To put it bluntly, you can’t avoid having cravings for nicotine even after you have successfully stopped smoking. Nicotine is a potent agent that works on the reward and pleasure receptors of the brain. If you have been a smoker, your mind will always remember the quick relief it got from smoking when under stress. It can take a while to train your brain to accept new ways of finding relief.
If you are within your first two years of being a non-smoker, you may also be subject to physical cravings too – for the same reasons you may have the psychological ones. Rather than fight the cravings, embrace them. It is the only way to make sure they don’t undo the new tobacco-free life you have built.
Educate yourself about withdrawal and cravings
Your first task is to educate yourself as much as possible about the science of withdrawal and cravings. Read up on the changes nicotine makes to how the body and brain function so you have an understanding of its chemical process. Cravings aren’t “just in your head,” they are also a very real craving on a cellular level. It takes the body a long time to heal from smoking, so don’t set up a blame game when what will work– is understanding.
Understand the psychological component
There is a significant part of craving that is psychological. You have spent an awful lot of time training yourself to smoke to relieve stress, boredom, pain and so on. Give yourself credit for that. That effort is proof that you have what it takes to train yourself to do the opposite. Think back to all the times you ran out of cigarettes and what you did to get one. That is initiative and drive – in the wrong area and for the wrong thing – but it shows you have what it takes to create new habits and patterns.
Learn the pattern of your cravings
Keep track of your cravings. You will soon discover that there is a pattern to them. You may not have been aware that you are used smoking as a means to gain quiet time for yourself at home because it allowed you to step outside. Your cravings can hit when you are in need of that quiet time. Keep a diary and also note what you did that worked to relieve the craving too. This is how you begin to discover what works best for you.
Don’t use rewards
A lot of people will tell you to set up a reward system for yourself. Don’t do it. It will always backfire because we are not reward driven. The human psyche is designed to solve problems. Instead, develop a curiosity about your nicotine cravings and learn how to embrace them. They are unwanted in your life, but powerful. Why? Educate yourself, document your progress, experiment with different ways of discovering what you can do to relieve them. Instead of trotting up the money you save to go on some vacation in the far future, use the money you save to allow yourself to explore different hobbies. This can help relieve stress and anxiety.
Do use reason
Nicotine cravings almost seem like they come in the form of another person living in your mind and giving your endless excuses as to why it would be OK to smoke just once. Confront the excuses with your list of reasons for why you are quitting. If you don’t have a list, make one. You should have more on your list than just how quitting smoking will improve your health, include who it affects when you smoke, money, career issues and everything else you can think of.
Don’t just try to quit for yourself, quit smoking for everything and everyone in your life. When you learn to embrace nicotine cravings you learn how to use them to remind yourself of what is good in your life, and where you would like to go. Those cravings can generate the positive power needed to stay the course.
Honor the cravings, they show you progress
Don’t beat yourself up for having nicotine cravings, learn how to embrace them for they are your milestones on the path out of a smoking life. As mentioned earlier, cravings can be what you can use to remind yourself of all that is good in your life. If you are having cravings, it means you are successful in not smoking.
Honor that, appreciate the cravings for showing up to show you just how well you are doing. It can be easy to forget that you are making great progress if everything is going smoothly, cravings are a way to let yourself know that you are doing just fine. Love them, honor them – just don’t let them make your decisions about smoking.