CanHOPE is a non-profit cancer counselling and support service provided by Parkway Cancer Centre, Singapore.

Psychological Health

Managing Negative Thoughts

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It is natural for persons undergoing stressful situations to experience repetitive negative thoughts. Receiving a cancer diagnosis and treatments are one of life’s major stressors and you may find yourself replaying distressing thoughts in your mind about the past or speculations about the future.

Sometimes you are able to ignore these thoughts by finding distractions. However, during vulnerable or idle moments, these negative thoughts may cause feelings of helplessness, self-loathing or anger. You may find yourself unable to sleep well, eat well or enjoy the things you used to enjoy. These thoughts, if perpetuated, may even lead to clinical depression. Here, we hope to share some strategies to keep repetitive negative thoughts at bay.

Identify the Source of the Negative Thoughts

There is hope that in identifying the source of distress, we are able to find clarity and peace within us. To do so, we need to step away from our feelings and attempt to turn emotionally-driven assumptions into objective assessments.

Analysing can bring about greater self-awareness and positive change. However, there is also a risk of entering into a downward spiral. There are certain situations where no answers can be found and acceptance becomes essential. We encourage you to speak a counsellor to facilitate this process of self-discovery and transforming self-defeating thoughts to life-affirming ones.

Count Your Blessings

You can find solace in keeping a gratitude journal. Each evening, ponder upon something in the day that you can be grateful for. These things need not be grand gestures or big events. They can be small blessings such as lovely weather, a good conversation with a friend or being able to enjoy a nice dessert. This gratitude exercise allows you to expand your mind and shift your negative perspectives.

Repeat a Comforting Phrase/Prayer/Song/Poem

During times of strife, practise replacing negative thoughts with positive self-talk. This can come in the form of an empowering statement, mantra or prayer. Repeat this to yourself, consciously breathing in each word and exhaling your anxieties.

Read or Watch Inspirational Stories of Cancer Survivors

Many others have walked this difficult path before you and emerged more resilient and positive. Allow these stories to spur you on during your most challenging moments; remind yourself continually that you can survive and thrive.

Stay in the Present Moment

We often allow ourselves to get carried away in our thoughts – either dwelling on intrusive past memories or worrying about what may or may not happen in the future. Staying in the present moment – the ‘here-and-now’ – is a skill you can practise with breathing and meditation. By being aware and mindful of your thoughts, feelings and experiences in the present moment, you will grow in resilience and become less reactive and agitated.

Let Go of What You Can’t Control

Take a step back and identify if there are things you can change or adjust to make your situation better. Learn to let go of everything else that is not within your sphere of control. Worrying will not improve the situation. It will in fact lead to an increase in stress hormones that may impede your recovery.

Solve Your Problems in Small Steps

For matters that you can change, start by writing a list of goals and the small steps you can take towards fulfilling them. For example, you can start to live healthier by adopting good eating habits or incorporating a light exercise routine.

Schedule a ‘Worry Break’

Schedule 20 to 30 minutes a day to indulge in your worries. This becomes your allocated space to explore your biggest insecurities while containing it to a specific timeframe. During moments of the day when you find yourself ruminating, remind yourself that you will have a special time to contemplate later.

View Mistakes as Learning Opportunities

Educators or motivational speakers often assert that the pathway to success is paved with numerous failures. Thus, instead of responding in regret or anger at mistakes you have made, perceive these as lessons that teach you to do things differently and better.

Reach Out to Someone You Know Who is Suffering

Some patients have found comfort and strength in sharing their stories and sufferings with fellow cancer warriors to encourage them. Sometimes, in acknowledging the pain and anxieties of another, you grow in gentleness towards yourself and in compassion towards others. You should only reach out to others when you feel emotionally ready to do so.

Seek Professional Help When You Need To

It is alright to ask for help when you need it. If you feel so overwhelmed that it affects your daily routines at work, school, home or in your relationships, do consider seeking help from a mental health professional such as a counsellor.

CanHOPE’s professional allied health team is available to help you and your loved ones manage a cancer diagnosis. Our services include dietary counselling, psycho-social counselling support, palliative care support, patient and caregiver support groups and cancer-education workshops. To find out more, visit us online at