One of the biggest challenges when trying to quit smoking is ignoring cravings. Giving into cravings can undo weeks – or even months — of hard work. They are classified as a symptom of recovery and are the urges or desires to smoke. Cravings can feel like a wave – it comes, peaks, and goes away, whether you smoke or not. Over time, these urges will happen less and less until you no longer have them, as long as you don’t smoke. Even if you have just one puff, cravings tend to increase.
There are two types of coping skills to help deal with them:
1) Cognitive coping skills are when you use thoughts to help yourself stay smoke-free. You could say to yourself, “Smoking is not an option,” or “Wait a minute; I have been smoke-free. Don’t blow it now!” You may even have your own thought that inspires you.
Imagery is another cognitive coping skill. Imagery is very similar to daydreaming. When you start to feel a craving, close your eyes and imagine yourself in a calm, peaceful place. Choose a place from memory or one you make up. Practicing this will help to redirect your thoughts away from thinking about smoking.
2) Behavioral coping skills are actions that you do to avoid smoking. Deep breathing is a great practice to try because it can be done anywhere and helps to relieve any feelings of tension or anxiety.
You may find that you miss having a cigarette in your hands or mouth. Having an oral or hand-held substitute helps when you feel the need to hold a cigarette. Some good oral substitutes are gum, hard candy, brushing your teeth, or applying lip balm. If you miss having a cigarette in your hand, holding something like a pen or rubber band can help.
Busy work is another great behavioral coping skill to keep your mind off smoking. Choose activities that you enjoy such as reading, writing in a journal, playing an instrument, or figuring out a puzzle. Create a list of things that you haven’t done in a long time or new activities you always wanted to try. Be careful about doing things that you did while smoking as they might trigger and increase cravings.
While incorporating these skills you will find you have more time to give to other activities and people. For more information about cravings and tips for coping, check out our Journey to a Smoke Free Life booklet. You can also enroll in a Smoking Cessation program at many of our UPMC facilities.