Quitting smoking is a tough challenge and for most people, it takes several attempts before they can quit successfully. Don’t let this discourage you if you have quitting on your mind though. The important thing to note is that slips and relapses are a common part of the quitting journey. Many quitters will at some point slip up and have a cigarette, or even completely relapse back into smoking. The good news is that there are ways to cope with smoking relapses so you can overcome them and go on to be entirely smoke-free.
What Can You Do To Avoid A Relapse?
Certain situations can trigger a relapse
An unexpected urge to smoke can cause a slip or even result in a full-fledged relapse. There are certain situations, events or circumstances that can bring on these urges and cause a relapse. Some common relapse triggers include:
- Spending time with other smokers, especially in a social setting
- Consuming alcohol
- Having easy access to cigarettes
- Being in a bar, party or at a celebratory event
- Stressful situations
- Feeling angry, frustrated or helpless
Plan ahead to learn how to deal with triggers
Learning to recognize these triggers and planning ahead to deal with triggers can help you eliminate as many triggers as possible and increase your chances of being able to quit successfully. Here are some tips that can help deal with relapse triggers:
- Write down all your triggers and have a plan in place for dealing with the key triggers.
- Learn to cope with stress and explore options such as physical activity, deep breathing, and meditation, or talking to a friend to handle stressful situations.
- Reward yourself for your successes, no matter how small.
- Resist the ‘just one cigarette won’t hurt’ line of thought. Just one cigarette can lead to another, and then another, and eventually, cause a full-blown relapse.
- Don’t get caught up in rationalizing smoking as harmless or in thinking about your attempt to quit as a big sacrifice. Recognize smoking for what it is- a complex addiction- and tell yourself that quitting will only do you good.
- Don’t try to do everything alone. Get as much support as you can from your friends, family and loved ones. If you don’t have a large network of friends and family, your doctor and other healthcare professionals can offer support.
- Consider getting expert help such as medication, nicotine replacement therapy or behavioral counseling. The most effective way to prevent slips is a combination of nicotine replacement therapy and counseling.
Even if you do slip, stay positive
Most slips happen within the first week of quitting. Even if you do slip and end up taking a puff or two, it doesn’t mean that you can’t try again. Don’t let a single slip send you into a spiral of self-condemnation and despair and focus on remaining positive. The important thing to remember is that YOU are the one in control and that you need to keep moving onwards in your quitting journey.
Getting Back On Track After A Relapse
Don’t lose your belief in quitting
Whether you’ve relapsed once or multiple times, don’t lose your belief in quitting. Quitting smoking is a process, not a one-time event. If you relapse, follow these steps:
- Stay positive. Focus on all the progress you’ve made, even though you didn’t reach your quit goal. Quitting smoking is not easy and going without cigarettes for a few hours or even a few minutes is an achievement. Studies show that it takes most people 3 attempts before they can quit successfully, so don’t give up.
- Remember that you are not alone. Most quitters relapse at some point, whether it is during the first week after quitting or a few months after they’ve quit. A study that followed ex-smokers for over 20 years found that 39% relapsed at some point. Of these people, 69.5% had successfully quit again by the end of the study.
- Focus on your reasons for quitting, whether it’s a renewed commitment to your health or for a loved one. Reaffirming the reasons you chose to quit can help you rediscover your motivation.
- Educate yourself on the dangers of smoking. Reading and understanding everything you can about the harms of smoking on the body, can help strengthen your resolve to quit.
- Use your relapse as a learning opportunity. Quitting smoking takes time, effort, practice, and persistence. Try to think about what led to the relapse and what you can do differently the next time. Even better, write down what led to the relapse, this will help you get a clearer picture of what went wrong and get a strategy in place for your next quit attempt.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. Take your quit journey one day at a time, and treat yourself with patience and kindness.
Treat your quit journey like a marathon, not a sprint
Relapses can be demoralizing but they are not the end of the world! Remember that you can achieve your quit goal, you just have to be persistent. Each and every attempt to quit smoking takes you one step closer towards your goal of staying smoke-free; treat quitting like a marathon, not a sprint. With patience and commitment, this is one marathon where you will emerge as a winner in the end.