How To Stop Nicotine Cravings
Whether you’ve been smoking for years or you’ve only recently taken up the habit, it can be extremely difficult to quit.
Over half of adult cigarette smokers say they have attempted, and failed, to quit in the past year, despite the increasing awareness around the negative health consequences of smoking.
A major reason why it’s so difficult to quit smoking is the cravings that come along with it. Smoking cravings are triggered by nicotine withdrawal and they can be extremely difficult to ignore. In fact, most people give in after just a few days of quitting and end up reaching for another cigarette to relieve their cravings.
What Are Smoking Cravings?
Nicotine is one of the main components in tobacco and it is extremely addictive. It’s the withdrawal of nicotine that causes the intense cravings you experience when you’re trying to quit smoking. Even though tobacco use is legal, nicotine is almost as addictive as heroin or cocaine.
Nicotine binds to nicotinic receptors. These receptors are found all over your body, including your heart, blood vessels, and brain. It has a sedative and stimulative effect. Firstly, it binds to receptors in the adrenal glands, increasing your production of adrenaline. This surge in adrenaline causes an increase in heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, and glucose release.
It can also increase the amount of dopamine in the brain, a neurotransmitter that is responsible for making us feel motivated and more content. In turn, this can leave us feeling relaxed and worry-free.
The positive effects of nicotine are short-lived. Just a few minutes after your cigarette, your adrenaline and dopamine start to drop until they eventually return to baseline levels. This can cause you to reach for another cigarette to achieve another ‘high’.
Nicotine withdrawal can result in the following symptoms.
- Nicotine cravings
- Increased appetite
- Depression or low mood
- Mood swings
- Inability to concentrate
How to Stop Smoking Cravings
Smoking cravings are predominantly caused by the lack of nicotine. After 3-5 days of no smoking, the nicotine is pretty much fully cleared from your body and this is why the first week is always the worst. Withdrawal can cause physical, mental, and emotional changes, all of which can be very difficult to cope with.
However, it’s completely possible to get through these symptoms and live a smoke-free life. Once you get over the initial week or two, it generally gets much easier. There’s no doubt that it’s going to be a huge challenge, but it’s worth it!
If you’re struggling to quit smoking, here are some top tips to help you push through these tough times.
We all breathe subconsciously. It’s something none of us think about. However, spending just 5-10 minutes each day to focus on taking deep and slow breaths. This can activate your vagus nerve and your parasympathetic nervous system, which slows down your heart rate and reduces your blood pressure to relieve your stress and anxiety.
Deep breathing is a key part of mindfulness and meditative practice. You may wish to join a local yoga class or follow along to a guided meditation video to help you relax and reduce your nicotine cravings even further.
Exercise is a great way to naturally boost your serotonin and dopamine levels. It doesn’t have to be anything too intense. Even just a quick 10-minute walk outside can raise your levels of endorphins and reduce your urge to reach for a cigarette. As you walk, you can practice some deep breathing to calm your mind.
Take a friend along with you to the gym and get a partner workout done together or take your dog for a run in the park to get your muscles and lungs working hard.
If you’re at home, you could do a short cardio circuit to get your heart rate up and keep the cravings down. Even doing the housework can get your body moving while also getting your chores out of the way!
Not only does exercise improve your physical fitness, but it also provides a much-needed distraction while you’re going through your smoking cessation journey. If you start getting severe cravings, doing a workout or getting the housework done can be just what you need to take your mind off of things.
If you’ve been smoking for years, your lung capacity may have decreased and you might find that you get out of breath quite easily. By incorporating healthy amounts of moderate exercise into your routine, you can gradually improve your lung health and regain your pre-smoking lung function.
Aromatherapy and Essential Oils
Aromatherapy is a form of therapy that uses essential oils. Many essential oils have been shown to naturally reduce cravings while also calming the mind and relieving symptoms of anxiety and depression.
They can also help with the physical symptoms associated with nicotine withdrawal by activating the limbic system in your body, which is responsible for regulating your hormones, blood pressure, digestion, and emotions. Anxiety and stress are two of the main symptoms of having a detox from smoking, and aromatherapy is a great option to lower your cortisol without reaching for a cigarette.
You can use essential oils in a variety of ways, including in diffusers, bath oils and cosmetic products. It’s important to seek expert advice from a professional before you start using aromatherapy oils, as they can have some side effects or contraindications if you use them incorrectly.
Avoid Your Triggers
Removing yourself from any triggers can be a very effective way of reducing your smoking cravings. For example, your triggers might be going to social events or meeting your friends at a bar, or it might be work stress. Once you’ve identified your triggers, you can focus on avoiding them or adapting them so that you start getting strong cravings.
Get Support from Those Around You
If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, reach out to your loved ones and let them know how you feel. Your family and close friends will be able to offer their support and help you through the most challenging days. If you can’t meet up with them in person, give them a call and de-stress over the phone.
There are lots of support groups that are available for you to join where you can chat to others who are in the same boat. It often helps to share your worries with those who are going through the same struggles as you to reaffirm that you’re not alone.
List the Benefits of Quitting Smoking
To keep you motivated on your smoking cessation journey, write down the benefits of quitting smoking. Keep the piece of paper somewhere visible so you can refer back to it when you’re having a particularly challenging day.
Benefits of Quitting Smoking
To help you with the final step above, here are some of the many incredible benefits you will gain after you quit smoking.
- Improved breathing ability
- Decreased coughing and wheezing
- Reduced inflammation in the lung tissue
- Decreased damage and destruction to the alveoli (the small air sacs responsible for exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide in your body)
- Reduced damage to the cilia in the lungs (the small hairs on the mucous membranes of your lungs that are responsible for cleaning the lungs and removing harmful microorganisms, like viruses or bacteria)
- Increased ability of your lungs to take in more oxygen
- Decreased carbon monoxide levels within just a few days of quitting
- Decreased risk of permanent lung damage, emphysema, and COPD
Decreased risk of several cancers including
- Mouth or throat cancer
Other Health Benefits
Quitting smoking is never going to be easy. Smoking cravings can be extremely difficult to overcome, especially in the first few weeks of being smoke-free. There are lots of physiological and psychological changes occurring in your body all at the same time, and this can be overwhelming.
However, it is possible to quit once and for all with lots of strong will, determination, and great support. Focusing on the incredible health benefits that come along with quitting smoking, and keeping these benefits at the forefront of your mind, is key to your long-term success.