Why Are You Afraid to Quit Smoking?

How to Avoid Setting Yourself Up for Failure

A sign that reads "No smoking in this area"

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As of Dec. 20, 2019, the new legal age limit is 21 years old for purchasing cigarettes, cigars, or any other tobacco products in the U.S.

There are many reasons you might be afraid to quit smoking, such as the fear of becoming more stressed, the fear of weight gain, the fear of the uncomfortable symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, or even just the fear of the unknown.

Addiction also plays a powerful role in keeping people smoking. When you smoke a cigarette, nicotine increases the production of dopamine (the "feel-good" hormone) in the brain. So every time you smoke, you receive positive reinforcement to smoke more.

By learning healthy coping mechanisms to use instead of relying on cigarettes, you can face quitting feeling more prepared and less afraid.

Fear of Stress

If you're relying on cigarettes to de-stress throughout the day, you may be afraid to lose the only thing that seems to relax you.

How to Cope With This Fear

Using nicotine to relax is only a temporary fix. As soon as your body rids itself of these chemicals, you start to crave more. Over time, as the body begins to adapt to the nicotine, it responds far less. As a result, you need to increase the frequency of your smoking to achieve the desired effect.

Though that initial hit of nicotine might feel relaxing, smoking actually worsens your mental health over time.

One study found that people who quit smoking experienced less depression, anxiety, and stress than those who continued to smoke.

The same study found that quitting smoking may even be as effective or more effective than antidepressants in treating mood and anxiety disorders in people who smoke. Try to find some new stress-management techniques you can practice throughout your day instead of smoking. They might include:

  • Make sure you're getting enough exercise, which can help you deal with stress.
  • Use deep breathing exercises or other meditative techniques to relieve tension.
  • Watch your favorite movie or dance along to your favorite song; making time for pleasure can help to reduce stress.
  • Take a stroll in nature; studies show that being in nature can help calm your mind.
  • Make sure you're getting enough sleep each night.

Fear of Negative Emotions

Nicotine withdrawal commonly involves emotional symptoms like:

You might be hesitant to experience the often challenging symptoms of withdrawal, especially if you have a mental health condition such as a depressive or anxiety disorder.

How to Cope With This Fear

Remember that nicotine withdrawal is only temporary. Most people only experience withdrawal for three to four weeks after quitting smoking. The difficult emotions associated with withdrawal will likely feel the most intense for a week, and they will gradually subside.

You might consider consulting with a mental healthcare professional to help manage your feelings. With cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a therapist can help you discover the underlying reasons you want to smoke and why you fear quitting.

Understanding yourself better can help keep you on track to staying smoke-free, as you find ways to address your feelings other than smoking.

There are things you can do on your own, too, like engaging in physical activity or meditation. Call a friend, or journal your feelings. Make sure to also do things that you enjoy.

You want to make sure you're rewarding yourself when you quit smoking—reinforcing to yourself the positive behavior of quitting.

Fear of Cravings

Cigarette cravings are another common symptom of nicotine withdrawal, and they're normal to experience after you quit. You might be wondering how you can resist temptations to smoke again when cravings hit.

How to Cope With This Fear

Here are some tips that can help you manage cravings:

  • Avoid situations or people that remind you of smoking.
  • Keep a healthy, crunchy snack on hand.
  • Reach out to a helpline or any quit smoking resource for help.
  • Cut back on substances like alcohol or caffeine—both of which might trigger cigarette cravings.

You can also talk to your doctor about nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). NRT administers small doses of nicotine through a patch on your skin, a lozenge, or gum—but it doesn't contain the other dangerous toxins that cigarettes do. NRT may help you to ween off of nicotine with much milder withdrawal symptoms than going cold turkey.

Fear of Weight Gain

Gaining weight is another common symptom of withdrawal. On average, people gain 5 to 10 pounds in the months after they quit smoking. Since smoking can suppress your appetite, you might find yourself eating more after you quit.

Other times, people resort to eating as a coping mechanism when they quit smoking. You might reach for food to replace the hand-to-mouth action that you used to fulfill with smoking.

How to Cope With This Fear

While you may not want to gain extra pounds, quitting smoking also improves your health in many important ways. You will improve your quality of life and reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and many types of cancer.

There are also ways you can try to prevent weight gain when you quit smoking.

Knowing you might be more inclined to reach for food throughout the day when you're no longer taking a cigarette break, be sure to keep an array of healthy snacks on hand.

Try getting outside and taking a walk for at least 30 minutes a day. You can even walk up and down your stairs or do a quick workout video online. Getting in some physical activity can benefit your mental health and help you manage your weight after you quit smoking.

Fear of Failure

The fear of failure is a common reason that prevents people from quitting cigarettes. Maybe the idea of quitting seems impossible. Or, maybe you've tried to quit before and have been unsuccessful.

How to Cope With This Fear

Try not to be hard on yourself if you've tried to quit smoking and you haven't yet succeeded. It takes many people who smoke multiple attempts before they are able to quit smoking permanently. Your journey to quit smoking doesn't have to be perfect.

Start by keeping a positive mindset. Though you may be worried you'll fail, try to visualize what your life will be like without smoking. Imagine what it will be like to feel healthier and to be able to enjoy your life without needing to step aside for a cigarette break.

Relapsing doesn't mean you've failed either. Just because you have one cigarette doesn't mean you should buy a pack and give up on your goal.

Some other ways to overcome your fear of failing include:

  • Remind yourself of the reasons you want to quit. Write them down and keep them somewhere visible in your home or in a note on your phone.
  • Delay your urge to smoke. If you have a craving, try delaying yourself a couple of hours before you take action. You'll probably notice that after some time, your craving will disappear.
  • Reach out to a support group or download a quit smoking app on your phone. Every time you have the fear you'll smoke again, hearing from a trusted friend can keep you motivated.

Your doctor might recommend a medication to help you quit smoking such as Zyban (bupropion) or Chantix (varenicline tartrate). Consult with your doctor about the best options for you.

A Word From Verywell

It's normal to have fears about quitting smoking. Nicotine is an extremely addictive substance, and if you've become accustomed to smoking as part of your daily ritual, you might feel like quitting is impossible.

Try coming up with a list of coping mechanisms—from taking a walk to attending a support group—to have on hand when you feel overwhelmed by the fear of quitting. Though it can be challenging, know that you do have the power to quit.

15 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.