World No-Tobacco Day: Can't control the urge to smoke? Here's help

  • Deekshita Baruah, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: May 31, 2015 12:13 IST

If kicking the butt was on your New Year's resolutions list, then here is a thought for you. We are already in the middle of 2015 so please, stop procrastinating!

It really doesn't matter whether you are a social or a heavy smoker. If you belong to the clan, you probably know how tough it is to ditch the habit. For most smokers, it just turns into a weekly resolution. That's why we are here, to make your life easier.

Here's what you can do to get rid of the cancer stick:

Warm up the right way
Start with quitting the night before the D-day. That way, the next morning you will have an 8-hour head start to being smoke-free. If you
cannot control the urge and need expert help, join Nicotine Anonymous or check with the toll-free national QuitLine number - 1800 227787. They can easily guide you throughout the process.

Dr Seema Rekha, consultant emotional health, Paras Hospital, Gurgaon says, "Start with a gradual decrease in number of consumption of cigarettes. If you quit immediately, your chances of restarting are higher."

Stay away from the triggers
Think about the times or rituals during the day when you normally smoke, such as with a cup of coffee in the morning, between classes, while studying or at the bar. If you are tempted, go for a walk, chomp on carrot sticks or lollipops and if you can, for a while, avoid going to the bar. The temptation will eventually weaken.

Dr Achal Bhagat, senior consultant psychiatrist and psychotherapist, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, Delhi says, "Acknowledge that you are addicted to nicotine and remind yourself that smoking is a health risk for you and for those you love. It's OK if you don't succeed at first but at least know the excuses that you make to smoke and learn to challenge them. Never make a lapse a relapse."

Dr Parul Tank, psychiatrist, Fortis Mumbai, adds, "Relapse after trying to quit an addiction is very common. It's often called a lapse phase. People feel that they can control the habit once they have kicked it, but this often doesn't happen and they slip right in. Treatments like cognitive behaviour therapy and behavioural techniques are useful. If needed, reward yourself for overcoming the urges by positive self-talk."

Be strong in your head
The physical symptoms, while annoying and difficult, are not life threatening. For most smokers, the bigger challenge is the psychological part of quitting. It becomes really hard to overcome the urge because smoking gets linked to so many things like waking up in the morning, eating, reading, watching TV and drinking coffee. Your body will miss this link when you first become smoke-free and will take time to disassociate smoking from these activities.

Dr Rachna Khanna Singh, psychologist and lifestyle expert, Artemis Health Institute, Delhi says, "Everybody knows that withdrawal
comes with the territory of quitting but that doesn't make it any easier. It can be hard and even frustrating for the person concerned and for those around the person to deal with withdrawal. But understanding what's going on, physically and psychologically, can help you quit."

"Smokers will experience craving but each craving will last only a couple of minutes and will eventually stop happening altogether in
about seven days. Smokers should use nicotine replacement products to help reduce cravings. If he/she still feels the urge, they can admit out loud to themselves or someone else. They can even count to hundred and let the feeling pass. It will eventually subside within a couple minutes," she says.

Observe and keep calm
Smokers trying to quit will have difficulty concentrating. This is due to the loss of nicotine in the body which increases blood flow and
oxygen leading to a feeling of mental fogginess.

A few might also have trouble sleeping. It happens because nicotine increases one's metabolism to an abnormally high rate and when people stop smoking their metabolism drops back to normal, making them feel like their energy level has dropped. It's advisable to get the body used to the new metabolic rate by getting plenty of sleep, whenever possible. Although sleep patterns may be interrupted at first, it's just a temporary phase.

Constant irritation is another problem that a new ex-smoker might face. It's not abnormal as it is just the body trying to adjust to the
sudden disappearance of all those chemicals it's been used to all this while. The best way for smokers to handle it is to simply be honest with those around them.

Stick to the schedule

Keeping the smoke away is the final and most important stage of the process. A smoker should think ahead to the times when they may feel the urge to smoke and plan on how they will use alternatives and activities to deal with it.

A few things that a smoker can do are:

* Wait. Cravings are natural and they will pass. Don't think about not being able to smoke for the rest your life, think about not smoking
for the next 10 minutes.

* Remember the reasons for wanting to quit. You only have to go through this once and then you'll be a non-smoker for the rest of your

* Seek support. Call someone. Tell them you are thinking about smoking and ask them to help you through it. Talk to friends who have
successfully quit or friends quitting with you.

* Replace the craving with something healthy. Drink water, make yourself a snack, take a walk, exercise, watch a movie. Do something to pass the time.

* Reduce stress. Is something happening in your life that is causing stress? Try to let it go, talk to a counsellor, take a shower, go for a
massage. Do whatever it takes to de-stress!

* Avoid high-risk situations where the urge to smoke is strong. Sit in non-smoking sections or frequent smoke-free establishments when you go out to eat.

* Reduce or avoid alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol clouds judgment and can make it easier to slip and smoke. Plus, alcohol may be linked to smoking for some people and it's important to break this connection.

The four stages of quitting:

1 Smokers generally go through four successive stages in the process of quitting, each involving different issues and challenges. The first being the contemplation stage. During this stage, smokers are unsure about changing their habit. The thought of giving up on an enjoyable behaviour leads to a feeling of loss despite the perceived gain.

2 Then, there is the preparation stage. During this stage smokers prepare to make an effort and might also experiment with small changes. For example, switching to a lighter brand of cigarettes.

3 Third, is the action stage where smokers finally decide to work on their New Year's resolution.

4 And the last is the maintenance and relapse prevention stage.The maintenance stage is the tricky one as it involves incorporating the new behaviour over the long haul. Discouragement over occasional slips may halt the change process and result in the smoker giving up. However, most patients find themselves recycling through the stages of change several times before they finally give up smoking.

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