close-up of a burning cigarette tip

Cigarette smoking sends a toxic cocktail of chemicals surging through your lungs, directly into your bloodstream and brain with every inhalation. Yet, smoking is one of the most difficult addictions to break. Research shows that not only is it a physical addiction, but there's also a significant psychological aspect to kicking the habit. The average smoker stops and starts six times before finally developing the coping skills and tools to win the battle.

If you have been struggling with relapse, you aren't alone. Cravings can strike at any time: not only during those first days or weeks, but months after you've put down your lighter. Part of being able to fight back is to know and understand what triggers cravings--and being prepared to handle them as they arise. For most people, it's a certain time of day or situation. Some of the most common smoking triggers include:

  • driving
  • social drinking
  • eating a meal
  • an emotional event
  • other smokers

However, triggers are as unique as you are, and what may bring on a craving for you may not signal one for another person. To get an idea of what triggers your smoking cravings try keeping a diary for a week. Every time you reach for your lighter, record:

  • what time of day it is
  • how you are feeling
  • what you were doing when your craving struck
  • who you are with
  • your location

After you identify your smoking triggers, it may be most helpful to simply avoid those places, people, or activities until you're feeling stronger and have gotten through the initial withdrawal. A change in routine is perhaps one of the most helpful ways to avoid smoking. For example, if you want to light up after a meal, find a friend and go for a walk to help distract yourself. If you smoke in the car, make sure to keep a supply of hard candies or gum in the glove compartment. Practice driving short distances without smoking to gain confidence.

Rid your home and work surroundings of all smoking-related items:

  • clean out and move ash trays out of sight
  • throw away lighters and any remaining cigarettes
  • vacuum and deodorize your home and car

Exercise has been shown to help reduce cravings and boost will power for some smokers, with yoga and walking boasting the highest success rates. Meditation has also been touted for its benefits of focusing and clearing the mind. At times of stress or emotional struggle, exercise, meditation, and music can all help you cope with and overcome your cravings.

Smoking cessation is a day by day process. Celebrate each success and learn from your mistakes as you reach your goals. Remember to tackle cravings one at a time. Focus on getting through one breath and one moment as it comes.

Above all, reach out for support. Ask those around you not to smoke in your presence and let people know that you are trying to quit. Support doubles your chance of success, so pick a trusted friend or family member to hold you accountable.