No ifs, no butts... 10 top tips to help you kick the habit
Want to stub out cigarettes permanently? Liz Connor asks two addiction specialists for their best advice and self-help solutions
We're well into the new year, which means a significant proportion of the population will be battling to uphold their resolution to quit smoking.
According to the Office for National Statistics, over 70% of people who currently smoke say they want to quit. But anyone who has tried to kick the habit will know - ditching cigarettes for good can be much easier said than done.
If you started the year with a resolution to prioritise your health, giving up smoking is one of the biggest single things you can do - and there are lots of tips and tricks that can help you reach your goal.
Only a small proportion of people succeed with the 'cold turkey' method - so don't beat yourself up if you're one of the many who attempted to do so but found it too hard. But there are lots of other measures you can try - getting support from your healthcare provider, which may include nicotine replacement patches and gum alongside counselling, can vastly improve your chances for a successful quit.
Here, two addiction and cravings experts shares some top tips to help you quit...
1. Make plans to quit
The first thing you need to do is set a date and stick to it. "No excuses," says Steve Clarke, a specialist in the psychology of addictive behaviours at Priory's Life Works hospital in Woking (priorygroup.com). "Whenever you find yourself in difficulty, tell yourself that the craving will pass, and stick with it until the urge ceases."
2. And have a relapse prevention plan
Over time, Clarke says cravings drastically recede, but you should initially make a 'relapse prevention plan' just in case. "Identify potentially difficult events - like a party, for instance - and plan your escape routes in advance."
3. Switch up your routine
Smoking can easily become an automatic behaviour linked to daily routines, such as that afternoon work break. Clarke suggests changing your schedule so that lighting up no longer becomes a ritual.
"If that after-meal cigarette was a ritual, it needs breaking," says Clarke. "Get up and do the dishes straight away, or settle down in a room where you don't smoke and start reading a book to occupy your mind elsewhere."
4. Enrol some support
Telling friends and family members that you're serious about giving up can help to keep you accountable. "If someone you know wants to give up too, suggest that you give up together," says Clarke.
Ask close pals to engage in non-smoking activities while you're kicking the habit, such as exercise or the cinema, and instruct them to stop you from asking around for a cigarette at any social occasions.
5. Identify when your cravings hit
If you've ever tried to give up smoking, you'll notice that some parts of the day can feel harder than others.
"A craving can last five minutes, so make a list of five-minute strategies that will help you manage this," says Clarke. For example, you could do a crossword puzzle on your phone, go for a walk, or simply plug in to a podcast for five minutes. If you're on a night out, go to dance, strike up a non-cigarette related conversation, or leave completely.
6. Get physical
"Studies have found that even a small amount of exercise, such as a five-minute walk or a stretch, can cut cravings," says Clarke. He suggests joining a local group, such as yoga, mindfulness or walking, that has an enjoyable social element to it, so it feels like less of a chore.
You might not be able to see the benefits of giving up smoking on the inside of your body, but once you see the beginnings of a six-pack forming, you'll be all the more inclined to stick to your new habits.
7. Make non-smoking friends
A pretty common 'mistake' while attempting to give up smoking is surrounding yourself with temptation. "When you're at a party, stick with the non-smokers," advises Clarke.
8. Keep your hands and mouth busy
If you like holding a cigarette, Clarke says you should keep a pen or another cigarette-shaped object handy for times when you're tempted.
"When you're out, try putting your drink in the hand that usually holds a cigarette, or drink from a straw to keep your mouth busy," he adds.
9. Think of the wider benefits
"Smoking isn't just detrimental to your own health, it can also be damaging to those around you," says Dr Arun Thiyagarajan, medical director at Bupa Health Clinics.
"The cost of smoking is creeping up all the time, so see it as an opportunity to save money quickly - and then reward yourself with the savings by buying something you like or need."
10. Think positive
"If you have tried unsuccessfully beforehand, look at where you may have not succeeded, and make the changes," says Clarke.
"Remind yourself how good it would feel to have health and financial benefits, and keep a check-list reminding yourself of the reasons why you have chosen to stop smoking."