smokers are left thinking "Is that all there is?" In other words, the blahs hit around this time. They usually trigger cravings to smoke, often quite intensely.

This is a time period when relapse is common. It can be discouraging to have strong smoking urges surface after months of cessation. For those who don't know why it's happening, it can feel like nicotine addiction will never let go of us and there's no use in trying to quit.

What to Do

Quitting smoking and preventing a relapse takes a lot of mental work on your part, especially during the first year of smoking cessation.

  • Stay educated. Learning everything you can about what to expect during smoking cessation as well as the health benefits of quitting can help make the change permanent.
  • Practice positive self-talk. As you power through this phase, remind yourself that what you're feeling is temporary and normal. If you find yourself romanticizing smoking or questioning your decision to quit, talk yourself out of it. It takes time to heal from addiction and reprogram the way your brain thinks about smoking.
  • Manage cravings. If you're feeling the urge to smoke, turn to the five Ds: delay, distract, drink water, deep breathing, discuss.
  • Stay committed. Comfort with the new smoke-free life you're building will continue to grow with time, but only if you don't smoke. If you do, you'll be right back where you started 3 months ago.

Frequently Asked Questions

What day is the hardest when you quit smoking?

While a challenging day can happen at any time, most smokers agree that day 3 of not smoking is the hardest because that's when symptoms of physical withdrawal tend to peak.

What happens to your body when you quit smoking?

When you quit smoking, changes in your body can occur within minutes, hours, and days. For example, your blood pressure lowers, your pulse rate reduces, your body temperature returns to normal, your taste and smell receptors begin to heal, your circulation improves, and your lung function improves.

How long does nicotine withdrawal last?

Not everyone experiences nicotine withdrawal the same way. That said, nicotine withdrawal symptoms are typically at their worst on day 3 and then gradually taper off over the course of three to four weeks.

How long do cravings last when quitting smoking?

Just like nicotine withdrawal, the severity of your cravings will often depend on how long and how frequently you smoked. In general, cravings will subside about three to four weeks after quitting.

A Word From Verywell

Don't let the discomforts that come with smoking cessation throw you off course. They are all temporary, and once you move through them, they'll be cleared out and gone for good. It takes time, though, so try to relax and let it unfold for you as it will.

Don't put preconceived expectations on your recovery. Resolve to give yourself as much time as it takes for you. Do this and you will find peace—and eventually, lasting freedom.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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