Changing the way you think

When you’re coping with cancer and body changes, it’s natural to have some negative thoughts. But if this becomes a usual way of thinking, it can make you less confident and more anxious. You may ignore positive things about yourself and believe all your negative thoughts are true. 

Becoming more aware of your thoughts may help you to see unhelpful thinking patterns. This can help you challenge unhelpful thoughts and to think in a more positive, balanced way. For example, you could try asking yourself:

  • Is what I’m thinking definitely right – what’s the evidence for and against my thinking? 
  • How could someone else see this situation? 

One type of unhelpful thinking is over-generalising. When something goes wrong in our lives, we may see it as a sign that now everything will go wrong. You may think, for example, that if you go out everyone will stare at you. A more balanced way of thinking could be that some people will stare out of curiosity but you’ll have your friends with you for support.

Remember that you can learn to change unhelpful thoughts into more positive thoughts.

Being aware of your thoughts

Thoughts go through our minds all the time. We’re often not aware of them. They may be influenced by past experiences, or based on wrong assumptions or inaccurate facts.

It’s not unusual to have some unhelpful or negative thoughts when you’re coping with cancer and body changes. But if this becomes a usual way of thinking, it can affect your mood and make you less confident and more anxious. You may ignore positive things about yourself and believe your negative thoughts are true.

Becoming more aware of your thinking can help you see unhelpful patterns and the effect they have on your mood and behaviour. Some people find it helpful to write down their thoughts to see if there is a pattern.


Challenging unhelpful thinking

Recognising unhelpful thoughts can help you challenge them and think in a more positive, balanced way. Try asking yourself the following questions:

  • Is what I’m thinking definitely right – what’s the evidence for and against my thinking?
  • How could someone else see this situation?
  • What would I say to a friend who had this thought in a similar situation?
  • Are my thoughts helpful to me, or do they stop me from doing and getting what I want?
  • Am I jumping to conclusions, seeing the negative, forgetting the positive or getting things out of proportion?
  • What would be the effect of thinking about things less negatively?
  • What can I do to change my situation – am I overlooking possible solutions to problems?

There are different unhelpful thinking patterns. In this section, we list a few of these and give some examples. We also show how you can change unhelpful thoughts into more balanced, positive thoughts.

Over-generalising

When something has gone wrong in our lives, we may see it as a sign that now everything will go wrong.

Negative thought

’Everyone will stare at me if I go to the pub.’

Balanced, positive thinking

‘Some people will stare, but it will probably be out of curiosity. I’ll have my friends with me for support.’

Taking things personally

When you’re feeling anxious or low, it’s easy to jump to conclusions or make assumptions. For example, you may think everything is related to your appearance or body change.

Negative thought

’I didn’t get the job because of my appearance.’

Balanced, positive thinking

‘I didn’t get the job because there was someone who was better suited to it.’

Mental filtering

When we focus on the negative and ignore the positive.

Negative thought

’The woman in the shop didn’t understand me as my speech is so poor now.’

Balanced, positive thinking

‘Although the woman didn’t understand me the first time, she did when I repeated it – so I can make myself understood.’

Jumping to conclusions or mind-reading

When we think we know what someone else is thinking without checking that we are right.

Negative thought

’My partner will think I’m unattractive because of the changes in my body.’

Balanced, positive thinking

‘I’m aware of my body changes, but my partner may not notice it so much. Anyway, I have other attractive qualities that they love.’

Black and white thinking

When we think in extremes of all or nothing, with no grey area in between.

Negative thought

’If I can’t eat a full meal then I can’t go to the restaurant with my family.’

Balanced, positive thinking

‘It would be nice to go out with my family. I can ask for a small portion of food.’

Body image after treatment

Hear Richard, Peter, Heather and Stacey talk about how they felt about their bodies after cancer treatment, and how they rebuilt their confidence.

About our cancer information videos

Body image after treatment

Hear Richard, Peter, Heather and Stacey talk about how they felt about their bodies after cancer treatment, and how they rebuilt their confidence.

About our cancer information videos

Back to Cancer and body image

Relationships, intimacy and sex

Cancer and its treatments can affect your sex life and relationships. Talking openly and taking the time to get used to possible body changes can help.

Helping you take control

Setting realistic goals, dealing with problems in a structured way and challenging unhelpful thinking can help you take control.