Helping you take control

If you have body image concerns, you may avoid going out and doing things because you’re anxious. When you’re ready, setting realistic goals can help you overcome anxiety and do things that are important to you. Think about what can help you to achieve your goal and break it into short-, mid- and long-term goals.

For example, if your long-term goal is to attend a family reunion, a short-term goal could be going for a coffee and your mid-term going for a meal with friends.

Working with problems in a structured way can make them more manageable. Identify the problem, write it down with solutions, advantages and disadvantages. Try it out and review how it worked.

There are NHS online resources that give advice on replacing unhelpful thoughts with more realistic and balanced ones. This approach is called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). It teaches you how to react more positively to situations that would usually make you anxious. Mindfulness is another helpful technique that encourages you to focus on the present moment.

Ways of taking control

When you feel ready to start taking control of some situations, there are different approaches that may help.

These include:


Setting goals

If you have body image concerns, you may avoid social activities or doing things you enjoy because of anxiety. Setting goals can help you overcome anxiety and help you do things that are important to you. Here are some ways to help you decide which goals to set yourself and ways to help you achieve them.

Each goal should be:

  • personal – it is important to you 
  • realistic – you feel ready or able to deal with it 
  • achievable – it is realistically possible 
  • measurable – you will know you have achieved it 
  • specific – you have thought about the details that will help you achieve it. 

You can also break your goal into short-, mid- and long-term goals. Here’s an example: 

John was anxious about going out in public and had been avoiding his friends. But he wanted to go to a family wedding in six months’ time, so he found short- and mid-term goals to help him work towards his long-term goal:

  • Short-term goal– go for a coffee with a friend. 
  • Mid-term goal – go for a meal with friends. 
  • Long-term goal – attend the wedding in six months’ time. 

To begin with, John focused on smaller steps to achieve his short-term goal. John kept repeating each step until his anxiety reduced and he felt comfortable and able to move to the next step:

Step 1

Phone a few friends to see if anyone is available to go for a coffee. Ask the friend to come to his house so they can walk to the coffee shop together. Go at 10am when the coffee shop is quiet.

Step 2

Walk to the coffee shop alone at 10am and meet a friend outside.

Step 3

Walk to the coffee shop alone at 10am and meet a friend inside.

Step 4

Walk to the coffee shop alone at a busy time and meet a friend inside.

Repeating each step let him gain confidence in being able to manage feelings of anxiety.

John went through a similar process with his mid-term goal. He gradually built his confidence by going out for a meal in smaller, quieter restaurants, then in more challenging, busier places. These steps made it easier for him to achieve his long-term goal of going to the wedding.

You may want to write down a goal and the steps that can help you achieve it.

Goal:

Steps:


Problem solving

Struggling and worrying about problems can make you feel anxious and stressed. Dealing with them in a structured way can help make them more manageable.

You can do this through a series of steps:

  • Step 1– Identify the problem. Be as specific as possible and write down the problem.
  • Step 2 – Think of possible solutions. Write down any solutions that may help. Think about how you have solved problems in the past or what your family or friends would advise.
  • Step 3 – Decide on a solution. Think about the advantages and disadvantages of each possible solution. This will help you choose the best one. Choose one to begin with – you can always go back and try others later.
  • Step 4 – Break the solution down. Breaking it into smaller steps can make it easier and more manageable to do it.
  • Step 5 – Try it out and review how it worked. Follow the steps to carry out the solution at your own pace. If you solve the problem, use this approach for other problems. If it hasn’t worked, go back and try it with another of your solutions.

Dealing with one problem successfully can help you overcome bigger problems.

Here’s an example of problem solving:

David had problems swallowing, due to a dry mouth caused by radiotherapy. He was worried about not being able to eat out, which he’d always enjoyed.

Instead of avoiding going out, he thought about different solutions. He decided to phone the restaurant to check the menu. He found there were things on the menu that he could eat. He also asked if he could have a smaller portion and extra sauce. After learning this would be okay, he felt less anxious and more confident about going out with his family for a meal.

You may want to identify a problem and think of the solutions that can help you overcome it.

Problem:

Possible solutions:

Best solution:

Steps:

Review:


Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

There are many self-help books and online resources to help you understand your ways of thinking. Look at online information sources such as NHS Choices and NHS Inform in Scotland for advice on replacing unhelpful thoughts with more realistic and balanced ones. This approach is called CBT. CBT teaches you new skills and helps you understand how to react more positively to situations that would usually cause you anxiety.

But if you are struggling with difficult feelings about your body image, it’s best to talk to your doctor or nurse for advice. They can refer you to a psychologist or counsellor trained in CBT.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness helps you become aware of your thoughts and feelings without judging them or becoming overwhelmed by them. It uses techniques like meditation, breathing exercises and yoga to help you focus on the present moment.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) uses the techniques of mindfulness with some CBT to help you change thought patterns. A few centres in the UK offer MBCT classes on the NHS.


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.

Changing the way you think

Being aware of your thoughts may help you notice unhelpful thinking patterns. It can then allow you to challenge these.