Breaking Free: The Liberation of Quitting Smoking


Did you know that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, smoking causes about 90% (or 9 out of 10) of all lung cancer deaths? 

Well, you probably did know that, just like you know about all the other scary facts they tell us about smoking, but you don’t care, and neither did I. Whether you started smoking at IE or in high school, smoking serves as a go-to comfort. Trust me, I’ve been there. 

For five years, I leaned on those cigarette breaks, thinking they were my stress relief and a way to connect with others. But a month back, I made a big move and threw my Iqos in a public trash can, set on taking back control of my health and my life.  

My journey to quitting smoking has been a heck of a ride. This was not my first attempt. I relapsed many times in the past, but that’s because I didn’t have the right mindset when doing it. 

quitting smoking on Behance
Image courtesy of Ahmed Hamki on Behance

In this article, I want you to join me as we discover what it’s like, from the tough beginnings and withdrawal to the freedom of waiting on the other side. But this article isn’t about me; it’s a wake-up call for any student who’s ever felt trapped by the grip of nicotine addiction, whether that be cigarettes, vapes, Iqos, or any form of nicotine.

Let’s embark on this journey together. It’s time to ditch the cigarettes and welcome a future with energy, clarity, and endless opportunities.

Having the Right Mindset

All the times that I’ve tried quitting smoking in the past, I ended up relapsing because I was taking on the challenge with the wrong mindset. I used to force myself to quit without thinking of a real reason to, arming myself with all the scary facts and statistics about smoking. 

Although these can be helpful because they are, in fact, real, they don’t reach you on a personal level. They’re broad, and all you see is a percentage, thinking, “Oh, this probably won’t happen to me.” 

You need to see it on a deeper level. Picture your future, your dreams, and your ambitions, and realize how smoking will stop you from achieving these. Let’s say you dream of having your own family in the future. Don’t you want to be able to run and be active with your children, giving them the childhood they deserve? Or even worse, them having to deal with the loss of a parent. Or let’s say your dream is to travel the world and be active. Do you think you’ll be able to do that if you’re out of breath after a flight of stairs? Yes, some of these are harsh, and others are not. But this is reality.

Optimism bias is a cognitive bias that causes someone to believe that they themselves are less likely to experience a negative event. It is also known as delusional, unrealistic, or comparative optimism. Thinking, “Oh, this won’t happen to me,” is a great way to cope with harmful behaviors until it isn’t. All these scary facts and statistics about smoking exist for a reason. Remember that before it’s too late, no one wants to hear, “Sorry, you only have a couple of months left.”

Reasons to Quit

Effects on Mental Health

Contrary to popular belief, smoking does not reduce your stress. The truth is nicotine addiction is a vicious circle that causes you to believe you are stressed simply because you are craving nicotine, and the more you smoke, the more frequent the stress becomes. According to the Mental Health Foundation, research has shown that smoking increases anxiety and tension. Yes, it is an immediate stress relief, as it releases dopamine in your brain, but this effect only lasts a couple of minutes, which means that you will feel even more anxious when it wears off, causing you to smoke again.

Image courtesy of SA Health

Smoking was the only way I would cope with my stress, and I didn’t believe I would be able to deal with it until I did. I realized that there will never be a “perfect time” to quit smoking or a period of my life where things are smooth enough to stop. 

Stress is a part of life, and finding healthier ways to deal with it is easier than I thought. The first two weeks were hard, but if you hang in there and resist as I did, you will realize that your stress is significantly decreasing and that you don’t need that cigarette as much as you thought you did. 

Saving Money

If you need an extra reason to quit smoking, think about how much of your income is going up in smokes (pun intended). I used to spend an average of 20 euros on Tereas per week, which I didn’t think was much until I realized that I could treat myself to many other things that are more fulfilling and beneficial for me. 

Increased Fitness and Enhanced Appearance

If you look at my profile on the Stork, my bio says “absolute gym rat.” I laughed at myself writing that because although I know I am extremely focused on my fitness, I was also a heavy smoker, which is ironic. 

Let’s mention a not-so-glamorous side effect of quitting smoking that I experienced: weight gain. Without realizing it, nicotine does cut your appetite, and it was my late-night snack for many years. Therefore, when I quit, I did slightly gain weight. But that’s okay, and it’s important to know that this is only temporary and that it’s only your body adjusting to the change and going through withdrawals. I’m now back to my regular weight. 

Since I quit smoking, I have been able to do more cardio and lift more weights. My capacity at the gym significantly increased, making me happy and amazing. I stopped being out of breath after 5 minutes on the stairs master or dizzy after a set of squats. 

Another major consequence of smoking is the effects it has on your appearance. According to Medical News Today, Smoking cigarettes can cause:

  • Premature skin aging, such as baggy eyelids and a slack jawline
  • Delayed wound healing
  • Skin disorders such as psoriasis
  • Inflammatory skin diseases such as acne
  • Facial wrinkles, such as lines around the lips 
  • Dry, dull, and grey skin 
  • Yellowing fingers and fingernails 
  • Stained teeth
  • Hair loss
  • Eye issues

The CDC says quitting smoking can be more beneficial for your skin than some products. Blemishes clear up, and premature aging and wrinkling can be reduced. A person who quits prevents further smoking-related damage to their skin. They also remove the harmful effects of smoking on their skin mentioned above, which means improved:

  • Skin elasticity by allowing collagen production to normalize.
  • Blood flows to the skin as the vessels widen, allowing nutrients to flow more easily.
  • Symptoms of pre-existing skin conditions, such as acne that smoking made worse

Tatiana’s Tips

Lastly, I will share some tips and tricks that made this journey easier.

Nicotine gums and patches: Using nicotine alternatives such as nicotine patches and chewing gums at the beginning of your journey can help with the withdrawal symptoms. I would pop a nicotine gum when my cravings are the most intense, such as after a meal, while I’m out having a drink, or during breaks in between classes, which would instantly stop the craving. I recommend not abusing the amount of gums per day, as they’re nicotine and therefore addictive as well. I chewed 3 or 4 per day on average.

Postponing the craving: Studies have shown that delaying a craving is a great way to diminish it. Let’s say you’ve hit your nicotine gum limit for the day, yet you’re craving a smoke. Postpone it. Tell yourself you’ll take another gum if you still feel it in 15 minutes. During these minutes, distract yourself and get busy with something else. You’ll see how easily the cravings can disappear once you stop thinking about them. 

Think of smoking as your toxic ex; the less you entertain it, the less it comes around. 

Having a supportive circle: I could not have gotten through this journey without my highly supportive friends and family. Although most of my friends are smokers, they were so happy to hear that I quit and never asked me if I wanted to go out for a smoke since I cracked the news to them. They still smoke even when I’m around, which is completely fine, as I don’t want to impose myself on anyone, but I am sticking by my decision and relying on my willpower and strong mindset. 

It’s really important to surround yourself with people who respect your choices and support you without trying to pressure you into doing something you don’t want to do. 

Lifestyle change: When you quit smoking and your body goes through withdrawals, it is completely changing and readapting, so it is the perfect time to change or improve other things that will also help you with your journey. Your body is relearning new ways and transforming into a healthier version, so let’s say you’ve wanted to start the gym; this is the perfect opportunity.

Since I quit, I have been going to the gym more often, which has helped me stay busy and focus on my health. Also, eating clean during that time is a great way to teach your body new ways to get all the nutrients it needs. See it as a brand-new canvas ready to be painted in bright colors. 

Trust the process: Although quitting smoking can be a long rollercoaster, you need to trust that you will come out stronger and that you won’t crave nicotine for long. A month later, I don’t get cravings anymore and feel better than ever. Nicotine withdrawal is hard for a little while, but once your body is adjusted, you won’t believe how amazing you will feel mentally and physically, only thinking about why you didn’t quit sooner. The sense of freedom you get from breaking free of this addiction is priceless; no longer being a slave to something that is made to kill you. 

Well, there it is. I hope this article woke you up and made you rethink the gravity of this habit that seems so harmless daily. Think, is it worth it? Is that smoke with a drink worth your life and dreams? Is it giving you a good time, or is that what your addiction is making you believe? You’re not immune, and bad things can happen to you or anyone around you. 

If you have any questions or need support, please contact me. I would happily help others toward their best, healthiest version of themselves. 

Featured image courtesy of British GQ

Tatiana Rosa El Hoyek
Tatiana Rosa El Hoyek
I am a Lebanese third year student in Communications and Digital Media. I am an absolute gym rat who is also a fashion enthusiast.

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