Meeting with Slips & Relapses


August 26, 2020

Following on from the last post on ‘the difference between a slip& a relapse’ – the following article looks at strategies for meeting them.

Again, slips and / or relapses are a part of the process for most people (the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention suggests 8–11 attempts before quitting permanently) – so firstly, go easy on yourself if it happens, the harsh thoughts or feelings of failure about quite a common act won’t help or undo anything, instead make us feel worse.

So, it happens. And then what? We can use the slip as a step to go back to the same patterns of smoking and eventually a re-lapse, or we can use the moment as a learning opportunity. Let’s say we opt for the latter, and re-frame the slip as a guide towards more self-awareness, after all, we’ve learnt a new trigger and our reaction to that trigger. We may look at the underlying cause of the slip, to really get to grips with why the slip happened– it helps if we do so objectively.


Do any of these seem familiar to you when considering the underlying cause of a slip or re-lapse? ​


Misunderstanding of withdrawal symptoms - Withdrawal can be uncomfortable and the symptoms may be a lot worse for some people. But it’s important to understand that there is no health danger from nicotine withdrawal,though it may feel like it inside! At times we can make things worse by our over-thinking about the symptoms. Even extreme withdrawal symptoms will fade over time.


Difficulty standing firm in social situations – being in a group in a social environment if smoking was part of the fabric, perhaps with some who are smokers, can be challenging. It may be worth considering skipping them whilst you go through the early stages and build up your confidence. Speak to those that are not smokers, so they can buddy up when the smokers go outside. And ask the friends that do smoke in under any circumstance, do not give you a cigarette!


Ineffective coping strategies – Coping with cravings is possible when we are aware that they soon pass and require our engagement to get stronger. When we know a craving is arising,we can look to divert that energy into something like exercise or chores around the house, a cold glass of water can provide a sensory shock and 10 deep breaths can help to centre us again whilst the craving passes. If cigarettes are used as a coping mechanism for whatever reason, when they are out of the picture, this can lead us to use other unhealthy means of coping – so be aware of what you are substituting the cigarette with.


Extremely stressful event – stress is very high on the list of causes of slipping or re-lapsing. The light relief that a cigarette provides when we get tense or worked up, is a feeling that becomes embedded and so when events are particularly stressful,it’s usually the first port of call in helping us get through. We know through experience that smoking is not a long-term answer to coping with, or relieving stress – we also know that it won’t solve the problem that’s creating the stress, the problem will still be there, and the stress eventually returns. Our addiction to nicotine also causes stress, the cravings can feel stressful because the body begins to go through withdrawal. Understanding how your body and mind change when becoming stressed, can help you identify that it is happening and ultimately choose to do something else that’s more effective,whether a short walk or some breathing exercises. Then notice how your body and mind soon return to normal.

Here is some helpful info:


Lack of a Plan: Looking back – how detailed was your quit plan? A plan can include as much as you feel necessary – things like researching a suitable stop smoking service (you’re 5 times more likely to quit with assistance then going it alone), speaking with a Quit Coach (who more than likely has been through something similar or worked with people that have), writing down your motivations to quit and what your triggers are, telling friends and family so they can act as a support network and noting coping strategies all make for a strong plan.


This handy tool may help in building your plan:


 Lack of Motivation – why do you really want to quit? How strong are these motivations? Did we take the time to really investigate our ‘why?’ Perhaps the motivation is not that strong, you may be quitting as you think it is a good idea rather than really believing that internally. When the going gets tough,remembering our reasons for quitting can help to ground us.  ​


Whilst it may seem that we are ‘only quitting smoking’, in reality we are going through a major lifestyle change.Smoking can become part of our identity, the cigarettes are “a best friend”with us through the full spectrum of emotions – whether when happy and having a drink or frustrated and stressed – the cig is always there! So, you can see why the process of quitting requires planning, motivation and effort, and even despite our best intentions and preparation, we can slip – nicotine is a powerful substance after all.


Re-framing a slip (or re-lapse) from a failure to a learning opportunity – naturally we are wiser with experience, use this experience to prepare for the road ahead, it may even feel a little easier with this under your belt. At this point it is helpful to re-establish your motivations for quitting in the first place – what got you started, often our values and the things that are deeply important to us are the reasons why we want to quit – reflect on them again.


And finally, take the time to plan ahead –make a note of your triggers and write down how you may meet them when they popup again, what might you do differently this time round? Taking the time to focus on our strategies can be vital during challenging trigger situations.


If you are considering quitting smoking for the first time or the tenth, get in touch with one of our Quit Coaches: | 03301 244 648


28 Days provide a digital and telephone service, tailored to all types of working hours with clinics running from 8am-8pm Monday – Thursday, 8am-5pm Friday and 9am-1pm Saturday. Our NCST trained Quit Coaches can offer behaviour change support to assist with the quit journey, resources, digital tools and advice on pharmacotherapy and Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT).