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What to expect when you quit smoking

When quitting smoking, the best way to stay smoke-free is to take one day at a time. Stay strong and focus on why you quit, not why you want to smoke. It can also help to view yourself as a non-smoker from the moment you quit. This will give you the best chance of quitting for good.

Keep in mind smoking is a physical and mental addiction. So it’s ok to seek help when you’re having a tough time. The good news is there are plenty of tips and tricks to help with cravings or doubts. If you need to talk to someone, call Quitline (13 7848) for the cost of a local call (calling from a mobile cost more) or request that someone calls you.

Being prepared for what’s to come can also help to make the process easier. Understanding the potential withdrawal symptoms of quitting smoking — and the various side effects that can happen when you quit — will make it all the more easier to deal with them.

Smoking withdrawal symptoms

When you quit smoking, you may experience withdrawal symptoms. While these can last anywhere between a few days to a few weeks, it’s important to remember they are temporary.

Most people find the first week hardest, however, any symptoms you experience will reduce over time.

Here are some common symptoms and ways to deal with them:

  • Irritability: You may feel tense, irritable, panicky or anxious. You may feel angry and snap at those around you. To combat this, try taking deep breaths, meditating and stretching. You could also soak in a warm bath or go for a walk.
  • Difficulty concentrating: You may find it harder than usual to focus. If you’re having trouble concentrating, take regular breaks and break larger projects into smaller tasks.
  • Change in appetite: You may find yourself eating more, either as a result of replacing eating for smoking, or because you are enjoying the smell and taste of food more. It can help to plan meals, with plenty of healthy, low-fat snacks to choose from.
  • Digestive issues: You may experience constipation, gas or stomach aches. To ease these symptoms, drink plenty of fluids, and eat lots of fruit, vegetables and high-fibre cereal.
  • Flu-like symptoms: You may develop a cough, dry throat and mouth, or a nasal drip. Drinking plenty of fluids should help.
  • Dizziness: As your body gets more oxygen, you may feel a bit light-headed. If this happens, sit down and rest until it passes.
  • Depression: You may feel down or sad, perhaps experiencing a sense of loss or grief, or a lack of self-confidence. It can help to speak to a friend or family member, or to use positive self-talk regarding why you’re quitting. If your feelings of depression are intense, or do not go away, speak to your GP.
  • Insomnia: You may find it hard to get to sleep or stay asleep. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and spicy or fatty foods in the hours before bed. Try relaxation exercises or a warm bath.

Identifying & managing side effects

Above, you can see the various withdrawal symptoms quitting smoking can create. While it varies from person to person, there are some side effects caused by those withdrawal symptoms that can be harder to deal with than others.

Which is why in this section, we’ll highlight some quit smoking side effects people quitting can find tough.

Manage your stress

It’s easy to get into the habit of smoking when you feel stressed. However, the relief you feel when you have a cigarette is not actually relief from stress. Instead, it is relief from the nicotine withdrawal symptoms you are experiencing. Addiction to nicotine means you experience that stressed feeling whenever you crave nicotine.

If you are feeling down or stressed, or perhaps experiencing anxiety as a result of quitting smoking, there are lots of ways to help you manage. Some things to try could include:

  • use nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) such as nicotine patches
  • take deep breaths
  • close your eyes and imagine you’re in a peaceful place
  • exercise to feel happier naturally
  • relax with a massage
  • have a warm bath or stretch
  • talk to friends, family or a counsellor
  • focus on what you’re doing or work with your hands
  • cut back on caffeine to feel calmer
  • help someone else to take the focus off cravings and feel happier
  • accept that you’ll have good days and bad days, but you’ll be healthier and happier for quitting.

Those who have successfully quit report an improvement in their mood. The hardest time is a week or two after quitting. So stay strong it will pay off.

Managing weight gain when quitting

Weight gain when you quit smoking can be a common concern among those considering quitting. While some people do gain a little weight when they quit, it’s important not to be discouraged if it happens to you.

The average weight gain one year after quitting smoking is five kilograms. Research has shown that the average body weight of ex-smokers is similar to those who have never smoked. And don’t forget, quitting makes you look younger and healthier.

Reasons for weight gain when quitting smoking:

  • Nicotine withdrawals sometimes feel like hunger pains, so you may think you’re hungry even when you’re not.
  • Nicotine speeds up your metabolism.
  • Nicotine suppresses the appetite, so when you quit you may feel hungrier, not to mention food tastes better.

How to avoid weight gain:

  • Limit the number of snacks you have. Plan meals ahead of time and focus on fresh fruit, nuts and veggies. Drink plenty of water.
  • Be active. Those who quit report higher energy levels, which will make working out easier.
  • Try not to skip meals as this can stop your body using energy the way it normally would.
  • Avoid strict or unpleasant diets and treat yourself every now and then.

Looking for more support?

You can find plenty of support to manage weight gain as you quit smoking, available both in person and online.

  • Healthier. Happier. A great website where you can find a number of free workouts, recipes and tools to help you meet your health and fitness goals.
  • Get Healthy! A free, over-the-phone program for anyone concerned about their weight or health and fitness goals. It includes ten free coaching calls with a personal health coach for up to six months.
  • Queensland Dieticians Find a dietician to help you with healthy eating and give professional, face-to-face advice.

Coping with cravings

To help you cope with cravings in the days after you quit, try the Four Ds:

  • Delay acting on the urge to smoke. You should find that after five minutes, the urge to smoke lessens.
  • Deep breathe in and out slowly and deeply and repeat three times.
  • Drink water, taking slow sips and holding it in your mouth a little longer to savour the taste.
  • Do something else. This could mean talking to a friend, going for a walk, listening to music or anything else that will take your mind off your craving.

Above all, try to remember that you are doing a great job. Every craving you push away will make it easier to deal with the next one, until you stop noticing them at all.

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