Cheryl Lythgoe is Head Matron at Benenden Health, the non-for-profit affordable healthcare provider, committed to improving the nation’s health. Here, she provides tips on how to break bad habits for good in 2020.


Even though the addictive nature of nicotine means that quitting is fraught with cravings, withdrawal symptoms and triggers, it isn’t impossible. There are certain methods you can use to make sure that your journey to a smoke-free life is as effective as possible.

First, decide on which method is best for you – cutting down gradually and making small lifestyle changes, or going cold turkey. Each one will require a slightly different approach. Next, make your physical plan and plot milestones to help you get there (like cutting down to two cigarettes per day by the end of the month).

A positive mindset can go a long way. The key is not to get discouraged and to try again.

Once you know what triggers you to reach for a cigarette, you can develop coping mechanisms to deal with each one. For example, if you like to smoke after finishing a meal, try chewing a piece of chewing gum instead.

  • Write a list of pros and cons

The benefits of quitting smoking are no secret – a hugely reduced risk of premature death due to serious illness, more energy and healthier skin. However, when cravings get too much, you might need a little reminder. By writing a list of pros and cons, you can carry them around with you and look at them every time you feel as if you might relapse.

  • Tell people you are quitting

The support of your loved ones can prove invaluable when you are trying to quit smoking. Once they know what you are trying to do, they can help support you through withdrawal symptoms and, if they smoke too, even quit with you. Knowing that someone else is coping with the same thing can be a huge help.

You should reward yourself when you reach a milestone in your efforts to stop smoking, to give yourself something to encourage yourself to carry on. With a packet of cigarettes now costing upwards of £10, this quickly adds up to a nice sum!

  • Take advantage of the services available

If you are struggling then you shouldn’t be afraid to seek help, especially when there are so many services available to smokers. The NHS Stop Smoking Service is particularly useful, offering free support and a quit kit full of practical tools and advice developed by experts.

Visit your pharmacist for advice and consider using over the counter nicotine replacement therapy. These products are cheaper than cigarettes and can manage the nicotine cravings which just leaves the bad habit craving to overcome.

Social media addiction

Research by GWI found that we spend on average 142 minutes on social media per day. If you’re worried about spending too much time on social media – here are some tips:

Books are the opposite of social media – they encourage relaxation and also hone your ability to concentrate!

There are a number of apps available that will help you to concentrate by putting a timer on your social media apps – challenging you to leave those apps alone. Start small – maybe an hour or two and then work your way up to going a day without scrolling!

Taking a stroll in the fresh air is great for relieving stress and focusing your mind without any distractions.

If you need to take your phone, use it for listening to music or a podcast which can relax or stimulate thought.

Additionally, on sunny days the heat of the sun raises our serotonin levels – the hormone we need to boost our mood and help us to feel calm.

  • Invest in an alarm clock that isn’t your phone

Looking at your phone first thing in the morning can be a bad habit – waking up and having to immediately turn off your phone alarm will usually end in scrolling through social media. An alarm clock will allow you to keep your phone turned off and away from your bedside at night and in the morning.

Social media also stimulates the mind which doesn’t aid restful sleep. This is one of the key contributors to a poor sleep pattern.


Mindful eating is about training ourselves to eat with attention and intention – the best way to control overeating is to listen to our bodies.

Turn off the TV, put away your phone and don’t eat in front of the computer. Really pay attention to what you are doing. Give your meal your full attention and ask yourself how you feel about what you’re eating – be intuitive and focus on the food.

  • Think about how full you are

The ability to self-regulate is important when it comes to overeating. With no distractions, focus on how you feel and when you think you’re beginning to feel full – this is when to stop. It can be harder than you think it is so consider how you feel after the meal. Do you have a stomach-ache, or feel a little nauseous? Use this information for your future meal choices and portion sizes.

  • Consider the types of food you have available

Very few people will overeat on protein sources, fruit and vegetables but can easily overeat on crisps and snacks. Therefore, be mindful of what is accessible for those moments when you feel vulnerable.

  • Don’t be too hard on yourself

Become self-compassionate and don’t be discouraged by any slip ups – you are doing the best you can and have learned from the experience. Sometimes overeating can be tied to emotions – stress, anxiety, anger – beating yourself up over a mistake will only add to how you’re feeling.
Avoiding exercise

Being active is important for our both physical and mental wellbeing, therefore avoiding exercise can be a bad habit that many want to say goodbye to. Physical activity can also boost self-esteem, mood, quality of sleep and energy levels, while also reducing the risk of stress, depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

If you find it hard to fit exercise into your day walking to work or taking a walk on your lunch break can be a great way of fitting exercise into your routine. Walking is low impact and something nearly everyone can do, without costing them money or much additional time.

  • Bring the workout to the workplace

Research shows that exercise can help boost productivity and motivation at work, and reduce absenteeism.

Ask your manager about a lunch time workout – Yoga, Pilates and HIIT are becoming more common in the workplace. If your work says no to a lunchtime instructor, co-ordinate free circuit classes, runs or walks with your colleagues before, during or after work.

  • Find a type of exercise that works for you

Human beings are diverse and not all exercise is suitable for everyone. Finding the best kind of exercise for you and your body is a great way to create a sustainable exercise routine. Trial and error is the best technique – if the gym is not for you, try going for a walk, swimming or dancing in the privacy of your own home.

When time is limited, try to incorporate exercise into your daily jobs. For example, dance whilst hoovering, do some stretches whilst dusting and cleaning the windows or march whilst washing up. Being creative when moving the body and raising the heart rate can have a beneficial effect.

  • Technology is your friend

The Couch to 5k app offers step-by-step instructions for getting off the sofa and clocking up the kilometres in nine weeks. With celebrity trainers and progress trackers, it also includes tips, advice and case studies of success stories. (Remember to check with your GP before you start running if you haven’t exercised for a while.)

There are also plenty of free fitness videos on the internet and the NHS has even commissioned some of its own.

Drinking too much

  • Substitute with alcohol free versions

If you don’t want to miss out on a treat, swap your evening glass of wine for an alcohol-free option. There are a wide range of brands and labels on the market that look and taste like the real thing, but without the negative effects on your health.

Dry January is a great opportunity to give up alcohol for a month. It allows you to think about the amount you’re drinking and break any bad habits. You’ll also have a whole community behind you.

Going on a night out or to an event whilst not drinking can sound nerve-wracking for some people but having a drink in your hand – alcoholic or not – will keep your hands busy if you feel anxious. It will also provide something to sip on for any awkward silences in conversation.

Consider alternating a soft drink with an alcoholic drink when on a night out as this has the ability to decrease the amount of alcohol consumed without having too great an impact on your night.

  • Push your first drink back

If alcohol is a significant problem in your life, consider pushing the first drink back by an hour each day, therefore slowly reducing the number of alcoholic drinks consumed secondary to hours available.

  • Take advantage of the help available

There are a lot of resources out there for people struggling with giving up alcohol. Drinkaware has a number of apps and trackers on its website to monitor alcohol intake and change habits. The best place to start is talking with your GP, they’ll be able to refer you to local alcohol services.

Visit for more helpful tips and articles on keeping healthy.

(Featured photo by Carla Medeiros).

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