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Action: Setting the Big Day to Quit Smoking

Harry Mills, Ph.D.

Picking The Day

calendar with date circledThere is no perfect time to quit smoking. If you wait for the perfect moment, you will probably never get around to actually setting a quit date. However, your probability of success is greater if you are able to focus your time and energy on your effort during the first month. The first few days are critically important, and will require extreme focus. Some people choose to stop using tobacco on a Friday so they will have an entire weekend to begin to get used to the change. Weekend time is often less structured and allows more opportunities for diversions to keep your mind off your desire to use tobacco.

While there is no perfect time to quit, there are times that seem to work better than others for many people. The more of the following that are true, the greater your chance for success:

  • You have strong, personal reasons to quit and your desire to stop smoking is high.
  • Your home and work life are fairly stable.
  • You are not sick, injured, or recovering from a smoking-related health problem.
  • You have a positive outlook and feel energized and ready to face this challenge.
  • You have recently succeeded in another major life change and feel increased self-confidence as a result.
  • For women: The quit date you are considering is at the end of your period or during the very beginning of the next cycle.

In summary, it is best to pick a quit date that occurs when you are not under unusual stress at work or at home. During this often stressful transition, you and your family members will need to have the time and energy to successfully deal with your withdrawal symptoms.

What to do on the Big Day

Prepare to be very busy on the day you choose to stop smoking. During nonworking hours, plan to go to the movies, exercise, take a long walk, go bike riding, etc. Choose to occupy your time with an activity that you enjoy, but make sure you cannot smoke while you are busy. Plan to reward your success at the end of your first tough day.

The following are some strategies you can use to help you manage cravings and stay on track:

  • Be sure to shampoo your hair and wear clean clothes to eliminate the odor of smoke from your clothing and yourself.
  • Many experts recommend drinking plenty of fruit juice during the first three days of cessation to help remove nicotine from your body. Drinking plenty of water is also recommended throughout the cessation period.
  • If you feel tempted to smoke, review the reasons you chose to quit smoking.
  • During cravings, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and slowly release it. During severe cravings, take several deep breaths and hold the last one while you light a match, exhale slowly, and blow out the match. Pretend the match is a cigarette and crush it the way you would a cigarette.
  • Remember that most cravings pass within ten minutes. To distract yourself from a craving, find something else to do with your hands, drink a non-caffeinated beverage, chew sugarless gum, or take a short walk.
  • If you feel like you need support, call one of the people you have selected to help you at just such times.
  • To keep yourself busy, take up a hobby that you think you would enjoy that will require you to concentrate on a task while using your hands.

Relapse Insurance

We tend to remember more about the good things than the bad things that happen to us, which is generally healthy for us. However, in the instance of smoking cessation it is better to remember the negative aspects of smoking in order to stay focused on the reasons you have decided to quit. It is critically important to your success that you make a detailed list of all the reasons that have motivated you to quit smoking, and include a list of the negative consequences of smoking. Your bad consequences list should include things like how you felt if you smoked when you were sick; the cravings, wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath you felt when trying to go about normal daily activities; the holes in your clothes; ash smudges on the furniture; yellow fingers; yellow teeth; smoker's breath; the smell of day-old ashtrays; the intense smoky smell of the car when it rained; having to wait for a seat in the smoking section in a restaurant; fights with family members because they wanted you to stop smoking, etc. These lists will become part of an insurance policy that you can use when you are tempted to lapse. Remember, most cravings actually last for only a few minutes at a time. If you can get through those few minutes without giving in, then you can go without a cigarette for another hour or another day. When quitting gets difficult, or when it just doesn’t seem worth it, look at your lists; they will help you remember why you decided to quit in the first place.