Staying smoke-free: How to avoid a smoking relapse

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Staying smoke-free: How to avoid a smoking relapse

Congratulations! If you're reading this, it's because you've already stopped smoking. You feel good about being smoke-free and you want to stay that way. You didn't come this far only to have a smoking relapse now! Use these tips to keep on track and avoid a smoking relapse.

Keep your guard up

When you first quit, you probably had strong urges to smoke. After a few weeks, though, the urges became less frequent and less intense. But even after months of being smoke-free, you're not home-free. You will always need to watch for situations that could lead to a smoking relapse.

When you feel tempted, remember you've resisted urges before. Go back to the work you did on your stop-smoking action plan. If you didn't make a plan, give it a try. Review your triggers and your strategy for managing them. Remind yourself of your reasons for quitting and the benefits to your health, your finances and your loved ones.

Stress: Don't let it push your button

In certain situations or times of stress, you may crave a cigarette. Many ex-smokers who have a smoking relapse say that feeling tense, angry, sad or bored led them to light up.

Stress is a part of everyone's lives, smokers and nonsmokers alike. The big difference is that as a smoker you have used nicotine to cope with stress. Now you need to learn healthier ways of handling stress. Here are some suggestions.

  • Physical activity is an effective stress reducer. Take a walk, mow the lawn or vacuum the house. Even moderate exercise reduces urges to smoke.
  • Tap into your resources. A wide array of stress management classes and self-help books are available online or at the library.
  • Talk to a trusted person. If you need more help, talk with your doctor, spiritual counselor and others who can coach you on ways to deal with stress.

Don't sweat the small stuff

Maybe you've gained some weight since you quit. That's not unusual. Most people gain 10 pounds or fewer. And most ex-smokers eventually lose most of the weight they gain.

Keep your focus on staying smoke-free and being healthy. Use the Mayo Clinic Food Pyramid to guide your eating. And try to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day. If you're concerned that you've gained more weight than might be healthy for you, talk with your doctor.

Reward yourself

Now that you aren't buying cigarettes, you probably have more spending money. For example, if you used to smoke one pack a day — at $5 a pack — your savings quickly add up.

After You've saved
1 day $5
1 week $35
1 month $150
1 year $1,820
10 years $18,200
20 years $36,400


Why not reward yourself for your commitment? Use the money you've saved to buy yourself a gift.

Recovering from a slip

If you do slip and have a cigarette, don't punish yourself. But put a stop to it right away and get back on track with these steps:

  • Make that cigarette your last. Don't put off quitting again until tomorrow, next week or next year. The sooner you get back on track, the easier it is because your brain receptors won't have gotten used to the nicotine "hits" from smoking.
  • Figure out what led up to your smoking. Now that you know that this is a high-risk situation, plan for how you will deal with it in the future.

Remember, stopping smoking is a process, not an "all or nothing" proposition. Learn from your slip and go on. Tap into your support network for encouragement.

If you ultimately start smoking again, don't give up. Most people try several times before they quit for good. What's important is figuring out what helped you when you tried and what worked against you. You can then use this information to make a stronger attempt at quitting the next time.

Last Updated: 2009-03-04
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