Welcome to V&YOU's Stoptober campaign. As a team of ex-smokers, we know better than most the trials, tribulations and total uphill climb of quitting smoking. It's one of the reasons we founded V&YOU - to provide an alternative means of enjoying nicotine.
Anyway, over the next month, we'll be walking you through some of the tips and tricks we've used to quitsmoking.
Part 1: Getting Started
Congratulations! Today is your first tobacco-free week. If you're anything like us - you're likely feeling excited, nervous, with a smattering of fear over the journey ahead. It's pretty common to experience all three of these emotions in quick succession.
Before you start, you should know there'll likely be moments of discomfort with cravings and volatile emotions at times. Still, these feelings will always pass. Also, you really need to experience the feeling of them arriving and then leaving. From this, you can draw strength from the knowledge that you have the power in these situations.
The saying, "take each day as it comes", has never meant more when quitting an addiction. If you're a chronic smoker, it's more likely, "take each hour as it comes", and that's fine. Stay firm when those emotions and challenges show themselves; all you need is time to let them fade. If they weigh heavy, get up and distract yourself - whether it's exercise, writing or doodling, put that addiction into something constructive.
Each time the habitual feelings pass, you've won in a contest of willpower versus addiction, and you're becoming stronger each time you do it. This is where the rewards system comes in.
Part 2: Finding the Rewards
It's a good idea to treat yourself when you really feel like you've overcome those urges. We're not health buffs, but sugar isn't your best friend here (it can feel like replacing one addiction with another).
Some like to keep a tip jar and put in the share they would have spent on cigarettes. We're a fan of this as you start to see your hard work accumulate (plus, now you're saving for that brightly coloured jetski/mountain bike/trouser suit/trout slippers you've wanted (trout slippers, you say? Yep, they exist).
The toughest challenges with tobacco and cigarette dependency are overcoming the beliefs that keep us in those habits and routines. If you can change how you see smoking, you're able to change the urges you have towards the addiction without Herculean amounts of willpower.
It's about moving from a place where you feel deprived at the lack of cigarettes to feeling you're just not interested in smoking. While talking about a 'new you' always sounds slightly robotic or Buddha-like, the huge shift in lifestyle to saying "I don't smoke" is the first step in a journey to learning more about yourself and your willpower.
Part 3: The 5 Steps to Smoke-free Freedom
At this point, we have a problem with smoking and cigarettes, but we don't acknowledge or even care about it. We carry on with our behaviour regardless of the impact on our health (and sometimes on others). Sadly, this is where most people remain, often because they (wrongly) believe their life will be worse or harder without smoking, living in a sort of ignorant bliss.
First becoming aware that you want to quit can be the most painful part of the journey. We found it pretty uncomfortable, and many of us hovered around this point for many years (one of us, almost half his life!).
It's easy enough to live in this space - the internal conflict around smoking raging in the back of your mind and not knowing what to do. However, most people don't tend to live with this discomfort for as long as several of us did. They decide that change is the only positive and fruitful way forward.
Once you're aware of the issues of smoking, it's crucial to arm yourself with all the tools, tactics and support at your disposal. For example, smoke-free books, podcasts, blogs and videos can all help expand knowledge and education, helping to form new beliefs and change your mindset.
A huge part of quitting smoking is about the words you use, but you'll also need to put them into practice. Just like learning any new skill, stopping smoking takes a bit of training in order to move on to complete mastery. For example, if you believe that life is just easier on cigarettes or that they really help with anxiety, write down a new belief to stop limiting yourself.
At some point, you'll need to get out there and prove to yourself that you really can experience life without cigarettes being involved. Then, as you engage in more and more experiences where you don't smoke, your new beliefs become rock solid and genuine because they are now based on factual evidence that you've lived.
As the old saying goes, the more you practice, the stronger you become (we may be quoting Star Wars accidentally here). But as you spend more time smoke-free, you will less think about cigarettes. After four or five months, you feel like you're in a place where you no longer think about them, and you start to notice your health and happiness better than ever.
It can take some time to get to this stage, but it gets easier with every day that passes. If this Stoptober is your first time quitting or your fiftieth, the rules stay the same. Try and stay committed to yourself and focused on your beliefs and your mindset as you go forward. Journaling your experiences and just being aware of your mindset is incredibly rewarding when you look back.
Part 4: What are the benefits of quitting smoking?
One of the greatest motivators for stopping smoking is knowing what keeping clear of cigarettes is doing for your body and mind.
Better attention levels
Long-term smoking is linked with reductions in working memory and executive function (a big name for the part that helps us pay attention to tasks and ignore distractions). Quitting smoking can help rewire your brain to restore these abilities. Studies suggest that the nicotine receptors in your brain will return to normal levels after a month of quitting.
It's thought that smoking decreases blood flow and reduces the nutrients travelling to your hair follicles, thinning and diminishing the strength of hair strands.
Do you like listening to music? Compared to non-smokers, smokers have a 70% greater likelihood of developing hearing loss. Quitting smoking will keep your hearing much more precise.
Studies show smoking increases the risks of age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy and "Dry Eye" Syndrome. Quitting smoking will improve your vision by preventing the damage that smoking does to your eyes.
Clean Mouth & Teeth
That weird feeling of your mouth tasting like an ashtray? After a few days without cigarettes, you'll likely find your breath better and your teeth brighter.
Quitting smoking is better than any anti-ageing cream or lotion, as smoking deprives your skin of oxygen and nutrients. However, kicking the habit can help clean up blemishes, spots and protect your skin from premature ageing and wrinkling.
Better attention levels
Quitting smoking can help rewire your brain and further break the cycle of addiction, leading to greater focus and attention levels. The nicotine receptors in your brain return to normal levels after approximately one month of quitting.
Decreased Heart Risks
Smoking is a leading cause of heart attacks and heart disease in the UK. Many of these risks can be reversed simply by binning your cigarettes. Quitting can lower your heart rate, blood pressure and heart health almost immediately—your risk of a heart attack declines within 24 hours.
Smoking increases the formation of plaque and fat in blood vessels and creates thinner blood. This can lead to the formation of dangerous blood clots. Quitting smoking reduces this risk within a week. Also, your heart has less work to do as it can move the blood around your body more efficiently.
Quitting smoking doesn't reduce the fatty deposits that are already there. Still, it can lower the levels of "bad" cholesterol circulating in your blood, which will help to slow the buildup of new deposits in your arteries within two weeks of quitting.
Quitting smoking can help reduce your belly fat and dramatically reduce your risk of developing diabetes. If you already have diabetes, quitting cigarettes can help keep your blood sugar levels in check.
Stop Lung Damage
Smoking destroys lung tissue, so it's vital to quit smoking before you do more damage to your lungs. Within two weeks of quitting, you'll start to notice it's easier to exercise and just breathe.
Reduce the chances of emphysema
Smoking irritates your airways and causes inflammation, which gives rise to emphysema. When you quit, there's reduced damage to the air sacs in your lungs, which prevents further flare-ups.
Cilia are the tiny hairs that line the inside of your lungs and help move mucus up out of your lungs and prevent cases of the flu and colds. The distress and destruction of cilia are one of the main reasons you develop a "smoker's cough." After quitting smoking, cilia begin to regenerate. You might notice that your cough is more excessive than usual when you first quit smoking, which is a sign of regrowth!
Lower DNA damage
Carcinogens present in tobacco smoke can have a role in altering your body's immune cells and causing irreversible genetic damage, which can lead to cancer. Quitting smoking will prevent new DNA damage and can even help repair the damage that has already been done.
Normalised estrogen levels
Studies suggest that nicotine reduces circulating estrogen levels and can lead to the early onset of menopause in women. However, after quitting, estrogen levels will gradually return to normal.
Naturally boost sperm
Men who smoke have decreased sperm concentration, decreased motility (the ability of sperm to swim), fewer regular-shaped sperm, and increased sperm DNA damage. So quitting smoking is one of the best natural ways to boost fertility.
One of the leading causes of physiological erectile dysfunction is reduced blood flow - both to the penis and limited cardiovascular function from the blood pumping from the heart. Following quitting, most men notice improved performance in as little as two to twelve weeks!
Blood and the immune system
Improve white blood cell count
When smoking, the number of white blood cells (the cells that defend your body from infections) remains elevated, which means your body is under constant stress. However, after quitting, your white blood cell count returns to normal levels, reducing the chances of heart attacks and inflammation outbreaks.
Better healing and less pain
Nicotine narrows the small blood vessels that bring oxygen, nutrients, and healing elements to the injured area. This can slow down healing and may extend the duration of your pain. Quitting smoking can improve blood flow to wounds, helping them heal better.
Stronger immune system
Recent studies have shown that smokers' brains may have a much weaker immune response to systemic infection and inflammation as the body is in an elevated state, compromising the immune system's balance. However, after quitting smoking, these levels return to normal, improving your immune response.
Muscles and Bones
A report from the BMJ in 2018 found that "Components in cigarette smoke directly damage your muscles," namely as the tar and other chemicals deteriorate the size and abilities of small blood vessels. When you stop cigarettes, you improve the flow of oxygen in your blood, aiding your muscles in becoming stronger.
Stronger bones & less chance of osteoporosis
While more research is currently being undertaken regarding bone density and smoking, it's presently identified as a risk factor. This is partly due to the same reasoning as muscle development - smokers have fewer blood vessels to enable efficient blood flow (and so less oxygen and nutrients). This can cause a weakening of bone density called osteoporosis. Quitting smoking helps improve blood flow and reduces the risks of this happening.
Our big-hitting tips to staving off cigarettes
Change your mindset about cigarettes so your thinking changes from "I can't have one" to "I don't want one". Read stop-smoking books, articles and discuss the issues you're feeling with good friends and family.
- The first 30 days are the toughest. Write down your experiences, check in and start getting curious about everything that's happening.
- The more support you have, the better. Surround yourself with other non-smokers, so you've got support and accountability.
- Arm yourself with smoke-free alternatives - whether that's NCTs (nicotine cessation tools) or just good ol' fashioned carrot sticks.
- Bin the packet of cigarettes. You don't want them in the house, car or at work.
- If you're someone who likes to drink and smoke, maybe avoid the pub or bar for the first thirty days as you might be tempted to smoke. When you feel your head is in the right place, you'll know it's okay to return.
- Be passionate and compassionate with yourself. Think about it like, "I'm a non-smoking maverick, I'm doing something amazing, I'm not feeling deprived."
- Accept there might be minor flops along the way, but don't let it get you down. Don't worry if you slip up; it can happen, and it often does.
- Stay engaged as the months roll by. You'll begin to see positive changes to your body, your mind and your life. Keep reading books and keep engaged.
- BMJ (2018). Smoking and Muscle Damage. https://bcmj.org/news/cigarette-smoke-directly-damages-muscles-body
- NHS.UK (2020). What are the health risks of smoking? www.nhs.uk/.../
- Yamaguchi, 2019. Smoking, immunity, and DNA damage. Transl Lung Cancer Res. 8(Suppl 1):S3-S6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31211100
- Hillmer et al, 2019. Imaging dynamic neuroimmune responses to LPS in tobacco smokers: a [11C]PBR28 PET study. J Nucl Med. vol. 60 no. supplement 1 488. jnm.snmjournals.org/.../488.abstract
- Molecular Imaging Suggests Smokers May Have Impaired Neuroimmune Function - http://www.snmmi.org/NewsPublications/NewsDetail.aspx?ItemNumber=32014