Quitting smoking is one of the hardest habits to break. You are dealing with nicotine addiction, a physical habit and euphoric recall. It may take several tries before you kick the habit for good.
Setbacks may occur days, weeks or even months into your stop smoking journey. But you can jump back on the wagon and make sure it never happens again by identifying the triggers of a smoking relapse and avoiding them.
What causes a smoking relapse?
- Stress – When the pressure is on and sometimes you are in a stressful environment that you can’t control it is easy to slip back into the mindset of just one cigarette will help.
- Overconfidence – It’s been two weeks and you haven’t had a cig. You’ve nailed it completely; you don’t need any more help or to think about it anymore. This couldn’t be further from the truth; overconfidence can be a big influence of starting smoking again.
- Old routines – Slipping back into old routines that are based around your old smoking behaviours can quickly encourage smoking behaviours again.
- Isolation – As with overconfidence, isolation from your support network can cause a smoking relapse. You need to consistently lean on the support of family, friends and stop smoking services. Otherwise the habit will rear its head again.
- Other smokers – Keeping yourself surrounded by other smokers. Especially in a social environment is a sure-fire way to start smoking again. Its’ not just the smoking habit you have to break.
What to do if you start smoking again?
Don’t panic. A smoking relapse may happen once or a hundred times, it doesn’t matter. As long as you are actively trying to quit then you are on the right path. Most people will have a slip in the first week of starting their quit attempt and many fully relapse in the first few months.
Just remember that you are still in control. You may have had a cigarette or two, a pack of 10, but you are aware. That means you can just jump back on the wagon.
- Focus on one day at a time – If you have a smoking relapse only focus on your quit attempt for the next day. Hour by hour track how you feel and how you are doing. Looking too far into the future can be counterproductive and completely unhelpful. “I haven’t smoked for two hours; I can do the next hour”.
- What happened? – Write down what happened, what the trigger was and what you were thinking when you had your relapse. This is great for identifying what your triggers are and how you can avoid them easily in the future.
- Plan again – We have spoken before about your quitting plan. Maybe this one wasn’t the right one for you. Quitting smoking is a lot of trial and error, it can be incredibly frustrating. But there are many routes you can take, maybe this wasn’t the right one. Make a new plan.
- Talk – Use a stop smoking service, friends, family or other people trying to quit smoking. Surround yourself with people who will encourage you and others who know what you are going through.
These relapses back to smoking can cause you to feel down and a failure, but this is more likely to encourage smoking. It is easier to stick to the mantra of ‘not one puff’. It is easy to say to yourself “just one won’t hurt”. But it does, it invalidates your quit attempt.
Again, the key here is to get straight back into a positive mindset, realise that you are in control and start again.
How to prevent a smoking relapse.
Eliminating as many of the smoking triggers as possible is the best way to succeed. It can be difficult to completely change your life and you won’t be able to avoid all of your smoking triggers, but by always remaining aware you increase your chances of a successful quit attempt.
Stress is one of the biggest smoking triggers. If you find yourself encountering a stressful situation don’t default back to ‘a cigarette will relieve the stress’. Try and incorporate some other ways to cope with stress than reaching for the cigs. Other smokers have succeeded by employing deep breathing techniques, meditation, exercise or self-care to cope with stress and high-pressure environments.
Social situations are a particularly tricky one to incorporate change, especially if there are smokers in your circle. Try to break old habits rather than always focussing on smoking. Don’t go outside by default and don’t go outside with other smokers.
Your support network is extremely important. Being over confident, isolating yourself and old routines all need to be kept in check. This is much easier if you keep in contact with your quit smoking support network. Check in with friends and family if you have the urge to smoke, not only is this a distraction technique but they can remind you why you have quit in the first place. Stop smoking services are a fantastic resource and can help with different paths if you are really struggling.