A few weeks into your quit journey, after having won the hard-fought battle of withdrawal and conquered the summit of cravings, you’ll be faced with the test of maintaining your progress.
Whether you recently started your quit journey for the Stoptober campaign, well before October, or even planning to in the near future, it’s important to consider this stretch of time that comes after the excitement & enthusiasm of preparing mentally, setting a quite date and taking the plunge to go smoke free– the seemingly slow and mundane, daily maintenance of the work.
As a service we have supported over 10,000 people to successfully quit smoking, there have also been many who trip up in the face of maintaining the abstinence– from our experience, it’s a time when complacency can kick in, taking our eyes off the ball. The situations we would never have put ourselves in during the first week, such as hanging out in the smoking area of a pub with colleague who smoke, once again can become a consideration, “I’ve come 2 weeks without a cigarette, I’ll be fine.” Over time, resilience to these aspects of living life without smoking will grow. However, it come gradually and with practise. Remember who long you smoked for in comparison with how long you’ve been quit for. Any practice or discipline take time, this no different.
The behaviours and habits which are now second nature to us (think writing or driving) are formed over time through repetition – neural pathways are created by the brain to command limbs and muscles to complete task. Done over and over again, they become almost automatic – a habit. In the context of smoking, the repetitive act increases the nicotine receptors in our brain, meaning the need for nicotine to meet these receptors also increases. At around 3 months quit your brain looks more like a non-smoker than a smoker. This means the nicotine receptors that were demanding you to smoke have now been put to sleep through inactivity, leaving you less vulnerable to relapse.
A proven way to help maintain the quit is instead of fighting against the habit and urge to smoke, identifying new habits which can create new neural pathways in the brain. You may have heard of the phrase ‘neurons that fire together, wire together’– or Hebb’s law. What Hebb has shown is that actually focusing breaking the old habit may actually strengthen it – so looking at creative ways to break some of the patterns of behaviour that have been reinforced over a long time can help the process.
Find a new & healthy 'addiction': For example, if the health benefits of being a non-smoker are what motivate you, try having a healthy snack every time you fancy a cigarette. If weight gain is getting in the way of your quit smoking efforts – when the urge to smoke arises, work through a quick exercise routine and utilise that energy in an active way. Switching the smoking addiction with exercise is a great long-term strategy for many reasons. Exercising activates the release of dopamine - the body's reward chemical - and so restores balance from the absence of nicotine. Physical activity also helps in reducing the potential of heart heart disease).
You will have already created some new routines and got this far, it’s important to know your cues which trigger that craving to smoke. Is it that morning coffee, after meals, on the phone or walking the dog? How about switching the morning coffee switch to an OJ or having the coffee in a different part of the house? Have you tried that new exercise routine or experimented with new recipes in the evening? Books, podcasts, crosswords, knitting – all can stimulate the brain into a new way of thinking, encouraging new pathways to form. Studies in neuroscience have found that by focusing on creating a new habit forms new neural networks in the brain and gives you the best chance of embedding the behaviour as a habit, this is called neuroplasticity. So, less chance of feeling that ‘something’ is missing!
Give yourself visual reminders: This is really helpful for any goal setting - whether aiming for a new job or quitting smoking. Having physical reminders dotted around the house, the office or car can provide continuous stimulation and motivation to keep on track. These visual can be in the form of the pictures of the holiday destination that you'll visit with the money saved or a sticky note with a sentence describing the best version of yourself.
Lastly, remember you are going through a lifestyle change by quitting smoking, the cigarette may even feel strongly linked to your identity– making the process even more painful. Acknowledging that this is a long-term process, rather than an overnight fix, so patience (with yourself too) and perseverance are key.
Give us a call and speak with a Quit Coach today (03301 244 648) or visit our website www.28days.org.uk – there has never been a better time to quit.