With the UK's National No Smoking Day less than a month away, if you're planning to give up on that day you need to start preparing now. Don't be fooled by some of these myths about quitting smoking and you can be smoke-free next month!
1. I can go cold turkey
Just as you wouldn't go off on a trip without making plans, you need to prepare to quit. Ideally, set a quit date two weeks ahead. Use that time to spot your smoking triggers, create some new habits and mix up your routines. Stock up on healthy snacks and nicotine replacement products if you are using them. Surround yourself with positive supporters and get ready to throw out all your smoking paraphernalia for good. Then you're nearly ready.
2. My body is addicted to nicotine
The physical dependence is not as strong as you think. You're more addicted to the behavioural habits that go with smoking. Lighting up after a meal, with a coffee or glass of wine, there are many triggers that have hardwired your brain to expect a cigarette. The good news is, when you break those connections the nicotine dependency wanes.
3. I will be more stressed if I quit
The immense relief you get from a smoke isn't stress relief. It's a craving being satisfied. There's no evidence that non-smokers are more stressed than smokers, as you'd expect if smoking relieved stress. A simple breathing technique, such as inhaling slowly for a count of four and exhaling slowly for four, can relieve stress more effectively than nicotine. Addiction itself is a cause of stress.
4. I'll put on weight if I quit
Smoking alters your body's metabolism. So you may feel hungrier when you stop. Food will taste better without nicotine too. But that needn't lead to eating more. It can mean eating less but finding it tastier. Stopping smoking doesn't necessarily lead to weight gain. If you follow a behavioural technique that helps you break a range of habits you will be less likely to over-eat.
5. I will miss smoking
It's been such a pleasurable part of your life it's hard to imagine not doing it, right? In reality you're facing life without an itch that you constantly need to scratch. When you replace things that remind you of smoking with small positive rewards (flowers instead of the ashtray, sweets in the car instead of cigarettes), not only won't you miss smoking, like most ex-smokers you'll find you love not smoking.
6. Nicotine replacement will get me through
If only it were that simple. If only you could slap on a patch and never smoke again. But patches don't work like magic. You have to make other changes in your life and not simply rely on nicotine replacement. The best 'replacement therapy' is to enrich your lifestyle with new habits, different experiences, novel routines. This will ensure you don't come up against old smoking triggers while, at the same time, creating healthier habits.
7. I need tons of willpower
Some psychologists question the power of willpower. Or even whether it exists. Willing yourself to stop smoking is difficult. You may struggle to exercise self-control in every situation. But you can avoid situations that trigger the desire to smoke. This will help break the behavioural addiction and give your willpower that much-needed boost.
8. I can cut down first
Cutting down doesn't lead to stopping smoking. However, it is very important to prepare for quitting. That means breaking the connection between what you do and lighting up. The US Smokefree campaign strongly emphasises lifestyle modification. That means staying away from things that you connect with smoking and making the effort to do more of the things you enjoy.
9. I have an addictive personality
Although a popular notion, there is little scientific evidence for the addictive personality. Research shows that only 40-70 per cent of a person's risk for addiction is genetic. But genetic predisposition does not necessarily lead to behavioural expression. And modern science reveals that, even if a gene is present, it may not be active at the same level all the time. It's a complicated picture but it suggests that addiction is not inevitable or unavoidable.
10. I'll suffer with withdrawal symptoms
Withdrawing a physical substance from the body will have some effects, but they don't last for long. You may experience some light headedness, sleep disturbance, irritability or lapses in concentration. People's experiences vary and some find nicotine replacement therapy helps. Research shows that on average people get no more than six cravings a day, each lasting only a minute and a half. The trick is to have something to do that takes 90-seconds (a puzzle, piece of fruit, glass of water or mental gymnastic) and you'll get through it.
11. It'll be a lonely journey
You don't have to go it alone. People who have the support of positive friends and family find it easier to give up smoking. Broadcast your quit date, rally your supporters and ignore anyone who says you can't do it. Consider buddying up with someone who wants to quit and help each other along. Or join an online community of would-be non-smokers and give and get support from others going on the same journey.
So if you are making March 11th your quit day, remember to start preparing for your journey now - and then never look back.