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Are you craving nicotine... or something else?

Image via iStock.

Any smoker worth her salt knows the feeling: that nagging need that crowds out your thinking, stopping you from focusing on anything else until you get up and have a cigarette. It’s responsible for millions of microbreaks, but is that craving really what you think it is?

Dieters are told they’re often just dehydrated when they feel hungry, and should hit up the kitchen tap instead of the cake cupboard. But a similar thing happens with smokers – nicotine hijacks every natural craving you feel, piggybacking on them like a freeloader. That means we end up smoking instead of having a glass of water, going for a nap or grabbing a snack. The needs our bodies are trying to communicate to us are rerouted through nicotine’s domain, and transformed into an urgent request to smoke.

RELATED:The surprising reason why more women are smoking than men

That’s why when people quit, they often put on weight. Those natural cravings come back, shaking off their nicotine shackles, and we’re not equipped to deal with them in such an unfettered state. But this doesn’t have to be a negative side-effect. If you’re mindful of what’s happening as you ease back on the darts, there’s a strong chance you’ll be more able to harness these feelings and use them for your own benefit. That means recognising cravings for what they truly are, and dispatching them with anything but the cigarette you so desperately think you need.

Here are some of the benefits of quitting smoking (post continues after gallery).

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Obviously this doesn’t discount the fact that physical addiction is a major roadblock to quitting. Nicotine reshapes receptors in your brain and is powerfully resistant to attempts to stop – especially when the urge can be psychologically triggered by anything from being around other smokers to feeling stressed to drinking coffee.

Government campaigners QuitNow recommend what they call a 4D strategy for coping with cravings:

*Delay acting on the urge to smoke
*Deep breathe
*Do something else, and
*Drink water.

All of which ties into the theory that you can reduce the urge by giving your body another thing it might like, whether that’s oxygen, water or something more exciting. In addition to paying attention to those physical needs, you should look at the other side of the equation – what’s making you want to smoke, psychologically speaking? Being aware of these mental and emotional issues can help you focus on the underlying problem, instead of “treating” them with nicotine.

RELATED:Explainer: what are electronic cigarettes?

Stress plays a major role in female addiction, claims the American Psychological Association’s Sherry McKee: “Stress is a primary reason why people continue to smoke and also, it’s a primary reason why people relapse back to smoking. Most smokers want to quit smoking. If you ask a smoker, you know, if they want to quit, they’ll say yes. And then you ask them about their current plans to quit and they’ll say well now’s not a good time. I have a big deadline at work.”

There are many good reasons to quit smoking: the obvious health benefits, increasing marginalisation, the exorbitant cost of a pack these days. So next time you feel that deep-down craving, think about what your body could be trying to tell you – and try satiating another desire instead. Your lungs will thank you…and it’ll be at least an extra hour before you need to splurge on another pack.

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