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How to deal with stress and anxiety without smokes

It helps to be prepared for stresses and sudden cravings. We've got some great strategies to make sure you're taking care of your mind and body.

Dealing with emotions like stress and anxiety can be one of the trickiest parts of quitting. These feelings often make us want to light up and are a common cause of slip-ups. With a little planning, you can overcome emotional triggers without reaching for the smokes.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Step 1: Identify and list the feelings and situations that make you crave a smoke

Do you get an urge to light up when you’re: 

  • stuck in traffic? 
  • stressed about work? 
  • concerned about your finances? 
  • upset with your partner? 
  • angry with your kids? 

Being aware of these feelings before they strike is really important.

Step 2: Think of how you could handle these situations without a cigarette

  • If you’re at home, try a DVD, read a magazine or even take a few minutes of time out in your bedroom. Set up a relaxing space in your home. 
  • If you’re at work, go for a walk or make yourself a snack or cup of tea. Anything you can do to remove yourself from the situation that’s making you want a smoke is helpful. 
  • If you’re in traffic, play some music, listen to the radio or have a mint ready to pop in your mouth. 

Pair these new smokefree strategies with triggers from Step 1.

Step 3: Call the Quitline for some bonus support

Our non-judgemental Quit Specialists can provide practical tips and strategies to help you resist cravings and stay smokefree. If you'd prefer, you can also request a Quitline callback. People who call the Quitline are more likely to succeed at quitting. 

One way to reduce withdrawal symptoms  like irritability and anxiety is to use a nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) product or quitting medication. If you pair Quitline with either NRT (patches, gum, mouth spray, lozenge, inhalator) or quitting medication (Champix/varenicline, Zyban/bupropion) you've got one of the most effective quitting methods. 

Dealing with stress and anxiety as a non-smoker

Deep breathing

The key to relaxed breathing is your stomach.

  1. Draw the breath in by pushing your stomach out and letting your chest move up (try not to move your back) then breathe out by pulling your stomach in and letting your chest drop a bit.
  2. Breathe in gradually through your nose as you count to 5 and take in as much air as you can.
  3. Hold your breath to a count of 10 (if you can last that long) then let it out gradually. (As an alternative you can let it out in a rush, through your mouth.)
  4. Concentrate on how your body feels, particularly as the air comes out. You should feel your body relaxing.
  5. Repeat (if you have time) – 3 is a good number of repetitions to aim for. Each breath should result in you feeling just a little more relaxed.

Muscle relaxation

This is part of a technique called Progressive Muscle Relaxation where you systematically tense and relax all the muscle groups in your body.

  1. Pick one or two muscles – it’s best if they’re in places that are feeling tense but any body part will do.
  2. Sit or lie comfortably, then as you take in a deep breath tense the muscles you have chosen e.g. make your hands into tight fists, or lift your shoulders up high and tense your neck. Hold your breath and hold the muscles tight for the count of 10 (if you can last that long).
  3. Let go as you breathe out. All the while focus your mind on what you are experiencing, the tension while tensing and the flow of relaxation as you let go. Notice the way the body parts become limp and loose. Breathe slowly for a few seconds while you enjoy the relaxed feeling.
  4. Repeat this with as many parts of the body as you have time. Doing each tense-then-relax cycle twice is also good. Also, try listening to Quit’s Ten Good Ways of Relaxing audio


Mindfulness means being fully present in the moment without judgement and with compassion. It involves focusing on what is happening right now, your moment-to-moment experience – both internal and external. It can be a great way to distract yourself from smoking thoughts. 

An example of a mindfulness exercise that you can try is to focus your attention on your breathing. Or  focus on the feeling of the sunlight on your skin. When you try to do this you will find that the mind will be distracted by thoughts of the past (I used to smoke at this time) or the future (What will I do after work?) or noises and sensations in your body (Why is my nose suddenly itchy?). The key to mindfulness is responding to these thoughts without judgement and with self-compassion (say to yourself: this happens to everyone). Simply note the thoughts have occurred and return your focus to the breath in the present.

Mindfulness is a skill. It takes practice. If you practice mindfulness for a few minutes you probably will notice an initial benefit – an increased awareness of your thoughts and feelings in the moment and perhaps even a feeling of calmness. Persist for longer and it can have more benefits. It can be very useful when you’re in a situation when you're craving a smoke but can't use other strategies. 

If you are interested in mindfulness you can speak to your doctor about evidence-based apps or free online courses to guide you or a referral to a counsellor who is trained in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. Monash University offers a course.  

Stress management

If you are experiencing a very stressful time in your life it can be helpful to speak to your doctor about referral to a stress management group or a counsellor. Together you can work out how best to get through this challenging time. 

Dealing with stress
Slip ups
Staying quit

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