The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is kindness. So, we thought we’d take the opportunity to remind you of why it’s so important to be kind to yourself when you quit smoking.
In Wales 36% of adults with a mental health condition smoke, compared to 17% of the whole adult population in Wales. Across the UK people who are mentally ill smoke more than a third of all the tobacco smoked in Britain, and smoking is the biggest contributor to those with mental ill health dying 10 to 20 years earlier than the general population.
Although, quitting is one of the greatest acts of kindness you can commit for your health and well-being, at the time it can feel more like a punishment.
No matter how determined you are to quit the habit cigarette cravings can result in such strong feelings of stress and irritability that you may be tempted to cave in.
That’s why it’s so important to be kind to yourself when quitting and to ensure you have the emotional and physical tools you’ll need to overcome this challenge.
This is even more important during lockdown when you may be quitting at a time when life is even more stressful than usual.
To help you to get started we’ve come up with some top tips for self-care when you embark on your quit smoking journey.
Don’t go it alone
It’s possible to quit smoking using will power alone. But that is by no means the most effective way of giving up. Research has shown that you’re up to three times more likely to quit for good if you give up using nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) and behavioural support. There’s absolutely no shame is asking for support. The goal is to stop smoking and it makes no difference whether you do this solo or with support from NRT or a smoking cessation advisor. So be kind to yourself and take advantage of the help that’s available. Call NHS Wales’ Help Me Quit helpline 0808 252 8179 to find out more.
Before you quit, let close family and friends know that you’re planning to give up. You may need their moral support and encouragement when the going gets tough. If you’re in lockdown with family or friends, it’s also a good idea to warn them that you will probably be feeling irritable and end up needing some space. If your mood dips as cravings kick in, don’t suffer in silence. Tell others how you are feeling. Even just talking about it will make you feel better. If you don’t have family or friends you can talk to about quitting, why not reach out to others online. ASH Wales runs a quit smoking Facebook group for ex-smokers and those quitting. Click here to join.
One of the best ways to tackle cigarette cravings is to distract yourself with another activity. The average craving last around 10 to 20 minutes. When you feel the craving starting to build up focus your mind on an activity that will not only relax but distract you. Make sure you prepare a list of activities and any equipment you’ll need to carry them out before you embark on your quit attempt. Activities that encourage mindfulness – focusing on the present and on the details you can see at that moment – are particularly helpful.
Be kind to your body and mind by ensuring that you exercise while quitting smoking. Keeping active will boost your endorphin levels and reduce stress levels. It may not be easy to take part in your usual physical activities during lockdown. So adapt. Take part in online keep fit sessions or, if you can leave the house, go for a walk or a jog outside. Fresh air will also work wonders and the sights and sounds of the outside world will provide a welcome distraction.
When giving up smoking you’ll be tempted to indulge in comfort eating. And no more so than during lockdown when life’s pleasures are limited and food becomes an even more important source of enjoyment. There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself particularly while quitting smoking. But resist the urge to binge on fatty, sugary snacks. While this may provide short term satisfaction, once the sugar high wears off you’ll be left feeling low and gaining weight. Instead nourish yourself with healthy food that will help to improve your sense of well-being.
Lower your expectations
Quitting smoking can be all-consuming and you’ll probably feel like you’re on an emotional roller coaster. So be realistic about what you can achieve during this time. Don’t co-incide quitting with taking on any big project work or DIY projects or making major life decisions. Instead, lower your expectations and focus solely on quitting. You’ll find the process far easier if you don’t try to do too much at this time.
If you cave in and give in to temptation then go easy on yourself. Quitting smoking is tough and will often take several attempts. Just because you’ve fallen off the wagon does not mean you can’t pick yourself and get back on again when you’re ready. You won’t lose your motivation to quit and each time you try, you’re a step closer to your goal.