A man in a therapy session

Let's talk about cancer: looking after your mind

Looking after our mental wellbeing is important throughout life, but is especially important if we ourselves, or those close to us, are going through investigations to confirm or exclude cancer or have been diagnosed with cancer.

Read on for top tips to help you optimise your mental wellbeing. 

The impacts

Cancer and any associated symptoms, cancer treatment and any associated side-effects, living with or beyond cancer can all have a significant impact on the mental wellbeing of you or and those close to you.

Everyone’s cancer journey will be personal and unique; but engaging in activities that can improve mental wellbeing can be helpful for our overall health and quality of life during this challenging time.

Does your mindset matter?

Research suggests that your mindset during this journey is important. Talking about your feelings can help improve optimism. Engaging with a support group can help you understanding your cancer and reduce tension, anxiety and depression. Psychotherapy has also been shown to improve feelings of happiness, pleasure, commitment and character strengths of those living with a cancer diagnosis.

Having an adaptive mindset can help you deal with the stresses of going through a cancer diagnosis or treatment or living with or beyond cancer.

Meditation is one tool that can be used to help relieve some cancer and cancer treatment-related symptoms, helping to improve your quality of life. Benefits can include: improving your mood and concentration and boosting your immune system, all of which can have positive effects on symptoms and side effects of treatment. There are many ways to meditate such as; visualisation and guided imagery, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), prayerful meditation and focused meditation.

Looking after your mind on this journey

Focusing on you and your mindset is important to help yourself remain as positive as you can.

Take a look at these ideas that might help…

  • Focus on what you can control. For example, although you’re unable to control the outcome of tests or treatments, you can prepare yourself prior by collecting the relevant information, speaking to healthcare professionals you trust and ensuring you participate in all decisions. Think about what you want to do with your time, when and who else you’d like to involve – making plans you have control over can be helpful.
  • Have a good support network. Support from family, friends and colleagues can improve our mental wellbeing. Use support groups and charities to gain extra support for yourself and those close to you. Talking and hearing from others who are experiencing something similar to you can reduce feelings of isolation.
  • Keep doing the things you enjoy. Continuing with hobbies during and after treatment can provide a sense of escape and can help to foster positive emotions. For some people, having a daily routine can help, for example continue going to work and having colleagues around you. Some say this can aid recovery.
  • Nurture yourself by trying something new. This might be a great opportunity to take a step back and think about your values and passions. Is there something you want to start doing or pick up again? May be if you’ve never tried meditation, now is the time to give it a go!
  • For any appointments, make the wait time more manageable. Have something so you can listen to music or watch programmes, read your favourite book or magazine or a notepad or colouring book to pass the time.
  • Set yourself some weekly goals. Having goals each week can help give you something to focus on and give yourself some purpose. It will also give you a sense of achievement throughout the week when you can tick off a goal. See here for Paul's story.
  • Try to be as positive as you can. this can help you remain motivated and create and maintain positive emotions. Remember though, all your feelings are valid, and it is okay and normal to have your down days. However, if you are worried about anxiety or depression, please speak to a healthcare professional or someone you trust.
  • Attitude of gratitude. Find those silver linings as often as you feel able. What has improved or grown during this experience? Is it your relationships? Appreciation for the little things? Whatever it is, recording this somewhere; on your phone or in a notebook can help to remind you of the good that is still around you.

Top tips

Think about your mindset, having a more positive outlook is beneficial for your health and quality of life.

Try to continue to do the things you enjoy with your friends, family or alone.

Try something new, like meditation or set a new goal. Give yourself a variety of things to look forward to.

Empower yourself during this difficult time. It's ok to feel your emotions. They are all valid. Talk and get support if needed.


Cancer and Mental Health: the Public Health Challenge (2017) Retrieved here

Your Mindset. (2021). Cancer and Careers. Retrieved here

Spiegel, D., 2012. Mind matters in cancer survival. Psycho‐Oncology, 21(6), pp.588-593. Retrieved here

Impact of Attitudes and Feelings on Cancer (2021) Retrieved here

Pauls story: Mental Health and Coping Strategies. (2021) Retrieved here

Meibodi, R.P., Meftagh, S.D. and Shahangian, S.S., 2021. The effect of positive psychotherapy on happiness and character strength in cancer patients. Journal of Education and Health Promotion, 10. 

Zion, S.R., Schapira, L. and Crum, A.J., 2019. Targeting mindsets, not just tumors. Trends in cancer, 5(10), pp.573-576. Retrieved here

Meditation (2019) Retrieved here