Image of a broken cigarette

The mental and physical
challenges of quitting smoking

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, tobacco smoking is one of the largest preventable causes of death and disease in Australia. In 2017-18, just under one in seven (13.8%) of adults were daily smokers, while a further 1.4% reported smoking on a less than daily basis.

Smoking is associated with a wide range of health conditions affecting our mental and physical health and unfortunately, starting a smoking habit when you’re young could make it especially challenging to stop later in life.

Most of us have had some bad habits during our lives and know just how hard they can be to break. Quitting smoking in particular is often identified as one of the toughest addictions to overcome. There are a variety of complex reasons that can make quitting smoking so hard, but it’s important to remember that quitting is possible, as thousands of happy ex-smokers can tell you! Here are just some of the most common aspects of quitting smoking that can be challenging.


Physical challenges of quitting smoking

Any habitual smoker would know about the physical withdrawals associated with quitting nicotine.

According to Healthline, just some of the common withdrawals include:

  • Intense cravings to smoke
  • Tingling in the hands and feet
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Headaches

Unpleasant withdrawal symptoms like these are a common reason why so many people struggle to quit smoking. It’s not uncommon for a smoker to make multiple attempts at quitting before they’re completely cigarette free.


Mental challenges of quitting smoking

There are also many non-physical aspects of smoking that can make it incredibly hard to quit. Smoking is a lifestyle habit, not just a drug – it’s often used to help relieve stress or nerves, it provides an excuse for a break and in many situations, is equated with relaxation. There are many mental and emotional aspects of smoking and addiction that can be just as hard to overcome as the physical challenges. When you first stop smoking, it’s not uncommon to feel depressed or anxious. If you typically smoke to cope with feelings like stress or anger, it’s important to find a replacement coping mechanism during times like these.


Social challenges of quitting smoking

Have you ever heard the term ‘social smoker’? Perhaps you consider yourself a part of this category or know someone else who identifies with this term. Although changes in laws have meant smoking has declined in recent years, cigarettes are still a part of many social activities. Whether you’re taking a cigarette break at work or catching up with other friends socially who smoke too, it can be difficult to avoid smoking once it becomes part of any routine.


Fear of failure

It’s not uncommon to prolong quitting due to the fear or relapse or ‘failure’. While some people can quit smoking without extra help, most people need some assistance to quit for good. It’s completely normal to crave cigarettes when you first quit as your body withdraws from the nicotine, however if you persevere and access the right support to combat these cravings, they will become less and less, subsiding over time. If you find that you relapse and start smoking again, don’t let this stop you from trying again. Remember when this happens, it’s still progress and a great opportunity to learn about your triggers. By identifying your triggers and typical smoking habits, you’ll find it easier to pre-empt or avoid certain scenarios that lead you to smoke.


What’s the best way to quit smoking today?

If you’ve made the decision to quit or you’re thinking about it, you’re already on the right track! Firstly, it’s important to know that even with the right quitting medication or methods, cravings can come up when you least expect them.

It also helps to identify your triggers that make you want to smoke. For example, a trigger may be a stressful situation at work or even social situations like catching up with friends. By identifying these triggers before the situation occurs, you can preempt scenarios ahead of time that might tempt you to smoke. Even telling your friends about your triggers can be helpful so that if you are feeling particularly vulnerable, you’ll have people close by to support you each step of the way.

It’s also vital to recognize and accept the fact that this is both a mental and physical challenge. This can mean adjusting the ways in which we interact with other people, at work or socially. Overcoming both of these things is an effective step towards quitting smoking for good. It’s also beneficial to have a support network for when those cravings do pop up.

An NQ Connect professional counsellor can help you with your concerns and worries. If you want to quit smoking, talk to your GP or contact a reputable organisation like Quit HQ.


Need help? You can find support services in northern Queensland or complete a self-administered K10 test for depression and anxiety. You can also join the online mental health forum to talk with like-minded people.