You’ve decided to stop smoking. However, withdrawal provokes several symptoms. Here are the main ones and how to appease them.

1. Craving a smoke

Despite your genuine intention to stub out for good, your inner devil is goading you to light up. Worse still, you’d sell him your soul for a cigarette…

Cravings are worse in the early days. They subside with time and occur less frequently with each passing week.

Psychological and social factors have a role to play in cigarette addiction. When you give up smoking, you’ll realize how several habits went hand in hand with smoking (the famous cigarette break at work, having something to do with your hands, etc.) and that these are more difficult to give up.

What can I do?

The craving to smoke lasts 5 to 10 minutes. During this time, try to distract yourself and resist the temptation.

Keeping your hands, mouth and mind busy is important. For example, try chewing gum (sugar-free), brushing your teeth, going for a walk, reading, doing a jigsaw, etc.

The Tobacco-Free Quebec site offers a series of exercises to help you curb the demon inside when the craving gets too strong.

You will also need to change the habits you associated with smoking. The brain is like a computer; it will need reprogramming to stop linking certain habits with lighting up.

Physical exercise is also known to be an effective way of freeing the mind.

2. Gain in appetite, especially for sugary foods

Quitting smoking restores your ability to taste and smell which, in turn, stimulates the appetite.

Don’t be surprised if you become a sugar junkie. Sugar produces a sensation of pleasure in the brain and, since you stopped smoking, your brain seeks to replace those daily doses of comfort that nicotine used to provide.

What can I do?

Distinguish between real hunger and the urge to have something in your mouth.

Drink lots of water and eat fruit and vegetables in case of the munchies.

Eat a decent breakfast. Avoid skipping meals so that you aren’t starving by the next meal time. If you need to, snack on healthy foods like nuts and cheese.

Whatever you do, steer clear of empty calories. It’s often with these that we are tempted to compensate, and tend to put on weight.

About 1 in 5 smokers maintain their weight when quitting smoking and, on average, ex-smokers put on between 2 and 4.5 kilos when kicking the habit.

3. Dizziness and headaches

When you stop smoking, your blood oxygen level rises, which can cause dizziness or even headaches for 1 to 2 days.

What can I do?

Breathe slowly and deeply.

Avoid making jerky movements. When changing position, move slowly; for example, by sitting on the edge of the bed for a few seconds before standing up.

4. Insomnia, fatigue and difficulty concentrating

Your sleep cycle is likely to be disturbed for 2 to 4 weeks after you quit smoking. This is completely normal.

Nicotine changes the way the brain functions. It is therefore to be expected that quitting cigarettes impacts the brain and changes your sleep pattern.

You will also notice you have less energy and are possibly tired. This is caused by the lack of nicotine which acts as a stimulant.

Your body used to respond to the energizing effect of cigarettes and must now learn to stay focused without this chemical stimulation.

What can I do?

Avoid or reduce stimulating drinks such as coffee, energy drinks and soft drinks.

Give a wide berth to rich and fatty foods that could prevent you from sleeping.

Try the following relaxation techniques:

  • Practise a sport
  • Take a bath
  • Get outside to ventilate your head
  • Develop a relaxation routine before going to bed.
  • Stay away from computer or cell phone screens at least 1 hour before turning in for the night.

5. The blues, irritability and mood swings

Deprived of its nicotine dose, your brain is in withdrawal, which can induce a mixture of emotions such as sadness, impatience, irritability and anger.

None of these feelings is pleasant but they are normal and will dwindle with time.

Quitting smoking can be compared to a grieving process. It’s therefore normal to go through the same emotions as losing a loved one:

  • Shock
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

What can I do?

For some people, smoking is often the only way to cope with stress. If this is your case, you’ll need to find new ways of handling stress.

To prevent tension building up, allow yourself breaks to unwind and relax.

Sleep more. If you’re rested and fresh, you’re less likely to be on edge than if you lack sleep.

Certain activities known to reduce stress are worth practising, such as meditation, yoga and walking.

6. Coughing

Feel as if the proverbial frog is squatting in your throat?

This is a good sign! Weird as it might sound, your body is starting a major clear-out of the cigarettes’ toxins. One of the signs that the detox process is underway is coughing.

The tiny vibrating lashes (cilia) in your bronchial tubes are waking up after being paralyzed by the chemical products in cigarettes. Coughing is the result of your cilia starting to collect and reject the dust and germs again.

Coughing is one of the first symptoms quitters experience.

What can I do?

After 3 or 4 weeks, you should stop coughing.

Drink lots of water and suck cough lozenges.

7. Digestive problems

Your digestive system is also addicted to nicotine and has difficulty getting back to working normally when you no longer smoke.

You might find you suffer from either constipation or diarrhea.

What can I do?

Drink lots of water and include raw fruit and vegetables and wholegrain products in your daily menu.

Probiotic products are also effective.