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Understanding Triggers and Cravings

Understanding Triggers and Cravings after you Stop Smoking

Triggers create cravings, which are symptoms caused by nicotine withdrawal. After you stop smoking, they are a normal part of quitting. The degree of these cravings is different for each person, and can be hard to deal with for some people. Even if you’ve been smoke free for a while, certain triggers may cause cravings to come back. Creating a Plan of Action after you stop smoking will help you understand your cravings and the triggers and will help you to get past them. The difference between a trigger and craving is the physical aspect. A craving can cause you to feel anxious or nervous in comparison to a trigger which recalls a memory that may activate a craving. Cravings come and go. They can cause much more intense feelings and are often felt physically.

Know Your Smoking Triggers
Triggers are the things that automatically make you want to light up. A trigger is something that recalls memories or feelings that are related to your addiction.  Different people have different triggers, like a stressful situation, sipping coffee, going to a party, or smelling cigarette smoke. Most triggers fall into one of these four categories:

  • Emotional
  • Pattern
  • Social
  • Withdrawal

Knowing your triggers and understanding the best way to deal with them is your first line of defense.

Emotional Triggers

Many people smoke when they have intense emotions. An emotional trigger reminds you how you felt when you used smoking to enhance a good mood or escape a bad one, like when you were:

Stressed Anxious Excited Bored Down
Happy Lonely Satisfied Cooled off after a fight

How to deal with emotional triggers. You can learn how to cope with your feelings without leaning on cigarettes. Try these ways to deal with emotional triggers:

  • Talk about your emotions. Telling a friend or family member how you feel can help.
  • Take some slow, deep breaths. Deep breathing will slow down your body, quiet your mind, and reduce cravings. This is also a great way to manage stress and anxiety.  
  • Exercise. Physical activity is a great way to handle emotions. When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals in the brain that make you feel good.  
  • Listen to calming music. Music can relax you by slowing your heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and decreasing stress. 

Pattern Triggers

A pattern trigger is an activity that you connect with smoking. Some examples of these activities include:

Talking on the phone Drinking alcohol Watching TV Driving
Drinking coffee Taking a work break After having sex Before going to bed

How to deal with pattern triggers. One way to beat pattern triggers is to break the association with the trigger and transfer the feeling to another activity.

  • Find a replacement. Chew gum. Eat sugar-free candy. Suck on a straw.
  • Try activities that keep your hands busy. Squeeze a handball. Do beading or needlework. Hold on to a silver dollar or “worry stone.”  
  • Get moving. Go for a walk. Ride a bike. Go swimming. Exercising can distract you from smoking.
  • Change your routine. For example, try drinking your coffee at a different time or brushing your teeth right after you eat a meal.

Social Triggers

Social triggers are occasions that usually include other people who smoke. Here are some examples:

Going to a bar Going to a party or social event Going to a concert
Seeing someone else smoke Being with friends who smoke Celebrating a big event

How to deal with social triggers. Once you’ve made the decision to quit, it is best to avoid places where people smoke, and ask your friends to stop smoking around you. Over time, it will get easier. Tell your friends and family that you have quit. Ask them for their support.

Withdrawal Triggers

If you’ve been a long-time smoker, your body is used to getting a regular dose of nicotine. When you quit, withdrawal symptoms will produce cravings for nicotine. Withdrawal triggers include:

Craving the taste of a cigarette Smelling cigarette smoke  Handling cigarettes, lighters, and matches
Needing to do something with your hands or mouth Feeling restless or having other withdrawal symptoms

How to deal with withdrawal triggers. Distract yourself. Find something to take your mind off the craving. Now that you better understand triggers, identify the ones that you want to control, and plan to manage your cravings.  It’s important to understand that cravings and triggers are a normal part of addiction, and not a sign of weakness.  

Understanding these cravings and triggers will help you cope with them, even if they may become very strong and uncomfortable. Understand that cravings are like a wave you can ride out, it comes but eventually will go away. The longer you hold out from each craving, the less intense they will become.  Always remind yourself that cravings are temporary and triggers are just reminders of your past. Your present life is different now without them.  Acknowledge that you may still get your occasional trigger or craving, but also acknowledge freedom from a life without them is so much better. And remember, everything you do as a smoker, you can do as a non-smoker.  

  1. Preparation is the key – acknowledge triggers and cravings and expect them to come.
  2. Don’t fear your cravings. It is the fear of getting a craving and not the actual craving itself that makes it difficult to deal with them. Look beyond the initial fear and get past it.
  3. Acknowledge you are stronger and tougher than any cravings. Each morning, say to yourself “bring on the worst cravings today and let’s see who going to win or who’s tougher, the cravings or me.” This is an example of “paradoxical intention,” a successful technique in psychology.
  4. When your cravings come, acknowledge them and say to yourself, “this is temporary and soon will pass”. Cravings is a sign that you are getting better because nicotine is leaving your body.
  5. Talk to your friends and family about your cravings. Cravings are not bad, acknowledge that they are a part of this recovery.
  6. Acknowledge you may and will feel anxiety, stressed or anger when you have these cravings. Don’t give in. Understand that in you may initially suffer the nicotine withdrawal until nicotine addiction has disappeared.
  7. Plan ahead to maximize your comfort during withdrawal. For example, you may want to schedule vacation time to allow for extra sleep during the first week of quitting.
  8. Control – be in control of your life! Look forward to a life free from nicotine addiction, a healthier new you. There is a new life after quitting!

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