Managing the Challenge of Quitting Smoking

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    Managing the Challenge of Quitting Smoking

    Managing the Challenge of Quitting Smoking

    Quitting smoking is a physical and mental challenge. You may have cravings, withdrawal symptoms, and temptation to smoke. Before quitting, work with your health care provider to make a plan that can help you manage quitting. Making a plan before you quit may keep you from smoking when you have the urge to smoke while trying to quit.

    How to manage lifestyle changes

    Managing stress

    A person practicing relaxation techniques.

    Stress can make you want to smoke, and wanting to smoke may cause stress. It is important to find ways to manage your stress. You could try some of the following:
    • Practice relaxation techniques.
      • Breathe slowly and deeply, in through your nose and out through your mouth.
      • Listen to music.
      • Soak in a bath or take a shower.
      • Imagine a peaceful place or vacation.
    • Get some support.
      • Talk with family or friends about your stress.
      • Join a support group.
      • Talk with a counselor or therapist.
    • Get some physical activity.
      • Go for a walk, run, or bike ride.
      • Play a favorite sport.
      • Practice yoga.


    Talk with your health care provider about medicines that might help you deal with cravings and make quitting easier for you.


    Social situations can be difficult when you are quitting smoking. To manage this, you can:
    • Avoid parties and other social situations where people might be smoking.
    • Avoid alcohol.
    • Leave right away if you have the urge to smoke.
    • Explain to your family and friends that you are quitting smoking. Ask for support and let them know you might be a bit grumpy.
    • Plan activities where smoking is not an option.

    General instructions

    Two adults cooking together in a kitchen. Fruit and vegetables are on the counter in front of them.

    Be aware that many people gain weight after they quit smoking. However, not everyone does. To keep from gaining weight, have a plan in place before you quit, and stick to the plan after you quit. Your plan should include:
    • Eating healthy snacks. When you have a craving, it may help to:
      • Eat popcorn, or try carrots, celery, or other cut vegetables.
      • Chew sugar-free gum.
    • Changing how you eat.
      • Eat small portion sizes at meals.
      • Eat 4–6 small meals throughout the day instead of 1–2 large meals a day.
      • Be mindful when you eat. You should avoid watching television or doing other things that might distract you as you eat.
    • Exercising regularly.
      • Make time to exercise each day. If you do not have time for a long workout, do short bouts of exercise for 5–10 minutes several times a day.
      • Do some form of strengthening exercise, such as weight lifting.
      • Do some exercise that gets your heart beating and causes you to breathe deeply, such as walking fast, running, swimming, or biking. This is very important.
    • Drinking plenty of water or other low-calorie or no-calorie drinks. Drink enough fluid to keep your urine pale yellow.

    How to recognize withdrawal symptoms

    Your body and mind may experience discomfort as you try to get used to not having nicotine in your system. These effects are called withdrawal symptoms. They may include:
    • Feeling hungrier than normal.
    • Having trouble concentrating.
    • Feeling irritable or restless.
    • Having trouble sleeping.
    • Feeling depressed.
    • Craving a cigarette.

    These symptoms may surprise you, but they are normal to have when quitting smoking.

    To manage withdrawal symptoms:
    • Avoid places, people, and activities that trigger your cravings.
    • Remember why you want to quit.
    • Get plenty of sleep.
    • Avoid coffee and other drinks that contain caffeine. These may worsen some of your symptoms.

    How to manage cravings

    Come up with a plan for how to deal with your cravings. The plan should include the following:
    • A definition of the specific situation you want to deal with.
    • An activity or action you will take to replace smoking.
    • A clear idea for how this action will help.
    • The name of someone who could help you with this.

    Cravings usually last for 5–10 minutes. Consider taking the following actions to help you with your plan to deal with cravings:
    • Keep your mouth busy.
      • Chew sugar-free gum.
      • Suck on hard candies or a straw.
      • Brush your teeth.
    • Keep your hands and body busy.
      • Change to a different activity right away.
      • Squeeze or play with a ball.
      • Do an activity or a hobby, such as making bead jewelry, practicing needlepoint, or working with wood.
      • Mix up your normal routine.
      • Take a short exercise break. Go for a quick walk, or run up and down stairs.
    • Focus on doing something kind or helpful for someone else.
    • Call a friend or family member to talk during a craving.
    • Join a support group.
    • Contact a quitline.

    Where to find support

    To get help or find a support group:
    • Call the National Cancer Institute's Smoking Quitline: 1-800-QUIT-NOW (784-8669)
    • Text QUIT to SmokefreeTXT: 478848

    Where to find more information

    Visit these websites to find more information on quitting smoking:

    Contact a health care provider if:

    • You want to change your plan for quitting.
    • The medicines you are taking are not helping.
    • Your eating feels out of control or you cannot sleep.
    • You feel depressed or become very anxious.


    • Quitting smoking is a physical and mental challenge. You will face cravings, withdrawal symptoms, and temptation to smoke again. Preparation can help you as you go through these challenges.
    • Try different techniques to manage stress, handle social situations, and prevent weight gain.
    • You can deal with cravings by keeping your mouth busy (such as by chewing gum), keeping your hands and body busy, calling family or friends, or contacting a quitline for people who want to quit smoking.
    • You can deal with withdrawal symptoms by avoiding places where people smoke, getting plenty of rest, and avoiding drinks that contain caffeine.

    This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your health care provider. Make sure you discuss any questions you have with your health care provider.

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