Although different people have different reactions, the first week after quitting is generally the hardest. Symptoms start within 4 up to 24 hours after you have smoked your last tobacco. The intensity usually peaks around day 3.
For some people, the symptoms gradually decrease in both intensity and frequency during the first month. But some continue to experience symptoms for three or more months.
What triggers a symptom?
Just as your smoking affects those around you, your environment will affect you when you start quitting your addiction. Besides internal triggers such as mental illnesses, your nicotine withdrawal symptoms may be triggered by:
- Other smokers – continuing to associate with or stay in places where there are smokers is a surefire way of triggering your nicotine cravings. How can you stop something if you are continuously reminded of it? If you continue to seek it out?
- Objects – just as other smokers can remind you of the addiction you want to stop, physical reminders are also key triggers of withdrawal symptoms. If you want to turn your back on smoking, it will be better to throw or hide things related to this: ashtrays, lighters, cutters, and other paraphernalia.
- Habits – if you have developed the habit of smoking the moment you wake or after you’ve eaten a meal or drank something, then it will take time to stop your body from these secondary habits.
- Stress – many tobacco users start smoking as a way to cope with stress. So, any stressful moment can become a trigger to a symptom.
- Boredom – when you’re bored or have nothing to do, your mind will inevitably focus on what your body is craving: a smoke.
How do you cope with nicotine withdrawal symptoms?
Identifying your triggers can help you avoid them. If you cannot avoid them, then you will at least know how to keep yourself distracted so that they will not trigger your withdrawal symptoms.
One good tip is to create a contingency plan in anticipation of such events.
One plan is to follow the Ds recommended by the Philippine Department of Health:
- Delay – train your mind to stave off cravings through delaying tactics such as telling yourself that you will do something about it later on. Keep delaying your reaction and you might eventually forget that you are craving a smoke.
- Distract – one of the best ways to manage your symptoms is to distract yourself. Do something that will take your mind off your craving. For example, take a walk instead of hanging out with smokers. Drink water or chew gum to alleviate your physical symptoms. Take a long, hot bath.
- Deep breathing – yoga or meditation, which requires deep breathing, can help train the mind to focus on other things and alleviate the symptoms.
- Dial a friend – sometimes it helps to talk to someone, whether a friend or a counselor, about your plan to quit smoking. If you feel that your family or friends are not enough, counselors are trained to help people like you. You can contact them through their clinics or through hotlines. Your counselor can also recommend nicotine replacement therapies.
Quitting an addiction is never an easy thing to do. While some people can quit cold turkey and never look back, this is hardly ever the case for most people. You will have days where your self-control will be sorely tested. You will have days where you will be physically sick because of your cravings. Remember that these days will pass.
Over time, nicotine withdrawal symptoms will decrease so long as you hold on to your resolution to stop smoking. Focus on your goal. Keep reminding yourself that you’ve taken the first step towards being healthy and that is already a victory you can celebrate.
Learn more about smoking cessation here.