Mental Health Awareness Week UK 2023: Smoking and Anxiety

Published at 10 May, 2023 15:27.

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What is mental health awareness week?

This event happens yearly and is the biggest opportunity for the whole of the UK to come together and focus on their and others' mental health, allowing them to feel understood and less alone. 

The wider benefits of this day include tackling stigmas and helping people understand and prioritise their and others’ mental health.

First starting in 2001, it was created by the Mental Health Foundation which has since made it a vital part of their work as a charity by setting agendas, themes, dates and coordinating activities for the week. 

Within recent years, it has become one of the highest-profile public events in the UK. Shown by millions of people from society taking part across the UK. These people are from schools, further education, private, public and charity sectors, celebrities, national governments and even individuals.  

When is mental health awareness week?

Mental health awareness week UK 2023 is taking place from the 15th to the 21st of May. The theme this year is anxiety and what you can do to manage or prevent it. 

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a normal and often healthy emotion characterised by feelings of worry, nervousness, or unease about a particular situation, event, or uncertain outcome. It is a natural response to stress or perceived threats and can help people to stay alert, focused, and prepared for challenges. 

However, when anxiety becomes excessive, persistent, or irrational, it can interfere with daily life and lead to a range of emotional and physical symptoms.

Anxiety disorders are a group of mental health conditions that involve excessive or chronic anxiety. Some common types of anxiety disorders include generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and specific phobias. Symptoms of anxiety disorders can vary, but they often include feelings of restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, and sleep disturbances.

Treatment for anxiety disorders may include therapy (such as cognitive-behavioural therapy), medications (like antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs), or lifestyle changes (including stress management techniques, regular exercise, and relaxation practices). 

It is important for individuals experiencing anxiety to seek professional help, as appropriate treatment can significantly improve their quality of life.

Smoking and anxiety

Smoking and anxiety have a complex relationship. Some people believe that smoking helps them to cope with anxiety and stress, as nicotine, the addictive substance in tobacco, can have short-term calming effects. This is due to nicotine's impact on certain neurotransmitters in the brain, like dopamine, which can create a temporary sense of relaxation and pleasure.

However, the connection between smoking and anxiety is not so straightforward. In the long term, smoking can actually increase anxiety and stress levels. This can happen for several reasons:

  1. Nicotine withdrawal: As the effects of nicotine wear off, a smoker may experience withdrawal symptoms, which can include increased anxiety, irritability, and restlessness. This often leads to a cycle where individuals smoke more to relieve these symptoms, further perpetuating the addiction.
  2. Tolerance: Over time, the brain develops a tolerance to nicotine, requiring larger amounts to achieve the same calming effect. This can result in increased smoking, which, in turn, can lead to greater anxiety.
  3. Health concerns: Smoking is associated with numerous health risks, such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Worrying about these potential health consequences can contribute to increased anxiety.
  4. Social stigma: As smoking becomes less socially acceptable, smokers may experience anxiety related to social judgement, isolation, or difficulties finding places to smoke.

Quitting smoking and anxiety

Quitting smoking is challenging, but it can lead to significant improvements in both physical and mental health. For those struggling with anxiety, quitting smoking might initially increase anxiety levels due to nicotine withdrawal. However, in the long run, it can contribute to reduced anxiety and stress levels. Professional help, such as counselling, support groups, or medications, can be beneficial in managing anxiety and quitting smoking.

Mental health awareness week ideas: tips for quitting smoking when you have anxiety

Quitting smoking when you have anxiety can be challenging, but it is possible with the right strategies and support. Here are some tips to help you quit smoking while managing anxiety:

  1. Develop a plan: Set a quit date and make a plan to avoid triggers, such as certain situations or places that make you want to smoke. Having a plan in place can help reduce anxiety and give you a sense of control.
  2. Seek professional help: A mental health professional, such as a therapist or counsellor, can help you develop coping strategies for anxiety and provide support throughout the quitting process. They can also help you address underlying anxiety issues that may be contributing to your smoking habit.
  3. Consider medication: Consult your doctor about medications that can help you quit smoking and manage anxiety. Some options include nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), like patches, gum, or lozenges, which can help reduce withdrawal symptoms. Prescription medications, such as bupropion or varenicline, may also be effective in helping you quit smoking. For anxiety, medications like antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs might be recommended.
  4. Use relaxation techniques: Practise relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or mindfulness meditation, to help reduce anxiety and cravings.
  5. Stay active: Regular exercise can help relieve stress and anxiety while improving your overall well-being. Physical activity also releases endorphins, which can help improve your mood and combat withdrawal symptoms.
  6. Build a support network: Share your quit plan with friends, family, or a support group, so they can encourage you and hold you accountable. Surrounding yourself with people who understand your challenges can make the quitting process less daunting.
  7. Avoid caffeine and alcohol: Both caffeine and alcohol can exacerbate anxiety and may trigger the urge to smoke. Consider reducing your intake or avoiding these substances altogether during the quitting process.
  8. Maintain a healthy diet: Eating a balanced diet can help improve your mood and energy levels, making it easier to manage anxiety and resist cravings.
  9. Develop new coping strategies: Replace smoking with healthier habits to cope with anxiety, such as journaling, practising mindfulness, or engaging in a hobby you enjoy.
  10. Be patient and forgiving: Quitting smoking is difficult, and it is common to experience setbacks. Be patient with yourself and remember that every attempt to quit brings you closer to your goal. If you slip up, don't be too hard on yourself. Learn from the experience and continue moving forward.

How Yorkshire Smokefree can help

Remember, quitting smoking is a process, and it may take several attempts before you're successful. Stay committed, and don't hesitate to seek help from our professionals and support groups at Yorkshire Smokefree.

Why not contact us today? We’re here to help you navigate through this challenging journey.