[Podcast] How to stop smoking

a profile picture of Julia Ebbens
Health Content Editor at Bupa UK
27 January 2022
Next review due January 2025

In this podcast, I chat with Caroline Wood, Head of Behavioural Insights at Bupa UK.

We discuss why smoking can be such a hard habit to stop, as well as some interesting and effective strategies for success.

Why is the new year a good time to stop smoking?

  • The new year gives you a chance to reflect on the year that’s gone and how you’d like to make changes going forward.
  • Many of us use key dates in the calendar year to kickstart changes. Psychologists call this the ‘fresh start’ effect.
  • You might feel this ‘new and improved’ version of yourself will have more success - which can give you hope about making a positive change.
  • So the new year can be a good time to change our health habits, but you need to make sure you get the right help and support in place too.

Why is giving up smoking difficult?

  • Unfortunately, knowing something is bad for you is often not enough to help you to stop doing it.
  • And unhealthy habits are usually enjoyable on some level. A chemical called dopamine is released when you do something you enjoy, which makes you feel good and helps you to relax. This can lead to cravings when we stop.
  • You might also find it hard to break a habit when it becomes part of your daily routine. For example, if you normally smoke after a morning coffee this can ‘cue’ your brain to expect the dopamine at that time each day.
  • Nicotine is also addictive, which means it causes unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when you stop smoking. Which is why having the right help or support, including trying things like nicotine patches, can help.

Does stress play a role in smoking addiction?

  • When you’re stressed, you have less resilience against bad habits such as smoking.
  • Many smokers say that they smoke because they feel it calms them down. This is because, in the short-term, nicotine can alter your mood and cover up emotions such as anger or frustration. But it actually stimulates a stress response within the body, increasing your heart rate and blood pressure.
  • When the nicotine wears off, you can be left feeling worse than before. And smoking doesn’t help tackle the long-term cause of our stress either. Stress management techniques, such as yoga and relaxation exercises, can help you deal with your stress better. They can also reduce your risk of turning to unhealthy habits such as smoking.

What causes smoking relapses and how can we avoid them?

  • Smoking relapses are common, and they don’t mean you’ve failed. Cravings often lead to relapses. You might also slip up if you’re under stress or in a situation which you associate with smoking, such as a night out with friends.
  • A way of dealing with this is by making it as hard as possible for you to smoke again. This might mean avoiding the places you tend to smoke and getting rid of any smoking gear you have lying around at home.
  • It might also mean using any prescribed nicotine replacement medications you have been given.

What are your top three tips for smoking cessation?

  • Expect, and plan for, smoking urges. Try to think of some 5-minute activities you can do when cravings happen. Try calling a friend, walking round the block, or playing a distracting game. This will give you the tools you need to get through the cravings, and then you can move on with your day.
  • Start thinking of and describing yourself as a non-smoker. Studies show how you see yourself can affect how likely you are to meet your goals.
  • Find a way to track your progress – this can help you to stay on track and to motivate you when cravings strike.

Where can you go for support with stopping smoking?

  • Consider seeing either a GP or a pharmacist. They can give you up to date, expert advice and support. They can also connect you with your local stop smoking service which can support you throughout your journey.
  • There’s lots of great content freely available on the website too. There are top tips, articles written by our experts as well as real life stories from smokers sharing their own quitting journeys.
  • There’s also a great tool available via the NHS UK website that enables you to create your own personal quit plan. It’s a quick three-question tool that lets you find the right combination of support based on your personal smoking situation.
a profile picture of Julia Ebbens
Julia Ebbens
Health Content Editor at Bupa UK

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