In the first few weeks of quitting many people feel uptight as a result of nicotine withdrawal. There’s also the frustration of not having cigarettes to “take the edge off” during stressful moments.
It will take time to settle into new routines and find new ways to manage life-stress now that smoking isn’t an option. Within six months of quitting most people report that their overall mood is better and their stress levels lower than when they were smoking.
Generally there are two types of stress to manage:
One of the great challenges of successful quitting is finding a new way to take time-out. If you’re finding you’re still stressed a month or more after quitting, consider how you take your breaks and get your “me-time” now that you’re not smoking. Common time-out times are during breaks at work, when you first get home from work and after dinner.
Some people find it helpful to set up a relaxing area in their home or revisit an old hobby or start a new passion.
It's important to remember that while smoking may feel like it helps you cope with stress, it’s only a short-term fix. Having a cigarette is not going to take the problem away, it just gives you a momentary reprieve from it and feeds the smoking stress-cycle. Research shows that smokers tend to have higher stress levels than non-smokers so the real way to de-stress in the long term is to become a non-smoker.
A major stressful situation is the most common explanation people give when asked what caused their relapse back to smoking.
A funeral, sudden bad news, a major argument with someone or a relationship breakup are each examples of scenarios that can bring on smoking thoughts.
They can make you feel like the normal rules don’t apply.
Think of these smoking thoughts as memory flashes. Resist the temptation and the urges will pass. Your mind is experiencing stress and is remembering that you used to have a cigarette to temporarily “manage” the situation. But that was an old (and flawed) way of coping.
Giving in to the “just one” thought notoriously leads right back to that old habit you’ve worked so hard to free yourself from.
Remind yourself of the benefits of quitting and of the smarter and healthier ways you’ve managed stress in the short term (e.g. deep breathing, muscle relaxation, mindfulness).
Set up an out-of-the-blue stress plan - your own personal emergency strategy. For example, ask a good friend if you can call them (day or night) if a disaster strikes, or phone Quitline or Lifeline for support.
Stress can increase your heart rate, speed up your breathing and cause muscle tension leading to an urge to have a cigarette to "calm down”. Practise the techniques outlined below.
The key to using breathing to help you relax is to use your stomach.
This is part of a technique called Progressive Muscle Relaxation where you systematically tense and relax all the muscle groups in your body.
Repeat this with as many parts of the body as you have time. Doing each tense-then-relax cycle twice is also good.
Mindfulness involves focusing on what is happening right now, your 'moment-to-moment' experience - both internal and external.
You should avoid thinking about the past or the future, what the feelings or thoughts mean, or on what is happening somewhere else. Just focus on what is happening here and now.
If thoughts about other things come into your mind (and they will) simply note that they have occurred and return your focus to the present. It’s impossible to focus on everything that is happening here and now so you need to choose one simple thing such as your breathing, or the feel of the sunlight on your skin.
You only need to do this activity for a few seconds to get an initial benefit. Persist for longer and it can have more benefits. It can be very useful when you’re in a situation where you can't use other strategies.
Try to practice a relaxation exercise for a minute or two whenever you’re aware of feeling stressed. You should start to notice that afterwards you’re feeling calmer and more relaxed and your mind has moved on from the thought of having a cigarette.
Your GP can refer you to a psychologist to learn new ways to manage stress if need be. Medicare rebates are available.