The decision to quit smoking is by no means a small one, so there’s no shame in feeling some fear of the process. It can be scary to think about what can possibly happen to your body once you cut off its nicotine supply and its nicotine stores get depleted. Will the side effects be too much to bear? Will the cravings be irresistible? Is a relapse imminent?
To take the mystery and fear out of the process of quitting smoking, here’s a timeline for you to follow. This is what most smokers’ bodies will go through in the process of kicking the habit, from the first 20 minutes after the last cigarette to up to a year after the decision to quit smoking.
The first 20 minutes to 24 hours
Former smokers say that the effects of quitting smoking are immediately palpable. Your blood pressure levels decrease as soon as twenty minutes after your last cigarette. As your blood pressure normalizes, you’ll generally feel more relaxed and less jumpy than usual. Blood circulation improves after a couple of hours. You may feel some warmth in your fingers, among other immediate effects of quitting smoking.
The downside is that the negative effects will start to become apparent, too. You may find yourself craving for food and you might have some trouble sleeping. The anxiety or nervousness may return. Most importantly, your body will be craving nicotine and you’ll really start to feel your body’s demand for the drug.
Twelve hours after stubbing out your last cigarette, changes will start to take place in your respiratory system. You’ll feel short of breath or exhausted even after short periods of exertion energy, mainly because the carbon monoxide you’ve inhaled with your cigarettes forms bonds to your blood cells. So you’ll have some difficulties expelling the toxin from your body.
The good news is that this period of bonding between the toxin and your blood cells is relatively short. Your respiratory system will recover and you’ll breathe easily once again. You’ll have so much more energy and you’ll feel less winded even after exerting large amounts of energy.
The next day
A day after you quit smoking, you’ll discover that your body’s nicotine cravings are much worse. The jitters will be back, and you may be so anxious that your hands and fingers will start to shake.
This is the point where many smokers relapse into their old ways, but use this knowledge to push through this difficult time: you are now much less likely to suffer from a heart attack. Regular smokers are much more prone to suffering from heart attacks, but that won’t happen to you, especially since you’ve gone almost two days without inhaling smoke.
Two days later
After 48 hours of not being exposed to nicotine and its harmful effects, your body starts to heal itself. The process starts with your nerve endings, which may have been dulled by chemicals in cigarettes. As your nerve endings regrow, you’ll feel the difference in your extremities, where you’ll feel enhanced sensitivity. You’ll even have an improved sense of taste and smell. Of course, your sensitive nose and taste buds make you more vulnerable to the smell of cigarette smoke, so make sure to avoid your triggers, especially since your cravings may be worse than ever.
Three days later
Thirty-six hours after your last cigarette, your body will have flushed out all the nicotine in its system. Nicotine withdrawal follows, and it’s something that affects different people in different ways. Your body’s cravings for nicotine will be nearly impossible to resist. You may also feel some physical symptoms, including cramps, headaches, and nausea. Emotional symptoms of nicotine withdrawal will manifest, too, as you may feel the inexplicable need to hold a cigarette or a similarly shaped object in your hand.
The next two to three weeks
This is when you’ll start to reap the benefits of quitting smoking all those days ago. By the third week after your decision to stop smoking, you no longer crave nicotine. The cravings are completely gone, along with nicotine withdrawal and all its negative effects.
Your body will have healed itself in many ways, particularly in the pulmonary system. It has done its best to regenerate your lungs, and even just the simple act of breathing is smoother and easier. You’ll notice that you have more energy and that you have more stamina, thanks to the improvement in your lung capacity. You’ll be able to be active without getting tired too quickly or getting nauseated. Want to do some heavy exercise? Go ahead; your lungs and heart should be able to take it.
At the three-week mark, former smokers have also reported that they felt an increase in their core temperature, which is an indication of good blood circulation.
Months and years after your last cigarette
Experts say that nicotine withdrawal lasts for a month or two at most, even for the heaviest smokers. At this point, you should be celebrating; your body is well on its way to recovery. Your lungs are only going to be better from here, and your heart will be in much better shape, too. After all, your risk of heart disease is only going to significantly drop in the coming months. Of course, you’re at a much lower risk for pulmonary diseases, too.
It’s also best to keep in mind that a ‘celebratory cigarette’ or having just one cigarette ‘just to remember the taste’ is always a bad idea. Don’t let all your hard work go to waste.