Preparing for Your First Day Without Smoking: A Comprehensive Guide
Nicotine is addictive. This is indisputable. But, with the right tools, mindset, and preparation, you can quit smoking and reap the benefits of a longer, healthier lifespan.
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Cigarette smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths each year in the United States. Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable deaths worldwide.1 Nicotine and the chemicals in cigarette smoke increase your risk for stroke and coronary heart disease. It narrows blood vessels, causes peripheral artery disease, and increases blood pressure—all factors that increase your risk for a heart attack.
Nicotine has a profound effect on the brain. It increases dopamine levels and changes the metabolism of other brain chemicals. Over time, it takes more nicotine to experience the same dopamine rush. Without nicotine, you may experience irritability, anxiety, memory, and concentration problems.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even people who smoke as few as five cigarettes daily can show early signs of cardiovascular disease.2 Smoking has a significant effect on heart health and mental health. Quitting will be hard, but achieving your quit goals may be one of the most life-altering challenges you can overcome.
Understanding Your Smoking Habit
Understanding your smoking habits helps form the basis for creating a tailored and effective quitting plan. One that increases your chance of success. Questionnaires, such as the Fagerstrom Test for Nicotine Dependence (FTND), can be used to assess your current situation. Self-assessments can help you recognize your triggers and determine your level of nicotine dependency.
Smoking triggers are situations, events, emotions, and habits that cause a person to want to smoke. Each person has their own triggers that may increase cravings for nicotine. Once you identify your triggers, you can plan how to manage them with options that do not involve smoking.
Common triggers for smoking include:
- Emotions: anxiety, boredom, excitement, anger, loneliness, stress, and happiness
- Social situations: bars, clubs, concerts, parties, smelling cigarette smoke
- Alcohol: alcohol can lower inhibitions and your resolve to quit smoking
- Driving or commuting: boredom can cause a craving for smoking
- Tedious activities: waiting in line, being on hold for a call
- Social pressure: being around other people who smoke
- Routines: talking on a phone, taking a work break, watching TV before bed
Recognizing your triggers can help you create your smoking cessation strategy. Understanding the events, situations, people, and circumstances that increase your craving for cigarettes and nicotine can help you mitigate their effects. For example, using a hobby or exercise can help you deal with emotional triggers, or changing your habits can weaken the association between certain routines and smoking.
Comprehending Nicotine Dependence
Nicotine changes your brain chemistry and rewires connections in your brain in much the same way as other addicting substances, such as heroin, do. Over time, your brain develops a tolerance to nicotine and requires higher and higher doses to get the same effect. As a result, most people gradually increase the number of cigarettes they smoke each day or switch to higher-nicotine products.
When your brain and body become dependent on nicotine, you experience physical and psychological symptoms that make you feel like you must continue smoking. When nicotine levels decrease in your body, you will experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
Getting Ready for the First Smoke-Free Day
Reading about triggers, nicotine dependence, and withdrawal symptoms can feel a little disheartening, especially if you are planning your first smoke-free day. Knowing what you are up against is not intended to be discouraging. It is to help you strategize how you will be successful.
Smoking cessation programs combine counseling and medications to support your motivation and confidence in your ability to quit. Learn about all the support options available in your local community and online and determine which ones will work best for you.
Setting a Quit Date
A plan becomes a goal when it has a date associated with it. Many people plan to quit smoking someday. People who successfully achieve this goal develop a plan and set a quit date.
Choosing a quit date demonstrates your commitment to quitting. Many people want to run but cannot find the strength and motivation to do so. Some will sign up for a marathon. This tangible step demonstrates their commitment to running and forces them to undergo the physical and psychological preparation necessary to run 26 miles.
Stopping smoking is your marathon. Setting a quit date forces you to develop a timeline for quitting smoking and begin preparing for the big day. You can anticipate potential triggers, identify coping strategies, prepare for withdrawal symptoms, and build a support system to increase your chances of success.
Building a Support System
Building a support system in advance is so important when you are planning to quit smoking. As you develop your plan, tell your family, friends, and colleagues about your plans. Give them specific suggestions on how they can support you during your journey.
If possible, identify someone else who wants to quit smoking. Having another person who understands what you are going through, and the challenges of quitting smoking, can strengthen your resolve. You and your quit buddy can provide mutual encouragement and accountability.
Join a support group. Online or in-person support groups can provide support and suggestions. Sharing your experiences, how you deal with triggers and withdrawal symptoms, your challenges, and learning from others in different places in the quit-smoking journey can be helpful.
Watch for enablers or people who tell you they will not smoke around you, but do, anyway. The human psyche is complex. People you have smoked with for years may want to support your efforts to quit smoking but undermine them instead. They may be jealous of your success or fear you will no longer spend time with them. The journey to stop smoking is hard enough. Focus on yourself and your needs now.
Preparing for Withdrawal Symptoms
Nicotine is extremely addictive, and withdrawal symptoms can be intense. Smoking cessation programs are designed to ease the transition from smoker to nonsmoker by slowly lowering nicotine levels in your body to give it time to adjust to the decrease.
Common withdrawal symptoms include:
- Cravings or urges to smoke
- Depressed mood
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased hunger
- Stomach upset
- Increased hunger
Some people choose a cold turkey approach to quitting smoking. They recognize their potential withdrawal symptoms and plan how to get through them. Others seek medical support as part of a smoking cessation program. Telegra MD has 24-hour doctor care access, so you can get help whenever you need it.
Whether you plan to use therapy and medications to support your quit-smoking journey or white knuckle your way through it, know that online doctors are available to support you on the Telegra MD platform if you need help. Online doctor visits frequently cost less than you expect, even if you do not have insurance.
Strategies for Your First Smoke-Free Day
The first steps toward any goal are typically the hardest. To ensure your success, have a strategy in place.
Back to the running analogy: to prepare for their first training run, runners may choose their clothes in advance, plan their route, and try to remove as many obstacles to getting out the door and running as possible. Likewise, you should develop a quitting strategy that anticipates and mitigates as many pitfalls and obstacles to your success as possible.
Creating a Distraction Plan
Environmental cues, emotions, routines, and tedium can trigger intense cravings for nicotine. Think about your day. When do you typically smoke? What triggers a desire to smoke? How can you change your environment, social contacts, and routines to weaken the association between these contexts and your desire to smoke?
Develop a distraction plan full of engaging activities that will help you manage your cravings. Whether it is exercising, reading, or engaging in a hobby, plan in advance and have any necessary supplies easily accessible.
Preparing Your Environment
Prepare your environment so it mirrors one of a nonsmoker. Remove all cigarettes, lighters, ashtrays, and other smoking-related items from your home, car, and workplace.
Thoroughly clean your living space so all odors associated with smoking are gone. Open windows, rent a carpet cleaner, and clean furniture and curtains. A clean and smoke-free environment can reduce triggers that cause cravings and help you mentally identify as a nonsmoker.
Coping Mechanisms for Dealing with Cravings
Cravings can be intense, but having a wide array of coping mechanisms at your fingertips will help you manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
Potential coping mechanisms to help you deal with cravings.
- Exercise: You probably heard of a “runner’s high.” Exercise can give your brain many of the positive feelings that nicotine can.
- Hydration: Drink plenty of water to flush nicotine from your body.
- Healthy diet: Choose a healthy and nutritious diet. Healthy snacks can help when you have the urge to have something to do with your hands and feel mouth hunger (a need to have something in your mouth).
- Call a friend: Call your quit buddy or a support group member when you feel your motivation lagging to get a necessary boost in resolve.
- Call a doctor: Nicotine replacement therapies are designed to help mitigate cravings from nicotine.
- Engage in a hobby: Work on a hobby that you enjoy, and that takes deep concentration.
Breathing Techniques and Relaxation
Stress is a major trigger for smoking. Nicotine from cigarette smoking and the physical movements associated with smoking can reduce stress for smokers.
Try deep breathing techniques, mindfulness exercises, and meditation to get these stress-relieving benefits more healthily.
Deep breathing exercises can be done anywhere, but try to choose a quiet place, preferably outdoors. Take a deep breath in as you mentally count to four. Hold your breath for a count of two. Breathe out slowly over a count of six.
Mindfulness and grounding exercises relieve stress by asking you to focus on your environment. Being aware of what you are seeing and feeling can be an important first step to dealing with the stressful emotions you are experiencing.
Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT)
Nicotine replacement therapies deliver small doses of nicotine without the toxins associated with smoking. The most effective way to use NRTs is to combine a long-acting nicotine patch with a shorter-acting product such as a lozenge, gum, inhaler, or nasal spray and to plan to extend treatment over 12 weeks.1
Talk to your healthcare provider at Telegra MD to learn more about nicotine replacement therapy and to learn more about your nicotine-based and non-nicotine-based therapy options.
While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.
1. Rigotti NA. Strategies to Help a Smoker Who Is Struggling to Quit. JAMA. 2012;308(15):1573–1580. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.13043
2. CDC Tobacco Free (2022, August 19). Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed August 1, 2023. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/health_effects/effects_cig_smoking/index.htm