- Cancer Information
- Coping with a diagnosis
- Emotions and cancer
- Your coping toolbox
- Managing your thoughts
Managing your thoughts
People affected by cancer may find themselves going over and over the same distressing thoughts about the past, present or future. Ignoring such thoughts or trying to distract yourself may work at first, but they often return once you are no longer distracted – for example, during the night or early in the morning. The strategies listed below may be a helpful starting point if you are finding it hard to manage your thoughts.
Identify where the thoughts come from
Ask yourself if your thoughts are the result of an underlying belief, such as “The world should be a fair and just place”, “If I can’t do everything I used to do, I am useless” or “I am a burden to my family and friends”. Or perhaps you have a tendency to give personal meaning to everything that is happening, even to events that are beyond your control. For example, if you arrive at the treatment centre and can’t find a parking spot, you might think, “Nothing ever goes right for me. I don’t know why I’m bothering with the treatment, I know it won’t work”.
Consider your own advice
Think of someone you love and imagine what you would say to them if they felt the same way.
Check your thoughts
Ask yourself if you are jumping to conclusions or exaggerating the negatives. If so, is there something you can do to change the situation or improve it?
Write down your thoughts
This helps slow down your thinking and makes it easier to focus. It may also help you work out if a thought is based on facts, realistic or helpful.
Recognise the little positives
Some days it might be hard to find something positive. This is understandable, but if you feel like that every day, check whether you are ignoring any little achievements or happy events. Some people make a habit of writing down three good things that have happened to them each day. These don’t have to be major life events – they could just be an encouraging smile from a radiographer or a nice chat with a receptionist on a tough day.
Practise letting your thoughts come and go
Thoughts are fleeting. Some we notice and many we don’t. Try to let your thoughts come and go without getting caught up in them. Cancer Council’s free meditation recording may help you practise this.
Be kind to yourself
Use encouraging thoughts to talk yourself through difficulties, rather than undermining yourself. This does not come naturally to everyone, but counsellors and psychologists can teach you some techniques.
Seek professional help
Social workers, psychologists and other health professionals are trained to help people manage how they’re feeling. Check what support is available at your treatment centre, or ask your GP for a referral.
|Some people find online self-help programs or smartphone apps useful for tracking how they’re feeling. Visit moodgym or Mindspot Clinic, or see the list of health and wellbeing apps on the Australian Government’s Healthdirect website.|
Dr Anna Hughes, Liaison Psychiatrist and Psycho-oncologist, Canberra Region Cancer Centre, Canberra Hospital, ACT; Mary Bairstow, Senior Social Worker, Cancer Centre, Fiona Stanley Hospital, WA; Anita Bamert, Psychologist, Cancer Council Queensland, QLD; Kate Barber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria, VIC; Sally Carveth, Assistant Coordinator, Cancer Support Leader Program, Cancer Council NSW; Matt Featherstone, Consumer; Dr Charlotte Tottman, Clinical Psychologist, Allied Consultant Psychologists and Flinders University, SA; Shirley Witko, Senior Social Worker, Comprehensive Cancer Centre, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA.
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Relaxation and meditation
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