When you feel ready to start taking control of some situations, there are different approaches that may help.
- setting goals
- problem solving
- being aware of your thoughts
- challenging unhelpful thinking.
If you're struggling to find what you need, call our Support line on 0808 808 0000 (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm)More ways to contact us
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.
Can you spare 5 minutes to help us improve our body image information?
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:
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:
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:
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.
Walk to the coffee shop alone at 10am and meet a friend outside.
Walk to the coffee shop alone at 10am and meet a friend inside.
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.
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:
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.
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 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.
Cancer and treatments can cause changes to your body. These can affect how you think and feel about your body.
Concerns about your body image may make you feel anxious, less confident or worried about relationships with other people.
Coping with body image concerns can make you feel anxious. There are different ways to manage your anxiety and other feelings.
There are things you can do to help you feel better about your appearance. Your doctor or nurse can also advise you.
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.
Being aware of your thoughts may help you notice unhelpful thinking patterns. It can then allow you to challenge these.
Being kind to yourself and taking care of your body can make you feel more confident and help improve your body image.
Learning to manage other people’s reactions to your body changes and coping with social situations will improve your confidence.
You might find it helpful to have our side effects booklet to hand. It explains some possible side effects and how they can be managed.
Cancer treatments can affect people differently. But it can help to read about what’s likely to happen and possible side effects. Being prepared can help you stay on track.
Are you coping with the effects of cancer and its treatment on your body? Could you share advice, tips and support? Share your story and help others.
What's happening near you? Find out about support groups, where to get information and how to get involved with Macmillan where you are.
Read Aoife's post about the rights of people affected by cancer in the work place. She explains how the law can help job applicants, employees and the self-employed.
Share experiences and advice on practical issues when living with cancer, such as money, work, benefits, transport, food and drink, organising support at home, or getting specialist equipment.
We rely on a number of sources to gather evidence for our information. If you’d like further information on the sources we use, please feel free to contact us on: firstname.lastname@example.org
All our information is reviewed by cancer or other relevant professionals to ensure that it’s accurate and reflects the best evidence available. We thank all those people who have provided expert review for the information on this page.
Our information is also reviewed by people affected by cancer to ensure it is as relevant and accessible as possible. Thank you to all those people who reviewed what you're reading and have helped our information to develop.
You could help us too when you join our Cancer Voices Network – find out more at: http://www.macmillan.org.uk/cancervoices
Need to talk? Call us free* 0808 808 00 00 Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm
© Macmillan Cancer Support, registered charity in England and Wales (261017), Scotland (SC039907) and the Isle of Man (604). Also operating in Northern Ireland. A company limited by guarantee, registered in England and Wales company number 2400969. Isle of Man company number 4694F. Registered office: 89 Albert Embankment, London SE1 7UQ. VAT no: 668265007
We make every effort to ensure that the information we provide is accurate and up-to-date but it should not be relied upon as a substitute for specialist professional advice tailored to your situation. So far as is permitted by law, Macmillan does not accept liability in relation to the use of any information contained in this publication or third party information or websites included or referred to in it.