You just quit smoking. Literally. Five minutes ago you lit your last cigarette.

Now what?

How do you get through the next few hours and days, which will be one of the most difficult in your journey to becoming a former smoker? You need practical strategies to help you survive the cravings and nicotine withdrawal, and to help you break the psychological addiction to cigarettes.

What happens if you stop?

After you quit smoking, a lot of good things happen to your body pretty quickly. Within 20 minutes, your heart rate and blood pressure drop. In 12 hours, the carbon monoxide levels in your body return to normal. And within a few weeks, your circulation improves and you do not cough or gasp as often.

But some pretty unpleasant things happen right away, too. The symptoms of nicotine withdrawal include:

They kick in quickly. Research shows that the average smoker begins to feel the symptoms of withdrawal within an hour of smoking their last cigarette. Feelings of anxiety, sadness and difficulty concentrating may occur within the first 3 hours.

It’s intense but short, though it may not feel that way at the moment. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms usually peak within the first 3 days of quitting, and last for about 2 weeks.

If you make it through those first weeks, it gets a little easier. What helps?

Be prepared

You need to start making plans before you quit. During the week before your “stop day,” make the following preparations:

List all the reasons why you want to turn off the habit. Save them on your phone. Print it on index cards and store it where you put your cigarettes – in your wallet, in your desk drawer, on your bedside table.

Pay attention when you smoke, where and with whom. Then make plans for what you can do instead. Do you usually drink a cigarette in the morning with a cup of coffee? Do you take a “smoking break” with a co-worker in the morning? Think of alternatives that will keep your mind and body busy.

Choose a good stopping day. Do not choose a day that is in the middle of your most intense month at work, or right before finals, or while a loved one is seriously ill.

After you quit

So you made your preparations, you threw away your packets, and you smoked your last cigarette. Now it’s time to act like a former smoker. What next?

First, you need to learn to slow down the urge. You will feel it almost immediately. Until the urge disappears:

  • Take 10 deep breaths, walk to the sink, pour yourself a glass of ice water and drink it slowly.
  • Prepare a healthy snack. Something that makes your breath and teeth feel fresh is wonderful, like carrot sticks or a citrus fruit. Or suck on a peppermint.
  • Keep a book with you on a topic you want to learn about. When you feel like smoking, read a few pages while taking notes or highlighting passages. Your mind and your hands will be busy.
  • Take out your list of reasons why you are no longer a smoker and read it for yourself. Loud if you have to.
  • Call or text a friend or family member who supports your efforts to quit smoking. You do not have to talk to them about smoking or quitting. Just hold the phone in your hand instead of a cigarette, and talk about sports, the weather or your weekend plans until the loop passes.
  • Download a quit smoking application that helps you slow down your cravings. Try Quit It Lite, which tracks how long you’ve been smoking and shows you how much money you’ve saved. Next time you want a cigarette, look at your wealth instead.

Avoid temptation

Do not put yourself in situations that will increase the pressure to smoke. For example:

Do not go out for a few weeks with friends who smoke. You can still be friends with them. But tell them you’re taking a break while you’re in the early, hard days of quitting and will come back when you feel stronger.

Change your habits. If it’s your old routine to sit outside your favorite coffee shop with your morning coffee and a cigarette, you may find it almost impossible not to light it there. Rather drink tea or juice or go inside, where smoking is not allowed.

Many people associate alcohol with a cigarette, so you may want to stay away from happy hour for a few weeks.

Reward yourself

Give yourself small rewards for every single day you get through the first 2 weeks, and bigger ones at the end of week 1 and week 2.

Small rewards can include the following:

  • A new magazine
  • A dozen golf balls
  • New earrings
  • New lipstick or nail polish

Bigger rewards:

  • Delicious dinner
  • Tickets for a sporting event or concert
  • An evening at the movie or theater
  • A massage or facial
  • A weekend away

When you are stressed

Many people smoke when they feel anxious, stressed or depressed. Now that you do not smoke, how will you deal with those feelings?

If smoking was what you did when you were previously under pressure, you will now need other options.

  • Cut yourself very limp. Even if you have tried before and started smoking again, remember that it is possible. Most people have to try a few times before they succeed.
  • Solve short-term problems in advance. If you can handle any nagging issues that are not too big, do it before you stop. Fix that leaking faucet. Clean up the clutter that bothers you. Delete as many stressful issues as possible.
  • Focus your attention. The first few weeks of quitting are the hardest. Do not try to tackle other big issues. You can address long-term problems later, after making it through the first few weeks.
  • Notice your signs of stress. The sooner you deal with stress, the better – so it does not let you down. Stress can make you angry, anxious or sad. You may have a headache or an upset stomach, or a craving for food that is not good for you.
  • Do things you enjoy doing. It might just be the thing to help you relax. Listen to your favorite music. Watch a comedy. Take your dog out for a jog. Connect with friends or family. Get outside in nature.
  • Get moving. Being active is a great way to deal with stress. You will get a boost of brain chemicals that will help you feel good. Almost any type of exercise helps, and you will want to do it regularly. It can become part of your new life as a non-smoker.
  • Practice relaxation. Yoga, deep breathing exercises and meditation are just a few ways to help you focus on the here and now. This is a skill that comes in handy when you need to get through the loop for a cigarette. No technique works for everyone, so try a few to see what you like.
  • Put it in writing. Find a quiet place and spend 15 minutes writing about what bothers you. Do not reread or revise. Just write. Then delete or tear down what you wrote and throw it away. The act of writing may give you a new perspective.
  • Call a friend. Make a list of the people you can turn to for support and a friendly conversation. Turn to them when you feel that things are not going so well. Social support really does make a difference.
  • Expect difficult moments. The first few days of quitting can be very difficult. Almost all ex-smokers have moments when they doubt whether they can do it. Remind yourself regularly: Nicotine withdrawal becomes weaker every day if you do not smoke. Every time you resist lifting, you are one step closer to a smoke-free life.

Even when you’re over the hardest first few weeks, expect to hit some rough spots. There will be times when you really want to lift. But you can get through it. Stick to it, and you’ll be an ex-smoker before you know it.