If you’re reading this, you’ve probably Googled a dozen different versions of “how to quit smoking” or “what is the timeline for quitting” in the hopes of understanding how long this fresh hell is going to last. I certainly did for the solid 10 years I tried (and failed) to quit smoking.
Although there’s no one-size-fits-all timeline to quitting, there are some physiological symptoms and benefits you can expect within that first, rocky month.
The good news is that the benefits will only continue to increase and, with a few tips that helped me actually quit for good, I’m going to get you on the track.
Quit Smoking Timeline: Day 1
I’ve had many, many “Day 1’s” on my journey to quit smoking. They usually go one of two ways: I’m either elated by the “new me” vibe pulsating through my still nicotine infested veins OR I’m in full-on panic mode.
Now, the medical sites will happily pronounce to you that within 20 minutes of your last cigarette, your blood pressure returns to normal and your feet warm up to their normal temperature (for real).
I haven’t smoked in over two years and my feet are still routinely the temperature of icicles, but perhaps you’ll notice a difference.
Within eight hours, your nicotine and carbon monoxide levels inside the body are halved, which seems like a good thing if you ask me.
Personally, I never “felt” any of these things on that first day. What I DID feel was myself becoming very fidgety. While the body begins to do some major clearing out that first day, you can also expect (though not everyone gets) some pretty gnarly withdrawal symptoms.
Nicotine Withdrawal: The First 72 Hours
Not everyone experiences every symptom, but you’re going to get hit with both psychological AND physical symptoms, the latter of which is supposed to peak around Day 3 and taper off from there.
Ehhhhh, I dunno about all that. I’ve personally found that intensity ebbs and flows. Because I “quit smoking” probably 57 times, I consider myself a pseudo-expert on the first couple weeks of living a nicotine-free life.
Sometimes the first few days were easy because I was so hopped up on adrenaline for this new, healthy adventure that I was able to ride the vibe well into the first week with relatively few problems. Other times, every second and minute of that first day was a tiny torture. (I usually caved by the end of those days.)
Psychologically you’re going to have good days and weeks and bad days and weeks. Just expect that right up front.
One of the biggest things that brought me down in previously failed attempts to quit smoking was looking at the various “quit smoking timelines” out there and getting my hopes up that if I just struggled through the first three days or three weeks, I would magically wake up and not want to smoke anymore. It’s not that simple (more on that later).
Physical Symptoms You Can Expect When Quitting Smoking
Here’s a list of physical symptoms you can expect from the fine folks over at WebMD.
- Increased appetite
- Constipation (OH MY GOD THIS ONE!!)
Smoking is an appetite suppressant so it makes sense that we would eat an entire pizza after quitting. There’s also the double-edged sword of needing some comfort, which, eating copious amounts of terrible food also provides.
Call me crazy, but I always found the coughing bit reassuring. Hell yeah, lungs! Get that shit out!
If you experience insomnia or jitters, I can affirm that (if it’s exclusively caused by nicotine withdrawal), this goes away relatively quickly. As in, within a few days.
But y’all. The constipation.
Guys, let’s get gross for a minute. Nicotine makes you poop. Have you noticed? You get home after a long day, light up a smoke and then boom! The urge hits you and you’re trotting off to the bathroom.
Nicotine can have a laxative effect on folks, and when you take that away, your digestive system has to reset. If you’re particularly sensitive to the, eh hem, cleansing effects of smoking, then you may find yourself backed up for days when you first quit.
This one will NOT get better after three days. It’s gonna take a while – upwards to a month or more. That’s the bad news.
The GOOD news is that if you’re in the early stages of quitting smoking and are wondering if you’ll ever have a fulfilling and complete bowel movement again, the answer is YES! Eventually.
If you haven’t run across this problem, please consider this to be an added warning of urgency to quit smoking because what you do NOT want is to develop a nasty case of IBS.
Alright, moving on!
Psychological Symptoms of Nicotine Withdrawal
These are a doozy and they’re going to stick around for a while, but they are MANAGEABLE if you go in understanding what you’re up against.
Many of the mental battles on the road ahead include:
- big time cravings
- irritability or frustration
- low or depressed mood
- difficulty concentrating
- mood swings
Before you start thinking you’d rather smoke than go through all that, it’s important to note that smoking CAUSES a lot of these issues or makes them worse. Anxiety is the big one, something I’ve dealt with for a long time.
You smoke because you’re feeling anxious and on edge, but nicotine is actually making your anxiety worse in the long term. That cycle will never end. The anxiety you get from withdrawal symptoms WILL so choose your devil wisely.
For some lucky bastards, these symptoms vanish after two weeks. For many of us, these bad boys could continue harassing us for upwards to three months.
The important thing to note is that they can and do go away.
Quit Smoking Timeline – One Week
The first week you go without smoking is a HUGE milestone. First, and foremost, congratulations. You did that shit!
You’ve managed to rack up some pretty rad benefits along the way. Your lung capacity is increasing (breathing is good), you’re hacking up more of that gross smoker’s mucus in your lungs, and your sense of smell and taste are improving!
You wanna know something else that’s really cool?
People who make it to the one week mark are nine times more likely to quit for good.
Mindset Tips for One Week After Quitting Smoking
There are a few things I want you to keep in mind during this first week.
Cravings, on average, only last about 15-20 minutes.
I mention this because it doesn’t FEEL like it at the time. You might think that you’re wrestling with the nicotine demon every minute of every day, but you’re not. I promise.
The cravings do get weaker the longer you go. If you can find a way to distract yourself for 15-20 minutes without letting your mind do too much “thinking”, you’re going to be much more successful handling your cravings.
For the moments when distraction isn’t working, I want you to take a couple of deep breaths and get back to your WHY. Force yourself to remember all the horrible things about smoking – the money you spend on it, the way your clothes, hair, and breath would smell, the constant congestion, having to step outside at inopportune times to light up.
Mindfulness is an excellent way to settle down when your mind is going a mile a minute and you’re on the brink of caving. If you’re not familiar with this practice, I’ve got three books I recommend that will help several aspects of your life, including this one.
Focus on today.
I write about sobriety (if you couldn’t tell by the name) and a common phrase you hear in Alcoholics Anonymous is “one day at a time” or “odaat” for those who are in the know.
The same works for nicotine addiction.
Want a surefire way to go back to smoking? Start thinking about quitting smoking forever. It will drive you absolutely insane.
If you find yourself getting overwhelmed by the stupid nagging voice inside your brain begging you to go buy a pack because there’s just no way in hell you can do this, make a conscious effort to stop and remind yourself that you only need to not smoke right now, or this hour, or for the rest of this day.
Don’t even entertain the thought of not smoking beyond that. It’s a trap!
Don’t let yourself get bored
Oh, the times I bought a pack of cigarettes because I was deathly bored and needed a way to escape myself!
For the first few weeks of quitting smoking, do not let yourself get bored or have too much downtime. Clean every nook and cranny of your house, go on a baking spree, take frequent walks, do pushups for no reason other than being awesome. Find SOMETHING to actually DO to take your mind off things.
Netflix binging is not a good one. You want to keep yourself active so that your brain is busy. It’s much too easy to zone out on Netflix and then start scrolling on the phone and then find yourself outside lighting up a cigarette, because why not?
Be active. Be busy.
Quit Smoking Timeline: Two Weeks
Okay, you DID THAT!
Your circulation and oxygen levels are improving. You might notice that you can bounce up the stairs a little easier without all that huffing and puffing. After a mere two weeks, your lung function has improved as much as 30 percent.
At this point in your quit smoking timeline, you may find the psychological symptoms easing up a bit. BE CAREFUL.
Nicotine cravings are sneaky bastards and they can smack you in the face without warning. Don’t become too complacent. At some point in the future (hopefully not soon), you’re going to have to manage something difficult without a cigarette.
That’s going to be the big test. Take this time now to start figuring out what makes you feel better and can help you de-stress. Have you thought about joining a gym? Given meditation a shot like I told you?
Get on it! If you do not start preparing in these early weeks for managing ALL aspects of your life without smoking, you’re going to get hit with something you’re not ready for and increase your chance of smoking again.
Although it references alcohol, I do have some good tips for managing stress that you might find useful for quitting smoking as well.
Quit Smoking Timeline – One Month
A MONTH??? One. Whole. Month!!!
Do you remember when you couldn’t have imagined going a whole day without a cigarette? Now look at you! You’ve done an entire month.
How much money have you saved? Do you love how amazing your shampoo actually smells now that it’s not mixed with ash and shame?
You’re breathing easier, the fibers in your lungs are starting to grow back. That fresh glow? It’s working for you!
Smoking makes you look old and ugly and deprives your skin of much-needed oxygen. You might notice some of that redness (if you’re fairer skinned) starting to ease up and an overall smoother appearance to your skin tone. It’s subtle, but it’s totally happening.
There’s more where that came from!
Quit Smoking Timeline – Three Months
Oh hey, you saucy minx. You sexy stallion! By the three month mark, you might be noticing a little vavavoom in the bedroom.
According to Men’s Health, 75% of male smokers who struggled with erectile dysfunction got their groove back three months after quitting smoking. Ladies, your fertility has just been boosted.
Plus, with all that improved lung function, you’ve got some increased stamina going for you. Kudos to you!
Quit Smoking Timeline: One Year
This is major! You are among the lucky 40% who manage to stay smoke-free after a year. You’re practically a unicorn.
All that sagging, dull skin? Yellow fingers? Limp hair? Gross breath? It’s mostly repaired by this time. Smoking ages you a whopping 8 years, and (depending on how long and how much you smoked) you’ve likely gained 7 of those back.
You’ve also cut your risk of heart disease by half. Your lungs are performing better and your bank account is looking mighty robust.
Honestly, you’re living your BEST life right now. Congrats!
Quit Smoking Timeline: Five Years
I will reach this magical milestone in early January 2022 (I don’t know the exact date but it was whatever day I discovered I was pregnant – eek!).
While the vanity benefits have mostly been met at this point (my skin hasn’t been this smooth since I was nine years old), you’re really getting into the much-coveted and important health benefits on the quit smoking timeline.
This is the big stuff you quit for.
By the fifth year, you’ve significantly reduced your risk of stroke because your blood vessels have started to widen. In fact, your chances of stroke and cervical cancer are now the same as a non-smoker. Your risk of lung cancer has also dropped by half and will continue to drop from here on out.
At this point, the psychological trappings have likely vanished completely.
I’m just over two years into sobriety and quitting smoking and even though I get these weird little twinges of nostalgia when I see people sitting outside on a perfect day, enjoying a hard cider and cigarette, I mostly just find cigarettes to be nauseating and can barely remember my life as a smoker.
There’s light at the end of this smokey tunnel, folks!