What happened? You were doing so well, pleased with the way your quit was going and then the next thing you know you’ve slipped. A relapse back to smoking is in the making. Now you’re feeling guilty, self critical and down right depressed; saying “It’s not a good time”, “I’m not ready yet”, “I’ve already smoked, so another one won’t make a difference.” Sound familiar? Slips and relapses are common in the quitting process. In fact, most smokers attempt quitting many times before being successful. Quitting smoking is a learning process and rarely a one-shot done deal. So, how do you recover and get back on track?
When a slip up occurs (slip = a puff or a couple of cigarettes) the best response is to stop smoking right away. Toss any cigarettes you may have on hand to remove any temptations to light up. A slip doesn’t mean you are a failure, so don’t use it as an excuse to pick up another cigarette! Try to figure out what made you slip up so you can handle it differently next time. Re-commit to quitting by thinking about all the reasons you quit in the first place. Have your reasons matter and motivate you enough to make quitting smoking the number one priority in your life right now. Focus on all the health benefits you enjoy now and in the future by not smoking. You’ll need to keep the big picture in mind. Gather support from your family, friends and the QuitNet community. View your slip as a loss in footing that can easily be regained by immediately picking yourself up and refocusing on your quit.
A relapse (relapse = go back to your "old ways" of smoking) is a wake up call that you are losing control of your quit. It’s time to limit the damage, get rid of the smokes, reassess your quit plan and get back in the game. View your relapse as a teaching tool in quitting successfully. What triggering event or situation made you reach for the cigarette? What quitting strategy could you have used instead? Are you complying with quit treatment recommendations? Have the motivating reasons you wanted to stop smoking changed? Did you reach out for support? Take the time to figure out what went wrong so you can fix it and move forward. Don’t allow self-pity or self-blame to enter the picture. Commend yourself for trying to quit! Every attempt to quit moves you closer to your success.
Keep coming back, and KTQ,
Next week: Preventing A Relapse
There are some misconceptions about quit support products, specifically surrounding the ‘support’ part! Take Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) for example. As tobacco treatment specialists, we sometimes hear "My NRT is not working". Let's look at the role NRT plays for a basic overview of what to expect. NRT does not make you quit smoking. It does not remove the habitual want to smoke, or the emotional need to smoke. NRT does not eliminate withdrawal symptoms, nor does it prevent the detox process from occurring.
So what does NRT do? It takes the edge off cravings so you can focus on breaking your lifelong habitual, behavioral and emotional attachment to the daily ritual of smoking. NRT supports your efforts by reducing the physical cravings and withdrawal symptoms so you are more likely to stick with the quit process long enough to succeed.
NRT is not designed to match your smoking habit nicotine consumption milligram for milligram, but rather to reduce cravings by delivering a slow, steady dose of nicotine in your system based on the average amount of cigarettes you smoked prior to your quit date. This slow, steady dosing avoids the rapid and addictive 'rush/crash/crave' cycle that smoking provides (and makes quitting so difficult). NRT helps by lessening the intensity of physical withdrawal symptoms. Physical withdrawals will still occur as your body detoxes, heals and adjusts after years of inhaling toxic, chemical filled smoke, tar and gasses into your lungs and throughout your entire system. Nicotine is just one of the many thousands of chemicals in cigarette smoke.
NRT is advised to be used for at least the first 8 weeks of your quit while stepping down gradually. Stepping down as directed ensures minimal cravings and maximum quit support. Why 8 weeks? Research shows it takes a good 8 weeks of practicing new behaviors, habits and coping tools to learn a new habit, such as being a nonsmoker! Doing so with overwhelming physical cravings often leads to relapse before any of the learning new behaviors or habit breaking part takes place. Nicotine and temporary cravings are a small part of the Big Picture. Long term quit success comes from having 8 weeks of practice and actively working to learn new behaviors and coping tools, not from 'using NRT'. The Quitter must actively work their quit process in order for NRT support to be most effective.
So, how do you work your quit process? Start by identifying your top 3 tobacco triggers. Then, come up with effective new coping tools that will work for You. This is where you want to put your time, energy and focus during the next 8 weeks you have NRT support. Practice getting through stress, boredom, relationships, disappointments and day to day life situations without using tobacco. Practicing new coping tools ensures your quit process gets easier as time goes by. No amount of NRT can do this particular part of the quit, which is a good thing! It forces the newly quit to start really thinking about living their day to day lives without a cigarette. In each of those moments where you choose to do something else instead of smoke, you will be laying the foundation for becoming a nonsmoker.
The key to success is to let NRT do it's job by using it correctly as directed, while you do your job - actively work your quit process! Along the way, you'll discover lots of new things to do as you enjoy your healthy, smoke free lifestyle.
Master Certified Tobacco Treatment Specialist
Don't quit alone! We can help:
There are many things that might be considered romantic in life. A picnic for two by the lake. Walking along the beach at sunset. A candlelit dinner. Smoking, however, should should not be one of them. And yet, it isn't uncommon for ex-smokers to find themselves reminiscing about the “good old days” of smoking.
- What would it be like to have just one puff again?
- I really loved smoking.
- Things were better when I smoked.
- I miss smoking.
- Smoking isn't really that bad.
- I can always quit again...tomorrow.
Recognize this self-talk for what it is: romancing the cigarette. Romancing the cigarette means that despite all the bad things there is to say about cigarettes (and despite all the reasons you decided to quit in the first place), you find reasons to go back to smoking. There is nothing romantic about smoking. In fact the opposite is true. Smoking should be considered bad romance! Cigarettes will lie to you. Just one won’t hurt. Cigarettes will control you. When is it time for the next smoke break? Cigarettes will lead you to put it above your own comfort and welfare. Time to stand out in the rain/cold for my nicotine fix. And cigarettes will make you do things you normally would not do. I think I will buy the carton of cigarettes over milk and groceries.
Romantic notions of smoking are false. Tobacco addiction leads you to believe that all those fond memories--smoking on camping trips, late night chats with friends, mingling at parties, etc.--were due to that cigarette, but they weren't. If you went back through all of your happy memories, you would find that the true joy came from the people you spent time with, the activities you were doing, and the places you were visiting. Cigarettes only served one purpose during these times: to perpetuate the addiction. You may have associated your good times with smoking, but smoking was never the source of your enjoyment.
Re-learning how to enjoy life without cigarettes might be hard to imagine, or even scary at first. You probabably spent several years smoking; becoming an ex-smoker won't happen overnight. And whether you realize it or not, smoking was integrated into every part of your life (from first thing in the morning when you get up to the last thing you do before going to bed) and was used as a coping strategy for anger, sadness, stress, boredom, anxiety and other emotions. Undoing the relationship with cigarettes in your life will take some time and practice. It can be done!
Start with re-visiting your reasons for quitting. If they aren't "compelling" enough, go back and make them more specific and personal to you. So for example, if one of your reasons for quitting smoking was for improved health, a better reason to quit smoking might be to train and run your first 5K. Or to be able to climb a flight of stairs without getting short of breath. Or to have energy to be able to play with your children/grandchildren. Bolster those reasons for quitting by letting others in the community know you are re-committing to your quit!!!
Move away from romancing the cigarettes, by making new memories; ones without cigarettes! Take it one moment at a time. Like any bad relationship, it is normal to wonder, “What if….” Catch yourself when your thoughts go down that road. Quitting is like getting out of a bad relationship. You’ve ended the abuse on your body and your mind. Acknowledge there may have been some things you got out of that relationship with smoking. But that was then; this is now. Move forward with your life, smoke-free.
Master Certified Tobacco Treatment Specialist
With the summer 2012 Olympics just around the corner, you may feel inspired to get out and cycle, swim, row, or play a sport. The good news is that exercise is not only for athletes, but for quitters as well!
A recent, small study from the University of Exeter showed that moderate, physical exercise can help reduce cigarette cravings. Researchers believe this may be due to the fact that exercise releases chemicals in the brain, called endorphins, which improve mood and hence reduce a smoker’s perceived need for a cigarette. But the benefits of exercising when quitting go beyond brain chemistry.
Exercise will not only help you feel better, but it might also give you longer and better quality of sleep at night, help you reduce stress, and perhaps even influence healthier eating habits and food choices. Specific benefits for ex-smokers may mean that exercise counter some of the side effects of quitting like insomnia, fatigue, and weight gain. Best of all, exercise provides time to yourself; something many ex-smokers say they miss when quitting smoking.
Previous literature assumed that focusing on one behavior change at a time was best. We now know that to be untrue. In fact, ex-smokers who address weight management (through diet and/or exercise) while quitting smoking are more likely to quit successfully. Weight gain and stress are two of the biggest triggers ex-smokers often contribute to relapse. Hence adopting other healthy habits--healthy eating, exercise and stress management techniques--in addition to quitting smoking, make good sense.
What’s the best exercise to do when quitting smoking? The one you enjoy and will do consistently and regularly!
Perhaps you’ve always wanted to try a sport or a new class (spin, yoga, or Zumba). Get outside and go for a walk, take a hike, or paddle in a canoe or kayak. If weather is a deterrent, join a gym or a group of mall walkers. If you have pain and/or mobility issues, look into home videos or chair exercises.
If you are new to exercise, start with a small, attainable goal. Initially you may start with ten minutes of exercise one or two days a week. Over time you will build muscle strength and stamina and will eventually be able to increase duration and frequency of exercise. Don’t forget to bring water and warm up properly before engaging in any type of physical activity. Also, finding a buddy who can work out with you can help you stay motivated and accountable! Last, always consult your doctor before starting a new exercise program.
Ultimately, you may not win a gold medal, but you can definitely quit and still be a winner.