Smoking: Take the pain and strain out of quitting

Health correspondent

How to deal with the often-discomforting physical and mental side-effects of nicotine withdrawal.

Take a breather

Deep breathing can help you overcome your desire for a cigarette and it also helps to strengthen your weakened lungs.

Try this: sit with your back straight and your feet flat on the ground. Inhale through your nose, letting the air fill your abdomen, then your chest area, until you need to exhale.

Let the air out through your mouth. Repeat this four or five times.

Get some exercise

To help your body remove the filth from your airways and bloodstream, try light exercise such as walking, cycling or swimming. This helps get your circulation going, helping to flush out toxins. It also releases endorphins, feel-good hormones that will make you feel truly positive about your quitting achievement.

Eat healthy treats

Giving up smoking doesn’t make you put on weight – eating excessively or badly is what causes weight gain. Many people treat themselves with chocolates, biscuits or crisps when they give up, and then get upset when they put on a few pounds.

The key is to snack on treats that are healthy. If ‘healthy treat’ sounds like a contradiction in terms, try these snacks:

  • Solero Orange Fresh ice cream. At just 77 calories, this is a treat that you can enjoy daily without the guilt
  • Dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa solids. Its richer flavour means you’ll eat less than you would of its milk equivalent, and it also contains more iron
  • Homemade popcorn. The toffee variety is sky-high with sugar, so avoid that, but make your own and you can sprinkle on a teaspoon of sugar or salt without breaking the calorie bank
  • Innocent fruit smoothies. These contain only fruit but taste wickedly delicious

Get hypnotised

If you’ve tried nicotine patches and cold turkey, and found yourself going back to the cigs, try hypnotism. A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology showed that hypnosis was three times more likely to result in success than nicotine replacement therapy.

Learn to knit

It can feel strange not to have something to do with your hands, and often smokers will resort to biting their fingernails to combat the sense of loss. Instead of chewing on your fingers, try knitting or learn card tricks so you can keep your hands busy.

Grab a carrot

Having something you can chew on helps to distract you from your desire for a cigarette and it keeps your hands and mouth occupied too. Fill a Tupperware box with Twiglets, carrot and celery sticks, a hunk of cheese and some grapes so you’ve got something to nibble on wherever you are.

See your hygienist

Book an appointment with an oral hygienist in the first few weeks after you’ve given up. Ask them to clean and polish your teeth, removing any stubborn tobacco stains. You’ll walk out feeling more confident in your smile and, having spent good money on removing those stains, you’ll have even more reason to refrain from smoking.

Fight the feeling

Sometimes the urge for a cigarette seems overwhelming, particularly if something bad or stressful has occurred. Resist the cravings with action: take a shower, go for a brisk walk around the block, or try rubbing an ice cube on your wrists. This may sound like odd advice, but the change in sensory input helps take your mind off your cravings.

Leave the country

A change is as good as a rest, so they say, and a change of scenery will also help you break even the most die-hard of habits. If you are booking time away, keep your mind and body occupied with lots of activities and keep reminding yourself of all the money you’ll save for future holidays if you stick with the quitting programme.

Change your ending

Lighting up after a meal can be an exceptionally difficult habit to give up, so give yourself a chance by changing your eating routine. After you’ve finished, take time choosing a chocolate from a box; peel some fresh fruit to eat; or have a small bowl of yoghurt. If you’d usually have some kind of dessert anyway, try a more drastic approach – get up, and go and brush your teeth after eating. The feeling of freshness in your mouth will help dampen your cigarette desire

Ask about medicine

NHS doctors can now prescribe Varenicline, a non-nicotine drug developed to help smokers quit. It works by stimulating the same areas in the brain as nicotine, and by blocking receptors in the brain that create the cravings. The drug is taken over a 12-week period.

Ask your GP for more information or advice.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.