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Five tips to quit smoking for Mental Health Awareness Week

Use more than one quitting aid, go easy on yourself if you get irritable and never consider yourself a failure. They’re some of the tips to beat smoking for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week.


Fresh has teamed up with quitting expert Prof Robert West who has five top tips that smokers may not have considered if they’ve tried to stop in the past. 


New research published in March shows that it can take just six weeks for quitting smoking to boost your mood and mental health. The review from Cochrane found smokers who stopped for at least 6 weeks experienced less depression, anxiety, and stress and more positive feelings than people who continued to smoke.


 Mental Health Awareness Week 2021


Ailsa Rutter OBE, Director of Fresh and Balance, added: “The last year has been one of the most stressful on record but many hundreds of thousands of people tried to quit smoking. It is a myth that smoking helps with stress and smokers can find themselves feeling pressure and anxiety rising when they need a cigarette. Evidence is now clear that quitting smoking can help break that vicious cycle and within a few weeks feel calmer and less stressed.”


Prof West, Emeritus Professor of Health Psychology, University College London and a participant in the behavioural science subgroup of Sage, said: “Stopping smoking can seem stressful and at times a bit too daunting, but there are ways to make it easier and take the stress out of it. A lot of smokers say they smoke for habit or boredom and don’t get any enjoyment out of it. Add in the cost, and you may already find you are halfway there.”


Prof West’s top tips


Video link: (credit ASH)


1/ Trying is the most important step. One of the things that makes it stressful is the idea that if you have a cigarette you have failed, but the truth is that even just trying to stop smoking in itself is a really positive thing to do And every cigarette that you don’t smoke is another cigarette that hasn’t had a chance to harm you. Whether are you last a day, two days, two weeks, months or a lifetime, It’s always better to have had a go than say it’s too hard.


2/ Know that withdrawal symptoms are temporary and will pass. Part of the stress is that the nicotine has come out of your system quickly, within a day or so, and it can take your body a few weeks to adjust. That might make you irritable and it’s not your fault – it’s just one of the withdrawal symptoms. You might also temporarily feel more anxious, but this is just the body adapting. Remember this does go away and it’s something you can look forward to. Evidence is clear now that people who stop smoking after a few weeks experience less stress and improved mood then they did when they were smoking.


3/ Combat your cravings with quitting aids. One of the best ways to cope with the symptoms in one of the ways is to use quitting aids – but a lot of people aren’t aware that you are best using more than one. That could be a nicotine skin patch to give you a regular supply of nicotine plus a faster acting way like lozenge, gum or an electronic cigarette to “top up” if you get cravings. That makes a big difference to your chances of stopping. A lot of people don’t like to use nicotine to get off nicotine, but it acts as a buffer. If you do vape, it is almost certainly much less harmful than smoking tobacco cigarettes.


4/ Go for walks. Summer might not have made an appearance yet but lifestyle changes like physical activity can help. It doesn’t have to be anything too strenuous – it could just be going for a walk and it will reduce cravings. Even simple breathing exercises of breathing in, holding breath and out can really help.


5/ Don’t worry about slip ups. Don’t be hard on yourself if you have a blip. Every time you try to stop smoking you learn something about yourself. It’s just like rolling a dice – even if you’ve tried lots of times in the past it can take a while before you throw a six, but you do get there in the end. Think of trying to quit as a positive experience – you are doing something great for yourself and your loved ones.


Stopping smoking is one of the best things you will ever do for your health. When you stop, you give your lungs the chance to repair and you will be able to breathe easier. There are lots of other benefits too – and they start almost immediately.


To download the free NHS Smokefree app or find your local stop smoking service, visit


What happens when you quit?

The sooner you quit, the sooner you'll notice changes to your body and health. Look at what happens when you quit for good.


After 20 minutes Check your pulse rate, it will already be starting to return to normal.


After 8 hours Your oxygen levels are recovering, and the harmful carbon monoxide level in your blood will have reduced by half.


After 48 hours All carbon monoxide is flushed out. Your lungs are clearing out mucus and your senses of taste and smell are improving.


After 72 hours If you notice that breathing feels easier, it's because your bronchial tubes have started to relax. Also your energy will be increasing.


After 2 to 12 weeks Blood will be pumping through to your heart and muscles much better because your circulation will have improved.


After 3 to 9 months Any coughs, wheezing or breathing problems will be improving as your lung function increases by up to 10%.


After 1 year Great news! Your risk of heart attack will have halved compared with a smoker’s.


After 10 years More great news! Your risk of death from lung cancer will have halved compared with a smoker’s.