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So long, cigarettes: how to quit smoking

Make a solid plan before you set a date to quit smoking to help yourself stick with it

Research has suggested that you can increase your odds of success if you plan ahead before you quit, take advantage of nicotine replacement or other medications, and get support. Whether you smoke a pack a day or light up only occasionally, there’s never been a better time to quit—and to start spending all that money on something worthwhile.

The first step is to set a quit date and write it on your calendar in ink. Even if you’re psyched to start today, it’s best to choose a day between two and four weeks from now, so you have time to plan your strategy. Then follow these essential preparations:

  1. Make a list of your five biggest reasons for quitting, and read it often.
  2. For five days, keep a log of every cigarette you smoke, along with the time of day, the intensity of your craving, what else you were doing, and how you felt. Look at your list to see your most common smoking triggers.
  3. In the days before you quit, try to separate smoking from those triggers. For instance, if you have a strong urge for a cigarette whenever you drink coffee, wait until you’ve finished your cup before lighting up.
  4. Think about what you’ll do instead of smoking. You could treat yourself to a long shower or go for a walk after dinner. Stock up on sugarless gum, mints, and raw veggies to keep your mouth and hands busy, and buy a water bottle you like.
  5. Make a strategy for stress. When your house is a mess or things heat up at work, you can take deep breaths rather than a smoking break. If you get bored, plan to call a friend or start a craft project. Frustrated? Vent by writing in a journal.
  6. Research smoking-cessation aids. You’ll need to start certain medications a week or two before your quit date. If the one you choose requires a prescription, your regular doctor can help. 
  7. As your quit day approaches, throw out everything related to smoking in your home and car. Air out your clothes, and whiten your teeth so you’ll want to keep them looking good.

Going through this process will make quitting easier, but you should still expect the first weeks to be tough. “You’ve developed many nicotine receptors in your brain, and when they’re deprived of nicotine, they’ll rebel by causing physical symptoms such as irritability, insomnia, or trouble concentrating,” says Richard D. Hurt, M.D., emeritus medical director of the Mayo Clinic Nicotine Dependence Center. Increasing your daily exercise by taking brisk walks or bike rides is one of the best strategies for several reasons. It will help you sleep better, boost your mood, focus your thinking, burn calories, and remind you of what you’re moving toward: a healthier future.

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