How are we all?
Welcome to post 19 for #Blogtober – can you believe it?! Today I want to talk about how I gave up smoking and my tips to help others through #Stoptober.
In 2019, there are an estimated ONE BILLION smokers globally – smoking just under SIX TRILLION cigarettes per year.
However, a large proportion of smokers want to quit, but it is not always clear how they can stop.
MY SMOKING STORY:
I had smoked occasionally at parties before, but the first time I bought my first packet of cigarettes in 2011. I only remember this specifically because it was the year my dad had his life support machine turned off, and this month was his birthday. I wasn’t dealing with the grief I felt very well, so I decided to do everything he would have wanted to do if he was still here – I went to a shop my friend worked at, bought a bottle of vodka, a packet of cigarettes and a bag of weed. Happy birthday, daddio!
I didn’t even realise I was addicted until I couldn’t go to school/ college without having a cigarette before. I used to duct tape the packets to the top of my wardrobe so my mum wouldn’t find them.
I started smoking consistently as a means of stopping self-harming. I changed my coping mechanism to something that was easier to hide from others. I managed a whole year without self-harming at all because my smoking increased.
I only realised how dependent I was on smoking when I started university. I chain-smoked a lot. I used it as a way to meet people and to escape from them. However, I couldn’t really afford to keep smoking the way I was on my little student income. I struggled a lot with my asthma and stamina. I just felt generally shit within myself, but I couldn’t stop because I needed the nicotine.
I had thought about quitting for a while, but I knew that because of this special association I had formed with it to replace self-harming – I knew it was going to be extra difficult. I honestly thought I’d never stop.
Then one day, I decided to reach out to see if the support was actually any good. I had my last cigarette on the 16th of November 2017. I can honestly say at this moment in time I would not pick up another cigarette again. I feel like a total non-smoker.
It’s taken a while to get to this point, but it has been so worth it.
TOP TIPS FOR STOPPING SMOKING:
#1 Understand why you want to quit.
It can be really, really useful to write down the reasons why you want to quit smoking. It can be a helpful reminder when you feel the urge to smoke again. It is important to recognise that you are going to crave a cigarette in a lot of situations whilst trying to quit. It is important to recognise that this will happen. Nicotine is a powerful substance.
#2 Set a quit date.
Try to pick a date you can concentrate on quitting smoking. This basically means avoid days which clash with big projects/ stressful deadlines and appointments/ family events.
Give yourself time to prepare for it, but try not to set the day too far ahead. Maybe within the next week or two from when you decide you wish to quit. Don’t procrastinate it. You should expect resistance from yourself once you decide to quit, your brain wants the nicotine. So as you get closer to your quit date, you might find that you want to put it off. This is part of the addiction. Remember, it only takes 48 hours for the nicotine to leave your system.
Choose a date that will stick in your mind. The 16th of November was of significance to me, because it celebrated a whole year clean from self-harm. For the first time in my life. I felt like I was learning to love myself and deal with things in a healthy way, and what better addition to that – than to give up smoking.
#3 If it will help you, tell your nearest and dearest!
It can be helpful telling people around you that you are planning to quit. You can ask for their support – this way they are more likely to help, rather than hinder your progress in quitting. However, only tell people if this isn’t going to add additional pressure to you. Remind yourself that your motivation to quit needs to come from you. This is your choice. You are not being forced or ‘giving up’. This is a positive thing.
#4 Remove anything associated with smoking.
Go around and collect up anything that is to do with smoking. Lighters, ashtrays, rizlas, filters, tobacco, cigarette packets… everything! Check your car. Check your pockets. If you smoke whilst driving, spend some time cleaning your car or getting it valeted – it helps to get rid of the smell. It is useful to remove these reminders, so you can start to focus on your new smoke-free life.
#5 Kill the routine.
Try and think ahead to those moments that you would usually smoke and come up with alternative ideas to take your mind off of smoking. For a while, it can be worth changing up mealtime routines. Or going somewhere new at work. Taking some food outside at home. Make a phone call. Get a glass of water. Check your emails. You’ll be amazed how much spare time you have now, use it doing something productive or something that brings you joy!
When you are craving, it is just your brain being reminded that your nicotine levels have dropped. But remember, the average craving is really short-lived at around 20 minutes, if you can distract yourself and hold out for that amount of time, you’ve won.
A disgusting tactic I’ve read about to get rid of those niggling cravings is to collect some old butts, place them in a jar with water. When you feel like smoking, unscrew and inhale deeply! Yum!
#6 Don’t tell yourself off for slipping up.
It might take several attempts at quitting before you finally master it. If you fail on this attempt, it does not mean you will never quit. It just means that this time did not work and something needs to change. If you lecture yourself, you’ll only begin to resent the process.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU RELAPSE WHILST TRYING TO QUIT SMOKING:
#1 Remember that how you define a ‘relapse’ is personal to you.
#2 The sooner you start your quitting journey, the less impact it is going to have on your future success.
#3 Carry on regardless.
#4 Tell yourself that you are still a non-smoker.
#5 Re-focus and re-commit to your status as a non-smoker.
#6 Be positive and believe that you will be successful. Millions of people have done it, so can you.
#7 Remember that giving into cravings is the main reason why people relapse. Cravings can come on suddenly, and be worsened by stress, relationship and work problems. However, cravings will usually subside within 20 minutes. Practice your distractions.
#8 Get support. Go to your GP. Call NHS Smokefree helpline: 0300 123 1044.
HOW TO SUPPORT A LOVED ONE THROUGH STOPPING SMOKING:
#1 Empathise. Even if you have never smoked before, you can be a good human and empathise with how hard they are trying to better themselves.
#2 Congratulate them. Every small victory.
#3 Accept that you cannot force them to stop smoking. They can only do it for themselves. Trying too hard to encourage them to stop smoking could result in resentment and damage to your relationship.
#4 Ask how you can help. One of the best ways to support someone through this process is to ask how you can help. They might not know straight away, but knowing that they have your support can make all the difference to start with.
#5 Find out their reasons for wanting to stop. I was heavily influenced by my future and the possibility of having kids with my fiance. I thought I would never be able to quit when I needed to, so I challenged myself to try now (in the midst of one of the most stressful periods of my life, smart move Jazz).
It is easier to stop when the smoker actually wants to, rather than doing it for someone else. So, ask questions and try to understand their motives. This can be useful to remind them if you see them struggle.
#6 Find out their reasons for starting in the first place. If you can, try to help them understand what they can do in replacement of smoking to address those underlying issues.
#7 Hear what you are being told. Remember that this process is about them and not about you. When you ask them questions, really listen to the answers that they are giving you.
#8 Try to help them research, select and try out a quitting strategy. There are a lot of options to choose from – nicotine replacement therapies (gums, spray, patches), stop smoking apps, group therapies, professional support, medications… What strategy is successful depends on them as an individual and the way that they smoke. Discuss their options. Be flexible. Help to review their progress continuously. If they lapse at any point, they just need to tweak the strategy.
This is the way I quit smoking. This medication reduces cravings for nicotine. Champix binds to the nicotine receptors so that when you smoke, the nicotine from the cigarette is not able to bind to the receptor. As the dopamine receptor isn’t activated, you don’t feel good whilst smoking. Therefore, smoking just becomes pointless. You are able to take this for as long as you need to.
NICOTINE REPLACEMENT THERAPY:
Nicotine replacement therapy works by providing sustained nicotine in your system to stop your cravings, without the harmful chemicals in cigarettes. It’s not going to kill the habit, just your cravings. However, these can be tapered off until you are nicotine-free.
#9 Help them beat their cravings. Try to understand what their craving triggers are and what it looks/ feels like when they are craving. Help them to come up with ways to avoid those situations. Help them find techniques to distract them from their cravings. Help them to fill their lives with things other than standing around craving cigarettes.
#10 Be patient. Be positive. Celebrate their success. Stopping smoking for good is HARD. It can take time. There can be setbacks. Don’t give up on them. Your support can be a really important part of their journey. Celebrate every single one of their milestones – no matter how small it may seem to you. A little compliment can go a long way.
Keep an eye on anniversaries. Tell them that you are impressed with their hard work and dedication.
Being there for someone who is stopping smoking is something which starts before the last cigarette is smoked. Cravings can persist a long time after physiological addiction has ceased. I still find myself craving cigarettes nearly two years on.
You become an ex-smoker the moment you extinguish your last cigarette. In this moment, don’t expect to start smoking again. There is nothing to give up, but a lot to gain.